If you are in the Air Force, Army, or Marines, you may be sent on field training exercises (FTX) that last from days to weeks. You most certainly will be sent to the range to qualify on your weapons as well. Since these are training exercises and not deployments, you won’t be exempt from them due to breastfeeding. Once you are 4 months postpartum you are eligible to be sent to the field or range. 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 or on the range. There are a number of items you will want to think about and prepare for before you leave. 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 or out to the range hoping that you can pump without anyone knowing about it. Let your command know that pumping while in the field or on the range 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 (15-30 minutes a couple of times a day) and where a suitable place in the field or at the range 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, or a day at the range, 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. While the Army breastfeeding policy requires that you are given the time and a place to pump, not all branches do, and sometimes it is not always possible to have a dedicated space to pump. Here are some additional 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.
At the Range
Being sent to the range is a fact of life, you must maintain your weapons quals. Breastfeeding or pumping your
milk is not an excuse to get out of going to the range. You are still eligible to attend once you are 4 months postpartum. Despite the exposure to lead, you can and should still go even if you are breastfeeding. Be prepared, it will be one very long day, but with a little preparation and a can-do attitude, you will be successful. First is finding a place to pump (while it is required by the Army breastfeeding policy to have a place to pump, the other branches do NOT have that stipulation), many pumping moms at the range have pumped in HMMVs, buses, their own POVs, or just at the range itself with their backs turned to everyone (not ideal, but will do in a pinch). Second is finding the time to pump between qualifying rounds and afterwards when cleaning up the brass. As with field exercises, you’ll likely be wearing heavy gear and will need to keep an eye out for plugged ducts and take off your gear when possible. Due to the exposure to lead while firing and cleaning your weapon, consider wearing PPE if possible (gloves and a mask), and wash your hands before pumping or handling your milk. Read more about precautions to take at the HAZMAT page.
Back At Home & Bringing Baby Back to Breast
Your caregiver and/or partner may be dealing with a cranky baby missing mom as well as the logistics of collecting and feeding your shipped milk. In addition you may be wondering IF your baby will go back to the breast upon your return and how to make that transition as smooth as possible. First things first, you can prepare baby for your time away by wearing a t-shirt for a few days and leaving that so he/she can smell you. You may also want to video yourself singing or talking to your baby so your partner can play it for baby to hear and see you while you’re gone. Baby WILL need a lot of extra love and cuddles, make sure your caregiver understands and indulges your baby. This is rough on everyone and is not the time to ‘toughen’ baby up or worry about ‘spoiling’.
If you are shipping milk home, make sure that your partner or a trusted neighbor can sign for the shipment and bring it inside the house and into a freezer ASAP. If your partner is picking up milk being transported back to base/post, see if you can get the phone number of the driver or someone in charge, so your partner can meet the truck and collect your milk without delay (or having it end up in a locked warehouse somewhere late Friday night). Determining how much of your milk to give depends on the age of your baby. Between months 1-6, most babies take an average of 25-35 ounces a day. Break up those amounts into 4-5 ounce bottles to give throughout the 24 hour periods. After 6 months, solid foods could be substituted for some bottles, reducing the amount of milk you need to leave behind or ship back home.
Depending on the length of your field training and the age of your baby, you may or may not have any issues with baby going back to the breast. Some babies willingly and easily go right back to breastfeeding no matter what, other babies are slow to warm back up, while a few decide to just wean altogether. Shorter times apart (7-10 days away) generally make it easier for baby to return to the breast, while month long deployments (or longer) can be much more challenging. No matter which baby you have, or how long you are separated, here are some tips to try to bring baby back to the breast after time away from each other.
- Take a bath together – go back to the beginning, sometimes being in the water ‘resets’ the primal instinct of being born and going to the breast, and baby will latch again.
- Skin-to-skin – spend the weekend topless, and let baby have 24/7 access to the breast. No pressure to breastfeed, just have the ‘milk bar’ open for business. Nap and cuddle with your baby in a diaper and you without a shirt. If he latches, GREAT; if not keep it moving, offer a bottle of your milk and try again next time.
- Fake baby out – take an old shirt, cut a hole for a bottle nipple between your breast and armpit, and stick the bottle nipple through (holding it with your arm). Offer the bottle near the breast first, then lift the shirt and try the other breast.
- Carry baby around in a carrier or sling when you’re at home, lots of cuddling and time together to get reacquainted is important.
- No pacifiers! Let baby use YOU to find comfort. Bonus – it increases your milk supply, which probably took a hit while you were gone.
- Be calm, be persistent, but no pressure. It’ll happen if its going to. And if baby doesn’t come back to the breast? BE PROUD of what you accomplished and know that EVERY DROP COUNTS! (and see Weaning for tips if you need them).
Breastfeeding while on a field training exercise or at the range is doable. However, it will take a lot of perseverance and dedication on your part.