If you are in the Air Force, Army, or Marines, you may be sent on field training exercises (FTX) that range from days to weeks. Since they are training maneuvers and not deployments, you won’t be exempt from them due to breastfeeding. You will be eating, pumping, showering, and sleeping in the field; conditions will be dirty, and you’ll have virtually no privacy. You will be on the move constantly and most likely you will not have any electricity or refrigeration available. Despite all this, you can continue to pump while in field conditions. There are a number of items you will want to think about and prepare for before you leave on your FTX. Download the Deployments, Schools and Trainings handout, or go to the Handouts page for more topics.
Speaking with your leadership is vital. Don’t go into the FTX hoping that you can pump without anyone knowing about it. Let your command know that pumping while in the field will be necessary in order to keep from developing mastitis (you can request a note from medical). Your leadership also needs to know your requirements for pumping, such as the amount of time you will need (10-15 minutes a couple of times a day) and where a suitable place in the field might be, ahead of time as well.
In preparation for leaving, pump and store extra milk in order to leave a good supply of expressed milk for your baby. Pump as often as possible, including when you are at home, to build up a good stockpile. For a short-duration FTX of a few days, you should have no trouble leaving enough milk behind. If it will be a longer exercise, your caregiver may need to supplement your baby with formula, or you may want to consider weaning. Be sure that you have introduced a bottle (if you haven’t already) and whichever formula you will be using well before you leave to be sure that your baby will tolerate it.
There are a number of supplies that you might consider bringing with you in addition to your usual pumping equipment:
- Hand pump or attachment, in case of malfunction, lost/missing pieces, no electricity
- Pump cleaning gear – bottle brush, dish soap, ziplock bags (gallon)
- Hand sanitizer/wipes
- Milk storage bags – only if you have refrigeration/storage
- Blanket – for pumping under
In the Field
Finding a suitable place to pump in field conditions can be tricky. You’ll very likely be living in primitive conditions with other women, and possibly men, in a tent. Here are some options for creating a pumping space: a strung-up towel or poncho around their cot or in a corner of the tent. Another idea is to stick the pump under your shirt or rain poncho and pump regardless of privacy. For some women, it is just easier to hand express their milk directly on the ground, especially if you are only expressing enough to relieve fullness.
You probably will not be able to pump nearly as often as you do back at your home base and your milk supply may drop. Try to aim for at least four to six times in 24 hours, and make at least one to two of those during the night to keep your supply up. You will most likely be pumping and dumping simply to maintain your supply as it is very unlikely you will have any electricity or a way to store the milk. Be prepared to watch your milk sink away into the ground or down the drain. Eat and drink regularly in order to help maintain your milk supply. Do not forgo drinking enough water because you can’t relieve yourself in the field due to the conditions or a lack of time. It is vital that you not become dehydrated as it can affect your milk supply. Upon your returning home, frequent nursing and pumping should increase your supply back up to its normal level. Check out the Supply Issues page for more tips on increasing your milk supply.
If you will be wearing heavy gear or packs, be sure that the straps are not pressing into your breast tissue as it may increase the risks of plugged ducts. It is important to wash your hands and your pump parts while in the field, keep some hand sanitizer and/or hand wipes in your cammies. Practice hand expression, you probably won’t have electricity and battery-operated and manual pumps do break. Check out this page on Hand Expression for more tips.
Breastfeeding while on a field training exercise is doable. However, it will take a lot of perseverance and dedication on your part.