At first glance, it seems that expressing your milk onboard ship would be impossible. While it will be difficult to pump, especially if you are out to sea for extended periods of time, it can be done with some planning. The Navy has extended its deferment from deployment to one year. However, that doesn’t exempt sailors from training exercises that are only a few days to weeks long. And should you still be breastfeeding beyond a year you will be rotated back to sea-duty and may face a deployment. Shipboard sailors face many challenges such as lack of privacy, limited time to pump, and a lack of storage space.
Place to Pump
Finding a place to pump can be problematic especially for enlisted sailors. Berthing is one option, however there is little to no privacy. Sailors assigned to ships with the newer racks may be able to pump in the rack with the privacy curtains pulled shut. However the old-style shipboard racks are not made to sit up in, which leaves sitting in the lounge area where everyone in the berthing can see and hear you pumping. Other options include finding an unused space on the ship or going to Medical. Pumping in your workplace is not a viable option as ships’ spaces are small and privacy is nonexistent. Officers have the option of their staterooms to pump in.
Time to Pump
There is limited time for pumping onboard ship, as all personnel go to a 12-hour shift rotation once underway. During a 12-hour shift, you should try to fit in four pumping sessions, and then pump at least once during your “night” hours, depending on the age of your baby. There may be times when you’ll have to decide between eating or pumping, due to your work schedule and the limited times the galley is open. Keep in mind that General Quarters and Man Overboard drills are unexpected and will require you to remain at your workplace, with no way to pump until the drill is over. It is a good idea to keep your pump handy in case GQ is called and you cannot make it back to your usual pumping area.
Where you will store your pumped milk is another hurdle to overcome. Some mothers have been able to store their milk in the refrigerators in Medical (per the OPNAVINST 6000.1C, the command must supply refrigeration) or down in the Supply freezers. So you’ll need to talk to Medical or Supply if you choose to store your milk. Health and safety regulations and inspections may bar you from keeping the milk in your berthing or stateroom. Other mothers pump and dump while underway simply to keep their milk supply up and not have to hassle with storing the milk.
If you plan to take an electric breast pump onboard, it will need to be certified by the ship’s Electrical Safety division. Otherwise, take a battery or hand operated pump with you. Beginning a few weeks before your departure date add extra pumping sessions into your routine so that you can stockpile a good amount of expressed milk. Depending on how much milk you have stored, the length of your deployment, and the age of your baby, he may or may not need to be supplemented with formula or solid foods. Be prepared that a lengthy deployment with a baby older than one year might result in his weaning before your return. Sailors deployed on 6-month or longer deployments will have to wean as there are no provisions onboard to send the milk off the ship. See the Weaning section for more information on how to wean with the least trauma to yourself and your baby.