Another photo has been added to the growing gallery of attention grabbing breastfeeding images -- one of two women nursing their children. They are both wearing their Air Force uniforms, and that has caused more than a little controversy.
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There are a lot of things you are not allowed to do in military uniform -- including eating or talking on a cell phone while walking (these are okay while standing still), keeping your hands in your pockets, chewing gum, holding hands, kissing and hugging (except during homecomings and deployments) -- according to a list of 11 such restrictions on the website of Veterans United. Technically, service members are also expected to always have their right hand free so they may salute at any moment.
But breastfeeding? There apparently are no official rules. And the photographs, which are part of a breastfeeding awareness campaign launched by the Mom2Mom support group on the Fairchild Air Force Base, in the state of Washington, are being seen by some as a challenge to unwritten ones.
In an interview with the website of the "Today Show", Air National Guard member Terran Echegoyen McCabe, who is shown hiking her khaki t-shirt to nurse her 10-month-old twin daughters, said that the act of breastfeeding in uniform was not new -- she does it all the time, she said, “in our lobby, in my car, in the park.” What was new was the public nature of the photo, which was the point. "I'm proud to be wearing a uniform while breastfeeding. 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."
She and the other mom in the photo, Christina Luna, have been criticized and applauded since the photos started circulating online last week. “I breastfed and it didn’t matter where or when,” veteran Tish Karhoff wrote on the Mom2Mom website. “If any of my children were hungry I fed them, with my breast, but I didn’t take pictures of me doing it and I wasn’t trying to prove a point... There is a certain level of responsibilitiy that comes with wearing that uniform... Cover up if you are going to be partly naked in a military uniform out of respect for your country and uniform...”
On the same site, veteran Eric Hobard disagrees: “I salute them both, as soldiers and free American mothers,” he writes. “I’ve fought for people that I do not know, in countries that have nothing in common with me, and for reasons that our politicians can not justify. Considering this fact, I’d fight to defend the rights of these two Americans every day of the week.”
The attention has taken Mom2Mom by surprise, but they welcome it if it brings awareness and change. On their website they wrote: “We have done nothing wrong and we hope this will make changes to protect ALL women to breastfeed in public, in uniform or out.”
Here’s a place to start: It wasn’t until the 1980s that it became the norm for women to remain in the military through and after their pregnancies and maternity uniforms were added to the line. Might it be time to create a regulation nursing-friendly t-shirt, and maybe a camo print drape to make it easier to breastfeed in uniform? Then the mothers who wear them could stop fighting battles that should have been won long ago.
UPDATE: According to the AP, The Washington National Guard and Fairchild Air Force Base say the two mothers were "wrong to be photographed in uniform." National Guard Capt. Keith Kosik said that it's a violation of regulations to use the uniform to promote a cause but the women will likely not be punished.
Clarification:The headline above has been edited for length and clarity. The last paragraph has been changed to reflect more clearly the rules and expectations about women remaining on active duty during and after pregnancy.
LOOK: Women Breastfeeding By Brynja Sigurdardottir Photography For Mom2Mom