Military Moms Breastfeeding in Uniform Stir Controversy
At a time when breastfeeding in public is already controversial, pictures of two military moms doing so while wearing their uniforms is sparking outrage.
The photo is part of a local breastfeeding awareness campaign by Mom2Mom of Fairchild Air Force Base, a support group launched in January by Crystal Scott, a military spouse and mother of three. Among the intimate close-ups of smiling young mothers cuddling their adorable babies, the images of the two airmen stand out.
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"People are comparing breastfeeding in uniform to urinating and defecating in uniform. They're comparing it to the woman who posed in "Playboy" in uniform [in 2007]" Scott told Yahoo! Shine in an interview. "We never expected it to be like this."
"I'm an X-ray tech and I breastfeed in my uniform all the time," Scott says. "Granted they're scrubs. But people do it all the time in their uniforms. If you have a hungry baby, why would you take the time to change completely?"
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Terran Echegoyen-McCabe, a member of the Air National Guard who was photographed in uniform nursing her 10-month-old twin daughters, says that she's surprised by the reaction to the photos.
"I have breastfed in our lobby, in my car, in the park ... and I pump, usually in the locker room," she told the "Today" show, adding that she usually nurses her babies while on her lunch break during drill weekends. "I'm proud to be wearing a uniform while breast-feeding. I'm proud of the photo and I hope it encourages other women to know they can breastfeed whether they're active duty, guard or civilian."
All of the women in the photos volunteered to appear in the awareness campaign, and Echegoyen-McCabe is featured -- wearing civilian clothing -- in a few of the other candid shots. None of the photos are posed; the women are simply feeding their babies the way they usually do. But even though some of the other photographs are just as revealing, only the ones of Echegoyen-McCabe and her friend Christina Luna in uniform have been criticized.
"The Air Force has never endorsed these photos," the photographer, Brynja Sigurdardottir points out on her website, where she posted several other photos from the Mom2Mom campaign. "These women just happen to be in the Air Force, in their uniform, breastfeeding their babies."
When it comes to talking about breastfeeding in public, comparing it to other bodily functions -- and even sex -- is common, in spite of the fact that breastfeeding is legal and protected while defecating or having sex in public is not. But the fact that two of the moms are shown breastfeeding in public while wearing military uniforms makes the entire controversy more complicated. The Army, for example, didn't even come up with a combat uniform for women until 2010, so accepting the idea of a uniformed soldier breastfeeding a baby may be especially jarring. And the uniforms themselves come with their own sets of rules.
According to Military Spouse Central, public displays of affection -- even something as innocuous as holding hands -- are not allowed while wearing a military uniform. Also forbidden while in uniform: eating, drinking, or talking on a cell phone while walking, carrying an umbrella that's not black, and (in some cases) smoking or even chewing gum. While there is no policy that addresses breastfeeding in uniform, Air Force spokesperson Captain Rose Richeson told MSNBC: "Airmen should be mindful of their dress and appearance and present a professional image at all times while in uniform." Military moms who are still breastfeeding are encouraged to pump and bottle-feed their babies while they're in uniform.
Scott suggests that the issue might have less to do with the uniform and more to do with our own internal conflicts. "I think a lot of people think that you can't be a mom and be a soldier," she says. "This is not something that's out of norm for them. They breastfeed in uniform all the time -- it's just not something that's usually captured on film."