I know Veteran’s Day has already passed, but I thought it would be a great idea to honor our fellow mamas who have breastfed and/or pumped for their babies while serving.
So, I had asked a few mamas to share photos of themselves (in or out of uniform) and sharing their stories and experiences.
I got out of the Navy in June of this past year. I was blessed with such an amazing environment and leadership that I was able to breastfeed my first child until he was 2.5 and in turn tandem nurse with my daughter. Neither of my children would take a bottle, so pumping just didn’t work for us. To keep this short, I ended up having a “wet-nurse” and nursed on lunch breaks to get us through. You can read about that journey here. But knowing that many moms have struggles, whether it be in the beginning or the entire time; it may be quite different for our military moms.
So, this post is to honor our military mamas. Even if your photo/quote isn’t featured, this is still for you!
“I was very glad that the Navy had an actual policy to protect nursing mother’s while on active service. Pumping was a pain, and I did it religiously with my oldest. I was determined to give him breastmilk, despite having to go back to work.” – –
Rocky Rozhanskiy, US Navy Veteran
“Breastfeeding and pumping while in the USCG had its struggles. We didn’t always have the proper places to pump and store. But we made due. Even now, still nursing #3, 5 years later, I’m happy for those struggles. It’s what pushed me to exclusively breastfeed; despite the stigma surrounding working moms.”
– – – Jennifer Burman, US Coast Guard Veteran and Beauty and Lifestyle Magazine Bog Contributor
“Being a first time mom is hard. Being a first time mom with no family around is even harder. 6 weeks off, stitches are still healing, the weight is still packed on and the thought of a normal life again is behind me! I returned to work after having six incredible weeks off with my first born.
Day one consisted of figuring out where to pump at work. We were put in a storage closet about the size of an airplane restroom. In 2014 (the year my son was born), the Navy released an updated breastfeeding policy but many seemed to be uncomfortable about the subject. After day one, I knew that it was unacceptable to be producing my child’s food in that storage closet. I brought it up the chain of command and presented the updated instruction. “Must have running water accessible (not a restroom) and given privacy”! My main focus was getting us out of a hazmat locker, that’s literally what it was.
In the meeting with my COC, an E8 told me, “well why can’t you just do it in the restroom?” I wasn’t sure if he was joking or being serious, this man was very hard to read. So, I responded with, “why don’t you eat your lunch in the restroom senior chief?” I probably should have kept my mouth shut, but it got the point across.
Over the next few months there was a lot of progress but it took blood, sweat and tears to get there. A lot of our COC asked why we couldn’t just go pump in the hospital, it had a space nicer than any other lactation room on base.
But we have to work, simple as that.
Taking 10 minutes to drive to the designated location, park, walk to the room on the third floor, set up, get a let down, make sure to pump until I’m empty, break down everything, label and sanitize my area, walk back to my vehicle and then drive back to work. Oh, don’t let me forget to add that we have to do that about 2-3 times during the work day. “Must be allowed 20-30 minutes 2 to 3 times a day”, that evolution adds up to way more than 20-30 minutes when you want us to pump in a different building.
So, after putting up a good fight, they ended up designating us our own room. Two decking chairs, privacy, sink, outlets and more. It wasn’t a 5 star room but it was definitely better than what we had. When my son was 3 1/2 months old, he started getting teeth, lord help me. He would bite and bite and bite when he nursed so eventually, I stopped nursing. I began exclusively pumping when he was 4 months old; till he was 10 1/2 months old. It was tough to say the least. Fitting my pump schedule around school, work, watches, taking care of Landon, while still trying to have a social life made me extremely depressed. I felt trapped but I knew what I was doing was worth it.
Fast forward to three years later. We are still dealing with difficulties creating lactation rooms for mothers, but the navy is doing their best. It is a sensitive and awkward subject for a lot of people, especially men. I believe that providing training on the issue and helping educate the leaders in our fleet that will be dealing with pregnant women, will help beyond our expectations.
– – – Andrea Nicole, US Navy, Logistics Specialist Second Class
“Being a mother requires far more sacrifice than you can ever imagine. Now, add being an active duty mother, and the virtue of motherhood can completely overwhelm you. Breastfeeding my three children hasn’t always been easy. I’ve pumped in locker rooms, bathrooms, and sometimes in my car. My supply has fluctuated; I’ve gotten engorged, due to not having enough time to pump. And, I’ve cried countless times in feeling as though I am not enough as a mother. Education for nursing/pumping moms wasn’t advocated as much as it has been within the most recent years, and although I was only able to nurse my first 2 sons until they were 6 months old, through education and support I was able to nurse my 3rd son until he was 18 months old.”
– – LT Maria Relayo, US Navy, Aviation Ordnance
“Seeing this photo gave me all the feels. I didn’t breastfeed as long as I wanted with my first because I was on the flightline. I didn’t have the time or energy to make it back to the hangar to pump when I needed to. So, transitioning to formula was what worked for us. But here I am, 6 years later, as a veteran; waiting for my active duty husband to come back from deployment, breastfeeding my one year old daughter in the hangar bay. And, I really am just SO thankful that we made it this far in our breastfeeding journey. I am so happy I have this image to look back on and remind me of all the obstacles I overcame to get here. “
– – Raquel Renteria, US Navy Veteran
“I have served for 8 years thus far in the US Army Reserves and have had two daughters during that time. Both of my daughters nursed, so I knew I was going to have to pump during work and drill weekends.
Initially, my experience was awful, which I was fearful of. I drilled with a unit that I was not a part of. I was more or less visiting, due to being a new area. At first, I was promised a private place with a locked door for me to pump. That promise was not kept. I found myself in a small bathroom with no lock on the door and an extension cord running from down the hallway into the bathroom.
I felt ashamed; because I should have said or done something.
Yet, the next day I found myself pumping in my car on a cold, snowy day. I didn’t go back and drill with that unit after my experience. A month or so later, I made it clear that there were policies and laws broken and that is why I no longer wanted to be apart of their unit. I never received a response back. Months later, I discovered a new unit that had just “stood up” and they were very accommodating to me from the get go and never once gave me a hard time. I was excused from ranges and field training while I pumped, since there was no way to store my pumped milk.
With my second daughter, I had no issues because I was still with the unit that provided me what I needed. I believe the Military, as a whole, needs to work on accommodating service women with their needs when it comes to nursing, pumping and maternity leave. There are both federal and state laws that supposedly “don’t need to be followed because it’s the Military”, so I have been told.
That first unit that I was with when I had just started pumping, was made up of mostly older men, who probably had never been in that type of situation before, or who may have never had a soldier ask that question; but that is no excuse. If a woman choses to use a restroom, that is her choice. But no woman should be made to use a restroom, especially in fear of reprisal, which was my situation.
I hope my story helps others and doesn’t allow the Military to tell a mother that they can’t feed their child in the best way they think possible. Many women in the service don’t nurse or pump because it’s just too much of a hassle while in uniform. That just seems so wrong to me. However we chose to nurture and feed our babies is our right and our choice, no one else’s.”
– – Molly Taber, US Army Reservist, Automated Logistics Specialist SGT
And this is me, nursing my daughter on my last day in the Navy.
The military life isn’t easy. And being a mom in the military doesn’t make it any easier. But we do the best we can, while providing all of what we can, for our kids. Even if it means making sacrifices for ourselves, or in other areas, to make sure we can do what is best for the babies. Thank you to those who have served, are serving, and will serve.
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Latest posts by Abigail Dougherty (see all)
- Honoring Our Military Breastfeeding Mamas - January 5, 2018
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- Why Letting Your Baby Wet Nurse isn’t the End of the World - February 21, 2017