While the Army celebrates it’s 237th birthday today, and makes a case for being ARMY STRONG, I have to ask where their breastfeeding policy is. Birthdays occur but once a year, however each time a baby is born, there is a good chance that it will be breastfed, and that includes those babies born to currently serving women in the Army. But once those breastfeeding Army moms go back to duty at 6 weeks, there is no support for them to continue breastfeeding by providing a policy that outlines a place and time for expressing breastmilk. It seems to me that if the Army wants STRONG Families and STRONG Soldiers for a STRONG ARMY, that they might want to take a look at creating a STRONG breastfeeding policy.
The Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy each have distinct, all-encompassing policies that outline the benefits of breastfeeding to baby, mom and the military; along with guidelines for a place to pump and time to pump. But the Army has nothing definitive and readily accessible for soldiers and their supervisors. Instead the Army has a hodgepodge of various programs, instructions, and regulations with scattered references here and there regarding breastfeeding. There is not a single policy that is comprehensive or complete like those of its sister services. And that is a shame since having healthy families helps to maintain healthy soldiers which in turn maintains a healthy and strong Army. Currently the Army has a small paragraph regarding breastfeeding in the Guide to Female Soldier Readiness, one brief mention in the Army PPPT Program, and buried deep within AR 614-30 is the 6 month deferment from deployment clause (but that applies to all postpartum women, breastfeeding or not). There used to be a Sample Breastfeeding Memo available for women to use to create their own memo to send up their CoC when requesting a place and time to express milk. This policy referenced all of the major health and economic benefits of breastfeeding from leading organizations such as the AAP, but more importantly it provided a template for requesting a place and time for pumping, how to manage breastfeeding/pumping during the duty day, PT requirements, and storage and handling requirements of the expressed breastmilk. Unfortunately that memo seems to have disappeared and can no longer be found on the AMEDD website (I have included a copy here and it is also on the Resources page). Some commands have, in the past, created local policy regarding breastfeeding and expressing breastmilk during the duty day. The most notable being the policy that was in place at Ft. Lewis in the early 2000′s, titled “Policy on Support for Soldiers with Nursing Infants”. This was a wonderful policy that included education and training for commands and mothers regarding breastfeeding and pumping, but more importantly it created a model for transporting expressed breastmilk from the field (during FTXs) back to headquarters for caregivers to pick up on a daily basis. That too has disappeared and with it the promise of a similar Army-wide policy (again I have included it here for reference).
Given what we know about the benefits of breastfeeding of breastfeeding for babies (take a look at the AHRQ statement, the AAP statement, and Bartick study) as well as for the mothers, and the cost savings for the DoD; it seems illogical that the Army hasn’t come up with a policy yet. In fact, Army Major Michael Bell wrote a two-piece study in 2003 (Breastfeeding in the Military Part One and Part Two), outlining WHY breastfeeding in the military is so important to mission readiness, retention and recruitment; and gave concrete examples of how to implement breastfeeding policy within each of the services. And yet the Army still hasn’t followed up and created their own policy. Meanwhile Army mothers are struggling to convince their CoC to allow them time to pump, or give them a place to pump; they are being sent out on training exercises or deployed while their babies are still exclusively breastfeeding, or are working with HAZMAT….and have no real recourse or way to request what they need to be successful. A breastfeeding policy works both ways: it allows the mother to request the time and place that she needs, while providing guidance to the chain of command for what they required to provide. That way everyone is on the same page. Otherwise it is left up to the individual to fight for what she needs and it only takes one person who doesn’t agree to say no. Which happens far too often…
Let’s take a look at the slogan above: The Strength of our nation is our Army, the Strength of our Army is our Soldiers, the Strength of our Soldiers is our Families. So starting from the bottom up, if you want strong families, shouldn’t the babies be breastfed?? Breastfeeding, and providing expressed breastmilk, grows strong, healthy babies. And if mom is breastfeeding, and feeling supported in her efforts, that makes her both stronger and more likely to remain in the Army, which in turn makes the Army Stronger.
If the Army wants it’s soldiers to be strong (as well as family members) then it seems to me that the best way to do that would be to support breastfeeding by creating a policy. If the other services can do it, so can the Army.