Many people ask how the Fort Bliss Breastfeeding Policy came to fruition. I’m here to tell you that story. At the time, I was the Pregnancy and Postpartum Physical Training (P3T) Program Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) and had soldiers coming to me that were postpartum on almost a daily basis with issues pertaining to breastfeeding in their work environment. They also were voicing their concerns in a breastfeeding support group attended by an active-duty International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Knowing that this was becoming an increasing issue, I started to draft the policy.
About a month later, I saw a posting on a local breastfeeding support group social media’s page from a former soldier that I had in the P3T program who was now medically retired. She mentioned that she wished there was a policy on post regarding breastfeeding. I sent her a private message and she informed me that she was at the food court sitting with her infant and two year old eating lunch when her infant got hungry. She went out of her comfort zone and decided to breastfeed her child; that’s when soldiers verbally made comments to their peers, but not directly to her. She was so uncomfortable and started to have anxiety that she packed everything up and left. By federal law, she has the right to breastfeed in public, but the harassment she experienced was so uncomfortable, she felt her only course of action was to leave. How unfortunate not only for her and her infant, but her two year old who was enjoying a lunchtime date with mom. How unfortunate that these soldiers who were senior ranking non-commissioned officers (NCOs) didn’t have the professionalism to just look the other way, and how heartbreaking that a female NCO was the one who spearheaded the comments. As NCOs, they all had an obligation to know and follow the federal law on breastfeeding, especially if any of them had a soldier in their ranks who was actively breastfeeding.
From the moment when I read that sitting at my desk in the 1st Armored Division Surgeon Office, I knew that something had to be done and that time was not on our side. I immediately contacted the IBCLC from our support meetings and sent her my draft of the policy; she sent it to the Chief of Midwifery Services and another IBCLC who was also a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner to review. While I was drafting a policy for Fort Bliss, the hospital on post was also drafting a policy in their first initial steps towards becoming a baby-friendly accredited hospital and mother-friendly work environment. We all came together for a one hour meeting and finalized the Fort Bliss Breastfeeding Policy as well as their policy for the hospital. It was the most productive meeting that I had ever attended towards issues pertaining to not only our soldiers, but our civilian workforce as well.
After our meeting, I took the finalized copy to the Division Surgeon for review. A few grammatical errors were identified and fixed and then sent up to the Chief of Staff at Division for review and signature. The Chief had a few corrections he wanted made on the policy, however, the corrections that he wanted made weren’t in standing with Federal law. After a meeting with him and Legal, it was determined that the policy that I had was concrete and the go ahead was given for him to sign. The policy was signed with the words “big support of this program” on it.
Shortly after the policy was signed, Fort Bliss made headlines again when soldiers from the P3T Program participated in a free breastfeeding photo session that was coordinated by a local photographer and me. We were approved by the Garrison Commander as well as Public Affairs to conduct the photo session on one of the parade fields in the late afternoon. Fort Bliss’s breastfeeding policy has been labeled as a model policy and has been emulated by many other military installations. The US Army itself has modeled their current Army Directive on Breastfeeding and Lactation Support Policy on Fort Bliss’s policy almost verbatim, demonstrating the impact this policy has made for soldiers and their families.
With the inception of the Fort Bliss Policy, many have been able to openly breastfeeding their child while in uniform without repercussions during their lunchtime and after duty; lactation rooms have been created throughout the installation in support of this policy as well to include a new space at Freedom Crossing, where the original incident happened.
It is the duty of each and every soldier and officer in the United States Army to ensure that they are abreast on their local policy on breastfeeding support as well as the Army directive and federal law. This promotes better outcomes for mom and supports the mission at hand – defending our great Country.
This is a guest post by SSG Amanda Marion who is currently an instructor at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. She is a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) as well as holding certifications in prenatal/postpartum fitness and aerobics/kickboxing. She is a single mother to a six year old who she exclusively breastfed while on active-duty. She is a member of the joint social media admin team for the only two official breastfeeding support groups for military personnel, Mom2Mom Global and Breastfeeding in Combat Boots.
Does your command have a breastfeeding policy? Is your command supportive of breastfeeding? Do you have lactation rooms available? Leave a comment below!