Being a mother isn’t always compatible with being in the military. I would know, I spent more than 20 years wearing the uniform.
Trying to juggle motherhood and service to your country is tough. Yes, all moms struggle with balance at times, but trying to balance being a mom with the commitment that military service demands adds an extra layer of stress and complication. Family separations, frequent moves, and austere working environments are hard when you’re juggling diapers, daycare, and the sleep deprivation that sometimes accompanies parenthood in the early years.
We are at the tail end of World Breastfeeding Week. I’ve seen lovely pictures of moms and their kids celebrating the beauty of nursing their babies. Now, the Air Force, following the Army’s lead, has recently made breastfeeding or pumping while wearing a military uniform just a little bit easier on the mamas.
These breastfeeding shirts, manufactured by Miss Military Mom, come in colors that are authorized to be worn underneath the two utility uniforms that the Air Force is currently using. It’s not yet known if the Military Clothing Sales Stores will carry them, though I’m hoping they will. Although nursing Airmen are not issued the shirts and must purchase them themselves, it’s important to note that military members receive an annual clothing stipend to offset the cost of uniform items.
The shirts come in long-sleeved and short-sleeved versions, and have a flap that can be pushed up for easier nursing or pumping. The shirt is to be worn tucked in under the Airman Battle Uniform (ABU) or the Operational Camouflage Pattern Uniform (OCP).
This support for servicewomen who are breastfeeding and pumping shows the military is moving in the right direction. While it is hard to combine being a mom with military service, plenty of women choose to do it and manage to rock it. Gone are the days when a woman must choose between military service and having a family. After all, roughly 20 percent of the Air Force is female.
Properly sizing women’s uniforms is a current priority of Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein — and it’s about time. Women are performing the same combat jobs as men every day and I’m glad someone is paying attention.
Breastfeeding T-shirts and pump-friendly workplaces were things I didn’t experience when I served. When I was a young mom in the military, there was pressure to be “just like the guys.” We did our best to fit in and avoided anything that would make us stand out (like asking for accommodations to nurse or pump breastmilk).
Yet while breastfeeding T-shirts are very encouraging, some say there’s still more that could be done. Technical Sergeant Natalia Wood told Military.com that “more uniform modifications are needed for nursing mothers, but the T-shirts are a step in the right direction.”
Regardless, active-duty Airman and blogger at Four Hats and Frugal Amiyrah Martin says the new breastfeeding T-shirts are an important show of support toward females on duty.
“I’ve nursed 3 children during my 18 years in the Air Force, and truthfully, the stress behind needing to pump while on duty was very high,” she says. “I see this as an acknowledgement of the possible stress, and a support of females who don’t want to have to choose between duty to their Air Force Specialty Code, and duty to their vow to breastfeed.”
I am glad to see that the military is moving in the right direction to not only alleviate the struggles women juggling new motherhood and service so often face, but to normalize breastfeeding as well. Because it is normal.
I can’t wait to see what’s next.