The Issue of Breast Feeding in Uniform – Thoughts from an Outsider

Photo Credit: AP

Let me make two things very clear right off the bat here. First, though I hope to be one in the not too distant future, I am not a mother nor am I a soldier. Second I do not, nor does anyone else possess the right to comment on, judge or otherwise have an opinion on if/when/for how long a mother breastfeeds her child.

Alright, now let’s get to the matter at hand. Breastfeeding while in a military uniform in public – okay or not?

Breastfeeding on-base, or on-post for my American friends, while in civvies, sure! Breastfeeding in public (heck, even whipping out the whole breast in all its glory for the world to see), sure! Breastfeeding in your uniform behind closed doors, sure! But breastfeeding in a public place in your military uniform??

When I first came across this issue I was conflicted. I have my moments, much like I’m sure most of you do, where I say to my husband (who happens to be a soldier), “but why can’t you do *insert normal every day activity here* in your uniform? It’s just like any other job!” But I am also the first to admit that these are moments of weakness, of emotions running high with my speech filter turned off. Being in the military is certainly not just like any other job. I do understand why men and women in the military can’t do normal, everyday activities in their uniforms… even if I’m not always happy about it.

My husband can’t for example hold my hand while in uniform. Just like he can’t walk our dog, pick up our one year old niece, chew gum, talk on a cell phone or use foul language while in uniform. I will admit it – some of these rules suck! I hate having to wait for him to get to a private location to call me with important information just because he can’t be seen on his phone in his combats. Even more so I hate not seeing him for weeks on end and then not being able to so much as brush the back of his hand with mine until we can steal off into a private place, once again because he is in uniform.

I remember one night, early on in my military life, when this issue came to a head for us. I asked him, “Why can’t you hold my hand in combats? What does that even have to do with your job?” My darling husband, who is unquestionably the most patient man I know, explained to me very clearly and concisely exactly why not.

“It’s for the same reason that I can’t get into a fistfight, yell out racial slurs or push an old lady out of the way at the grocery store,” he said – though I should mention here that he would never under any circumstances do any of those things. “It’s because when I’m in this uniform every single action I take directly reflects back on not just me but on the Canadian military as a whole and everything they stand for.”

When a man or a woman dons the uniform of their military, be it Canadian, American, or otherwise, they can’t behave like everyone else. They simply can’t go around looking like anything less than a soldier. This is not only to maintain a show of strength for their national forces but also as a sign of respect towards the uniform, the organization and everything it stands for.

There is a delicate balance between being a mother and a soldier that I can’t even being to comprehend, but I do know that being a soldier demands professionalism at all times. Women serving in the military absolutely have the right to feed their child in any manner that they deem best but conversely they have a responsibility to uphold the professionalism demanded by their job. In the same way that my husband has a responsibility to walk our dog yet he has a responsibility not to do so in uniform, a mother has the right to breastfeed her child but perhaps shouldn’t be granted that right to do so in uniform in a public setting.

So maybe the issue at hand here has nothing to do with a mother’s right to breastfeed but instead is simply about what is appropriate behavior of a soldier in uniform. Perhaps these two issues need to be separated or a better balance needs to be struck between them in the hopes that, as much as being a soldier shouldn’t take away from being a mother, the inverse also becomes true. In fact maybe the “mommy hat” and the “military hat” simply can’t be worn at the same time in certain situations. 

What mothers in the military really need is a third option here. Perhaps this doesn’t have to be a matter of yes it’s okay or no it’s not, but a matter of finding an appropriate time and place for this activity to occur.

Just something to think about…

 * A disclaimer from the author: I intend no personal attacks in the writing of this article and certainly do not purport to have the right to sit judgment on others. I sincerely apologize if anything in the above article has been taken in a manner that causes negative feelings as that was certainly not my intention. *


8 thoughts on “The Issue of Breast Feeding in Uniform – Thoughts from an Outsider”

  1. I have to agree with you 100%! This isn’t about the baby or breast feeding in open. This is about what you represent which is your Military branch. There is a time and place for everything and I am sorry but this just isn’t right – especially when men have to uphold the uniform as well. If women want to serve, they must do the same. Plain and simple.

  2. “Perhaps this doesn’t have to be a matter of yes it’s okay or no it’s not, but a matter of finding an appropriate time and place for this activity to occur.”

    Agreed. Well said, Alison.

  3. The difficulty for me lies in the conflict between my belief that when in uniform, a soldier, no matter what sex they are, should be just that…. a soldier, no more, no less – and my belief that a baby should be fed when they are hungry, not when mommy ‘s had a chance to strip out of her uniform. I do think baby’s needs should trump anything else, so how about a compromise? Yes, I think a soldier mom should be able to breastfeed her baby without changing out of her uniform, but not while in open view, not even covered by a blanket. This is not because breastfeeding is shameful, but because she can’t maintain the soldier demeanor while breastfeeding her baby. I personally think there ought to be designated nursing rooms everywhere, both on post and off. 😀 Until that happy day, a handy toilet stall and a boppy or pillow of some kind should do the trick. Anyway, my belief comes down to this: All kinds of rights are given up when you sign up to be a soldier. I believe the right to openly breastfeed, while in uniform, should be one of them.

  4. I agree! One of the reasons our military looks so professional and are taken so seriously when in uniform is because of the strict rules put on men and women in uniform. Yes, a hungry baby needs to eat, but if the mother is in uniform it should be done in private. Some people may disagree, but we need to keep the integrity of the women in uniform as members of our armed forces.

  5. Before I read your article I was unsure of how I felt about this issue. I am a breastfeeding mother so I understand the need to feed your child no matter the circumstances. But I also have a respect for the uniform. Now that I’ve read what you had to say, I totally agree with you. Thanks for the insight!

  6. Beautifully written!! I think you made some great points while being sensitive to such a hot button topic! Thank you for taking this topic on and being so honest!

  7. As a veteran and mother, if my sons needed to eat and I was in uniform, they would eat. Plain and simple. I would however make an attempt to find a private place, maybe in the car or an office space, to do so. Being a mother trumps being a soldier any day in my book. You can be a mother and be professional at the same time.

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