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Posted at 05:17 PM ET, 05/31/2012

Breastfeeding: Disgrace to uniform?

Moms are still fighting the war to breast-feed their babies in public. The latest battle: Can military mamas in uniform nurse their babies?


Sarah Zuercher of Silver Spring nurses her 18-month-old son, Parke McDonald, during a nurse-in at the Hirshhorn Museum on Feb. 12, 2011, to raise awareness of and show support for D.C.'s right to nurse law. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

It’s being compared “to urinating and defecating” while in uniform, military spouse Crystal Scott says. She started a breast-feeding support group, Mom2Mom, at Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane, Wash. Professional photos of military moms in uniform nursing their babies were posted and have since gone viral, fueling yet another storm of controversy over breast-feeding in public.

This comes on the heels of the provocative photo of the mom nursing her nearly 4-year-old on the cover of Time magazine for a story that actually dealt more with the subject of attachment parenting than breast-feeding.

I’ll admit to joining the front lines of the fight to breast-feed in public 14 years ago when a local TV news station asked me to take my 6-week-old son to an upscale restaurant and nurse him during lunch.

It offended my journalistic sensibilities to try to create a media event, but my desire to support breast-feeding in public won out. So there I was, enjoying grilled salmon and nursing my son, while the intrepid reporter asked patrons at other tables how they felt about seeing me breast-feed.

I had worn a nursing shirt, which allowed me to breast-feed discreetly. I didn’t want to rely on the standard trick of suffocating the baby with a receiving blanket. The reporter finally found one middle-aged matron who went on camera saying she thought it would have been more polite of me to have nursed my son in the ladies’ room, out of sight.

There are now laws in 45 states that allow breast-feeding in public, but we’ve still had women asked to leave airplanes. Moms still get stares and rude comments. I asked my husband whether he could remember some of the more unusual locations where I had nursed our children. His response: “It would be easier to list where you didn’t nurse.” But we both recall the trip by boat to Fort Sumter from Charleston, during which my daughter got hungry. So I fed her. And no one even noticed.

But my father was mortified when I told him about the local TV news story. He died soon after that, so I can’t ask him, a proud Marine, what he would think about military moms nursing in uniform.

After all, there are rules about public displays of affection and chewing gum and talking on cellphones while in uniform. I think it’s time that the powers-that-be make an official ruling regarding breast-feeding, but I hope they’ll support it.

Breast-feeding is a natural process, best for the baby and the mom. The American Academy of Pediatrics supports breast-feeding exclusively for the first six months. Studies have confirmed health benefits that can last a lifetime. It’s cost-effective. It’s better for the environment. So let’s get over this squeamishness over seeing moms nurse their babies. At least they’re doing what’s best for their children.

Maybe the military should issue nursing T-shirts that would allow breast-feeding to be done more discreetly? Or issue camouflage receiving blankets?

By  |  05:17 PM ET, 05/31/2012

 
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