Breastfeeding in Combat Boots: FAQ on Military Policies

Robyn Roche-Paull
November 9, 2010

Following childbirth, active duty personnel in the U.S. military are required by law to return to work within the period specified in their contract.

This book can help. The first two sections are a primer on preparation for breastfeeding, refers to breastfeeding as the biological norm and to breastfeeding in the early weeks with specific, evidence-based information regarding hurdles many women face. Section 3 begins with the specific regulations from each branch of the armed forces. Ms. Roche-Paull, a U.S. Navy veteran, reviews the basics of manual expression and pumping. Chapter 10 has a helpful table, “Military Pumping Scenarios” (p. 163).

Here are some FAQs from the site:

1.  Is it even *really* possible to breastfeed in the military?

For *most* women in the military, YES, it is possible to breastfeed while on active duty.  Many mothers in the military, in various job specialities ranging from mechanics to medics, have been successful at breastfeeding and pumping.  It requires support from your command and partner as well as proper information and a good pump. Having a lot of perseverance and a 'can-do' attitude is helpful as well.  However as with any workplace, there are going to be environments, times and places where it just isn't possible due to factors outside your control.

2.  Is breastfeeding on active duty worth it? 

Yes, you bet it is! Breastfeeding is one of the most rewarding things you will ever do.  You won’t regret for a moment the time and energy or the love and commitment those bottles of pumped breastmilk represent.  The inconveniences you may endure will be worth it a hundred times over when your baby gazes up at you with adoring eyes as he is snuggled up at your breast. With the number of military mothers I’ve spoken with over the years, I’ve never met one who didn’t tell me it was the hardest thing they ever did…and who also said that it was the one thing they were most proud of.  You can do it too!

3.  What are the policies regarding breastfeeding in the various branches of the armed forces?

See the Military Policies page for the pertinent sections from each of the service's policies on breastfeeding.

4.  What type of breastpump should I use?

For military moms it is important to select a breastpump that will be suited to your workplace, as well as how often you will need to pump while away from your baby. Depending on your situation most AD military mothers find that "personal-use" pump that double-pumps both breasts and is electric is best suited to maintaining their milk supply. Buy the best pump that you can afford, many of the cheaper pumps that claim to double-pump, are worthless as the motor is not strong enough to create enough suction or cycle fast enough to maintain your milk supply.  Pumps made by Ameda, Medela, and Hygeia are your best bet.

If you will be in field conditions with no electricity, a hand-pump will get you through a few days away from your baby.  Most can be broken down into parts that can be kept in a pocket or rucksack.

5. Can I borrow a friend's breastpump or buy one off E-Bay?

The short answer is NO.  Breastpumps that are sold in stores such as Target, Babies R' Us and other retail outlets are "personal-use" pumps, meaning they are made for a single-user.  The motors inside the unit are not sealed and are made to last about 1 year under normal use.  Any milk that backs up can get into the motor and later be sent back out the tubing with possible mold contamination (and any other bacteria or viruses that might be present from the previous owner).  Because the motor is not heavy-duty (like in a hospital-grade pump) many mothers that borrow a friend's pump find that after a few months their milk supply is dwindling, due to the motor not being effective at maintaining the suction needed to stimulate the milk supply.  Pumps bought off of E-Bay may or may not be clean, may have been used a lot or a little, and if it is a hospital-grade pump it may be stolen property.

6.  Can I breastfeed in uniform?

This is a tricky question!  The uniform regulations for each branch of the service do not specifically address breastfeeding, only stating that the service member must maintain "good order and appearance" while in uniform.  It is basically up to the commanding officer of the installation/post/command to determine what passes for good order and appearance.  It is understandable that if a mother is at her baby's 2 month well-child visit, in uniform, and the baby is hungry that she should be able to feed her baby without leaving to use the restroom (and miss the appointment).  Be smart and unbutton uniform blouses from the bottom up, so as not to expose skin and keep a receiving blanket handy as well. If a supervisor or higher-ranking indivdual says it is not allowed, then I would suggest covering-up and pursuing the matter at a later time and with the policy statement and uniform regs in hand.

7.  I am exposed to HAZMAT on a daily basis, will it get into my milk and affect my baby?

Whether or not HAZMAT will get into your milk depends on many factors such as length and frequency of exposure, as well as the type of HAZMAT.  There simply are not many studies done on the various hazardous materials such as JP-8 and the effect they may or may not have on breastmilk.  Wearing protective gear and not pumping for a few hours after exposure are two ways to reduce any possible contamination of your milk.  The decision to continue breastfeeding is one that should be weighed carefully against the known risks of formula. You should speak with your Occupational Health personnel and an IBCLC for more information.

8. I've just been given TDY orders to school/field exercises/deployment.  Can I ship my milk back home to my baby?

Yes, you certainly can!  You will need to do some planning ahead and speak with your supervisor about your need to pump while at the training, school or short-term deployment. The book, Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, is full of real-life stories from AD moms who have successfully pumped and shipped their milk back home to their babies, as well as tips and techniques to help you succeed.

9.  What is an IBCLC and why do I need one?

An IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) is a health care professional who specializes in the mother-baby dyad with regards to breastfeeding.  An IBCLC is an allied health professional who, by meeting eligibility requirements and by passing an independent examination, possesses the necessary skills, knowledge and attitudes, to provide professional-level, quality breastfeeding assistance to babies and mothers. With a focus on preventive health care, IBCLCs encourage self-care and parental decision-making, prenatally and postnatally. IBCLCs use a problem-solving approach to provide appropriate information, recommendations and referrals in a variety of settings.

IBCLCs work in hospitals, clinics, nutrition programs, the community, and private practice. IBCLCs are certified after sitting for an examination covering maternal and infant anatomy, physiology and endocrinology, nutrition and biochemistry, immunology and infectious disease, pathology, pharmacology and toxicology, psychology, anthropology and sociology, growth parameters and developmental milestones, interpretation of research, ethical and legal issues, technology, and public health. Candidates qualify to take the board examination after obtaining specific education in lactation and performing thousands of hours of clinical practice. To ensure that IBCLC's remain current with the rapidly expanding knowledge about lactation, all IBCLC's must recertify every five years to maintain the credential.

For more FAQs and information on the book, visit the official book site.