Officials at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho rescinded a new public breastfeeding policy after the rules came under heavy fire from service members, military spouses and breastfeeding proponents.
"I better understand the concerns regarding breastfeeding in public and am sorry individuals were offended," Col. David Iverson, commander of Mountain Home's 366th Fighter Wing said in a statement. "The policy was not intended to ostracize anyone and I regret it had that effect. I will revoke this policy while we look for a better way to accommodate and be respectful of all individuals in our community."
The rescinded public breastfeeding policy was issued in an April 16 by base directive signed by Iverson.
"In order to accommodate the rights of nursing mothers on Mountain Home AFB, please ensure that anyone breastfeeding a child in a customer service waiting area is offered a private office or room in order to accommodate the nursing needs. ... If mothers do not wish to use a private room, they should use a nursing cover," the policy said. "Mothers who refused to use a nursing cover and refuse to nurse in the private room offered by office personnel may be asked to leave the area."
It was unclear what if any incident sparked the new rule, although some service members and spouses at Mountain Home speculated that it stemmed from complaints.
Breastfeeding mothers on federal property are generally protected by a federal law that states that breastfeeding is permitted in any location as long as the mother and baby are otherwise authorized to be there. But directives by military base commanders, such as the one issued by Col. Iverson, can supersede those laws.
Federal labor law dictates that nursing mothers be given time during the work day to express milk in "a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public."
Some breastfeeding moms at Mountain Home said the new rule would not have changed their behavior.
"I'm going to continue to nurse wherever I'm at here on base," said Capt. Kristina O'Keefe, a clinical nurse and nursing mother of two stationed at Mountain Home. "If I'm asked to leave, I won't leave. They'll probably have to escort me out. That's how strongly I feel. I am a very stubborn woman, and I'm not breaking any laws, and that's my right to do so – to continue to be able to provide for my daughter."
O'Keefe said she regularly nurses her 1-year-old daughter in public, although she does her best to be discreet by wearing two shirts and exposing only as much of her breast as is necessary for feeding. With her 2-year-old son in tow, she said it's not always possible to leave a waiting area to use a private room. And using a nursing cover can draw more attention than necessary to a feeding baby -- particularly if the infant is old enough to play with the cover. Some babies even refuse to nurse while covered, she said.
The outrage over the new policy spread far beyond moms stationed at Mountain Home.
"The chatter I'm getting is, of course, everyone is outraged over it, this is ridiculous," said Robyn Roche-Paull, a Navy veteran whose book and website, Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, act as guides for military moms.
Roche-Paull said she hopes the controversy results in more breastfeeding education for open-feeding opponents.
"I keep thinking that this more over ignorance than any malicious intent," she said. "Unfortunately you can't take away the ability of a baby to be fed. If you're going to say don't feed in customer service areas than no one should be fed in a customer service area. Let's take it farther. Everyone gets to eat in there or no one gets to eat in there."
But not everyone felt the policy was unreasonable. Shawntorea Lachelle, who recently PCSed from Mountain Home, said she was offered an office for nursing while waiting in a customer service area on base and does not have a problem using a cover or scarf to shield herself while feeding.
"I have personally witnessed a mom leaving her breast out so her toddler could nurse and go play and then come back for more. ... I've also asked a mom to cover herself when she switched breast and let the other one just hangout while in the BX," she said. "Col. Iverson is not saying women cannot breastfeed publicly. The wording could be changed, but I do not see an issue with the accommodations provide. I hope that now the base will actually put nursing rooms in their buildings like some bases have. "
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org