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    Mitigating the Challenges of Breastfeeding in the Army Reserve

    Mitigating the Challenges of Breastfeeding in the Army Reserve

    Photo By Capt. Lauren Holl | Army Sgt. Brittany Pratt, Army Capt. Lauren Holl with daughter Isabella, Army Sgt....... read more read more



    Story by Capt. Lauren Holl 

    352nd Civil Affairs Command PAO

    I recently became a mother, which among others brought with it the challenge of breastfeeding. Those who have gone through this will understand, but many people, both men and women, do not know the challenges breastfeeding adds to motherhood, to going back to work, and to life in general. Take those challenges, then add in trying to fit this new routine into the operational tempo of Army Reserve service for two-four days every month, plus annual training. Without institutional support this stress can be crushing, and is the unfortunate end to many female soldiers’ careers in the Army Reserve. But it doesn’t have to be!

    The number of women in military service has been steadily increasing over the last 30 years, and will continue to increase. These changing demographics necessitate certain changes to how the military accommodates its members, with one of these accommodations being breastfeeding support. Strides in this area have been made in recent years, but has it been enough? In 2015, the Army was the last of the military services to initiate a breastfeeding policy, Army Directive 2015- 43 (Revised Breastfeeding and Lactation Support Policy.) This policy states that “Commanders will designate a private space, other than a restroom, with locking capabilities for Soldiers to breastfeed or express milk. This space must include a place to sit, a flat surface (other than the floor) to place the pump on, an electrical outlet, and access to a safe water source within reasonable distance from the lactation space.”

    These accommodations are difficult for Army Reserve units to meet for many reasons, to include: limited space in Reserve Centers to “give up” a room, an accelerated operational schedule that does not account for pumping breaks, field training events in new locations with unknown logistical support, and unit commanders often have little to no say in how rooms are used in the Reserve Center as their units are tenants. During training, when a breastfeeding soldier goes looking for a proper place to pump, oftentimes both men and women suggest the bathroom, thinking it is an acceptable location. The next popular suggestion, and the last resort often used, are storage closets and vehicles. If you were told to prepare your child’s food in a bathroom, would you? Are you realizing the breadth of the problem presented? As we all know, bathrooms are not sanitary, nor are they private, and they usually do not offer the counter space required.

    Most soldiers do not know what pumping entails; they may want to support it, but they just do not know how to. And it always feels uncomfortable to talk about. Even writing this is uncomfortable and nerve-racking. A recent example - when looking to establish a designated room to support the soldiers breastfeeding in my unit, we had the full support of our command. However, the command still received push-back, from an employee not wanting us to use their office on the weekends as they “do not want bodily fluids in their office,” to an officer expressing their support but feeling a dedicated room was unnecessary for one soldier in need.

    Pumping time varies for each mother based on multiple variables such as the age of their child, but typically a breastfeeding soldier will need to express milk every two-three hours for 10-30 minutes. For an eight-hour work day, that is an hour to three hours of use per breastfeeding soldier. This does not include the time it takes to set up the equipment, clean it, and put the milk in storage. If there is no designated room, the breastfeeding soldier will need a private location, usually by finding a kind soul to give up their office, take 10-30 minutes to express, pack all of the equipment up, clean it in another location with water, put the milk in storage, and put the equipment away before being able to get back to their duties. That is a lot of time for a soldier to be away from their duties, which could be saved by having a designated room to support them.

    Education on the topic, not only for breastfeeding mothers, but for the entire military service and those civilians working with the military, would allow for a healthier and more supportive environment. It may be an uncomfortable topic, but the Army Reserve has briefings on everything – a brief at the battalion command level about how to support breastfeeding soldiers would solve many of the current challenges. If there is no education provided, soldiers will not know how to be supportive. Look at the Marine Corp’s Policy concerning pregnancy and parenthood, Marine Corps Order 5000.12E. It’s a 23-page document, versus the Army’s two separate regulations for pregnancy (AR 40-501) and breastfeeding (AD 2015-43) at a total of only 4 pages. I believe an important section to acknowledge is section c. Education of Marines. To quote this section, “The Marine Corps will provide education on the policies contained in this Order to all Marines, male and female, upon initial entry, and throughout their service in the Marine Corps to stress the importance of family planning and the responsibilities of parenthood.” This does not only apply to supporting breastfeeding, it references supporting parenthood as a whole, which breastfeeding is a part of if the mother chooses. It is not only pregnant soldiers who require this training, but the entire unit can benefit from it.

    Starting a family can be a fork in the road where Army Reserve soldiers could choose to go a different direction. Many soldiers have decided that to be able to give their all to their growing families, the Army Reserve can no longer play a role. I am a wife, a stay-at-home mom, an independent consultant, and an officer in the Army Reserve. It can be difficult to balance these roles, as all Army Reserve soldiers know the old pitch of “two days a month and two weeks a year” rarely holds true anymore.

    Breastfeeding moms have routines and relationships with their little ones and pumps. When they pick everything up and head into training weekends, with long days and locations that can change on a monthly basis, it becomes stressful trying to keep to those routines, losing time trying to find a clean and private location. Some soldiers have even resorted to purchasing adapters for their cars. These mothers are already sacrificing time away for their young children to serve, and it would go a long way if they had a clean and private location to quickly and efficiently express breastmilk and then return to duty with minimal disruption.

    I want to continue my career in the Army Reserve, like any other soldier. But the angst breastfeeding mothers feel while serving, the apprehension and stress that overcomes us just thinking about the challenges we face each time we attend training, the tears shed, the fights with our significant others… is it worth it? Personally, I have sat and cried and felt like a failure as a mother, as a wife, and as a soldier. But at the end of it all, I have not regretted any of my choices. Educating soldiers on how to foster a supportive and understanding environment is key. If I knew that going to training would not be nine months of continued struggling, distraction and balancing my duties with just finding a location to pump… that would make a world of difference. With a little education on breastfeeding and the Army’s directive for breastfeeding support, like any other topic of importance to the Army Reserve, new mothers can continue to serve and contribute to their unit’s mission with minimal impact.

    Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the author’s unit, the Army Reserve, the Army, or the Department of Defense.



    Date Taken: 02.12.2018
    Date Posted: 02.17.2018 13:01
    Story ID: 265657
    Location: RIVERDALE, MD, US 
    Hometown: ITHACA, NY, US
    Hometown: RIVERDALE, MD, US
    Hometown: TRUMANSBURG, NY, US

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