Photographs of two military moms breastfeeding in uniform has sparked some controversy. The photos, now circulating on the Internet, have surprised the mothers who were featured in some of the images.
The women in the photos allowed the photos to be done to promote National Breastfeeding Awareness Month in August. The local campaign was prompted by Crystal Scott, a military spouse who has three children.
A series of photographs were taken by photographer Brynja Sigurdardottir, it is said these pictures were not posed, but captures of women nursing their children as they normally would.
Included in the series was an image of two airman nursing their babies; one of whom was breastfeeding twin baby girls side by side. The fact they were in uniform at the time is what has caused some outrage.
"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. "We never expected it to be like this."
Scott told Yahoo! Shine she nurses in uniform frequently. "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?"
Terran Echegoyen-McCabe, one of the women in the photos and a member of the Air National Guard, said she nurses her 10-month old twins on lunch breaks during the weekends she drills.
"I have breast-fed in our lobby, in my car, in the park ... and I pump, usually in the locker room," she told MSNBC. "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 breast-feed whether they're active duty, guard or civilian."
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." Richeson did note that the Air Force does not have a specific policy that addresses women nursing their children while in uniform.
Over the past year many debates have stemmed over women publicly nursing their children, and these photographs of women in military uniform have added a new dimension to ongoing breastfeeding debates.
Part of the controversy, as MSNBC pointed out, is the idea that military members give up certain rights when they join one of the services. The article points to a blog run by Robyn Roche-Paull, IBCLC, a former active duty service member and currently active breastfeeding advocate. She is also author of a book called Breastfeeding in Combat Boots.
There is one discussion going on in the blog is occurring under a recent post titled, "Forget Breastfeeding in Public…What About in Uniform?"
One commenter, Amanda, says, "As a former Marine, Active Duty, I am appalled by the notion that any service woman would feel it is appropriate to breast feed a child while in uniform. I believe it is an utter disgrace to all women before us who made many sacrifices for the roles we have today."
Another who is listed as "US Army (Ret)", wrote, "The issue at hand IS NOT BREAST FEEDING. The issue is that there are certain activities & actions that service-members of the US Armed Forces may or may not do while in public. These two women made a very poor choice & did not exercise good judgment. Breast feeding in public does not render a professional appearance & personal opinions or feelings should never be placed above that."
A poster named "Mama Wrench" replied, "It goes to the very heart of women in the workplace. If expressing femininity is seen as unprofessional, THAT’S the problem, not how that femininity is expressed. Pregnancy and breastfeeding are intimately female acts. If I must divest myself of an essential element of my nature to be a good servicemember, then the military is guilty of false advertising."
This last point brings up an interesting point. In the civilian sectors, working mothers have consistently been faced with barriers when it comes to breastfeeding. The challenges nursing military mothers are faced with are less publicized.
In modern day, many women are active duty or reservists in the U.S. military, but it is still a male-dominated field. According to statistics published by Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation, Inc., as of Sept. 20, 2011, 14.6 percent of active duty service members are women,15.5 percent are National Guard, and 19.5 percent are Reservists. It was stated these statistics were posted courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Coast Guard.
With a significant percentage of women serving, this affects the dynamics a bit and perhaps prompts a few questions. Do 'older' rules regarding military uniforms need to be adapted? Is it ethically wrong to put this constraint on a mother, who is also a service member, trying to give her child the best possible nutrition? Or should the same rules regarding uniform appearances apply across the board without exception? There is also the consideration that U.S. law states women may breastfeed children at any location in a federal building or on federal property.
Echegoyen-McCabe told MSNBC, "I guess my thoughts are, if you don't want to breast-feed in your uniform, you don't have to. But you should have respect for those who do. ... If anything, it should make people look at you as someone who is able to multitask."