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The Only Thing Tougher Than Serving in the Military Is Breastfeeding in the Military

As hard as it is for working moms to pump, it's way harder if you're deployed to Afghanistan.

By
Nov 12 2019, 12:49 PM

Breastfeeding moms who also work face plenty of challenges, from a lack of dedicated pumping areas to unsupportive supervisors and colleagues. Things can be even tougher if your job is as a member of the armed forces, as Robyn Roche-Paull learned firsthand.

Per Romper, Roche-Paull was in the Navy when she had her baby in the 1990s, an era in which there were no breastfeeding policies, no deployment deferments, and just six weeks of maternity leave. When she returned to work, she had no time or place to pump, and she resorted to using dirty, chemical-filled supply closets that often didn’t lock.

A female supervisor even told here that she was “making all the women look bad with me asking for time to pump every three to four hours.” Yikes.

“There were no books on this subject, and no one to talk to about the questions and struggles I was facing,” she recalls, so when she left the Navy in 1997 she decided to fix that. She became a lactation consultant and created a Facebook group to collect stories from military moms that eventually became a book, Breastfeeding in Combat Boots.

“The page was way more successful than I ever dreamed, which in turn made me realize that I could have a website with all this information freely available to the public.”

The project morphed into a non-profit organization, also called Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, that provides resources to moms struggling to breastfeed while enlisted.

“Being successful with breastfeeding is a challenge. They have to overcome not only cultural issues, but finding time and place to pump, how to ship milk home from overseas, travel, deployments, and possibly exposure to hazardous materials, not to mention maintaining weight and physical fitness standards.”

And just as importantly, it’s a supportive community that can help moms realize that it is possible to balance the obligations of military service and motherhood, often through simply sharing photos of breastfeeding or pumping in uniform.

“These are moms who have decided that serving their country — a sacrifice in itself — is very important, but so is making sure that their babies receive their breast milk even if that means shipping their milk home from Afghanistan for six months,” Roche-Paull says.