This past weekend was the first time going to the field since my daughter was born in February. Army regulations prevent units from having new moms go on overnight trips until your little one is over four months old. So as of June 13, I was on the list to head out to the field. This weekends training schedule was packed, including bussing across the state and being the Officer in Charge (OIC) on the weapons qualification range.
Even without being a new mom, even for the second time, being the OIC of a range is an important responsibility that takes a lot of planning, coordination, management, and execution. There are a lot of moving parts that go into making the range a success and accomplishing the mission. But I also had another mission: pumping and saving enough milk for my baby girl.
I looked to one of my favorite resources on the subject: Breastfeeding in Combat Boots. Robyn Roche Paul is the go-to resource when it comes to knowing about the tips and tricks for successfully breastfeeding in the military. She has been a breastfeeding advocate since she herself became a mother while serving in the Navy, and has been an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) since 2006.
My husband was able to find a plug in cooler at a garage sale a couple of months ago, and I originally planned on taking it with to store my milk in. But after a test run last weekend, we discovered that it just wasn’t staying cold enough and it wasn’t going to the best choice for the logistics of taking it from our sleeping area to the range and back again. So then I started looking into taking some dry ice in a small picnic cooler. I found a distributor nearby and they were really informative about how to use it – but they advised that I would need to check with the bus company that would be transporting us to verify that they would allow it on the bus. Since the buses are contracted, I would need to talk to the actual bus driver that I would have on the day of and that just wasn’t information that I was able to track down.
So, my section NCOIC helped me to verify that they cooks for the unit would have ice on hand throughout the training exercise. She chuckled a bit about it, but her daughters are actually my age and breastfeeding mothers themselves. The morning of departure, I packed up a bag of ice from my own freezer and tucked it into my cooler. I also made sure I had a couple of special things in my pump bag to make sure that I would have smooth sailing all weekend.
- Freemie – These collection cups for my breast pump were a HUGE game changer. I’m able to use them with my Medela pump as well as with their own model as well! They tuck right into my bra so that I can pump discretely whenever, and wherever I can. I just put them in place, and then I just pull my tan t-shirt back down and pull my ACU blouse back together so that you can hardly tell I’m pumping. The noise of my pump humming next to me is the only thing that gave me away a couple of times! I even pumped in the control tower of the range! They are absolutely worth the investment.
- Battery Pack – Medela has a battery pack that is compatible with their Pump in Style pump and this was amazing for pumping on the bus to and from our training. It was a four hour bus ride each way, and it’s not always possible to pump right before boarding based on what is going on. But with the battery pack I could pump anywhere that I needed to.
- Power Adapter – I also made sure to tuck a power adapter into my bag just in case I needed to pump while in a vehicle I would be able to with ease. I didn’t use it this weekend, but it has come in handy before and I definitely recommend every pumping mom have one in her bag!
- Pacifier Wipes – There are some fancy wipes you can get for your pump parts for quick cleaning on the go. But when I checked out the ingredients compared to the equally fancy but much cheaper pacifier wipes available, they were very similar. So when the best I can do is a quick wipe down this is what I use. You don’t want your milk sitting in your pump parts out in the heat in the field, it’ll cause bacteria to grow.
- The Basics – These are things I always have on hand including my breastmilk storage bags, permanent marker, and extra tubing.
I am very fortunate to be in a unit with many people who are supportive of me and other mothers in the unit that are on this pumping journey. I was able to pump on the bus on the way to our training base, in the barracks, at the range, and on the way back as well. There were some hiccups of course, but these have to be taken with a little grace and press on to not only accomplish my mission to nourish my daughter but also to accomplish the unit mission.
I missed a pumping session due to a required certification course with Range Control, and it made me anxious at the time and impatient to get to a place that was at least semi-private to pump. I didn’t feel comfortable pumping in the van on the way back to the barracks because it was a packed full 12 passenger van but I just had to tell myself that I was already late pumping anyways and the extra ten minutes it would take to get there wasn’t going to make a huge difference. When I got there, I was able to sit down and have a moment of quiet and pump.
The morning of the range, I woke up to pump and the milk started backing up into the tubing!! AHH! It made me panic for a split second, but then I got my wits about me and disconnected the tubing before the milk reached the pump. After calming down from my oh-my-gosh-my-pump-almost-just-got-milk-in-it moment.. I just took my pump cups and the tubing to the latrine, washed everything and started again. And it was fine!
The Non Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) on the range with me was really supportive. He had zero issues with my pumping in the tower, saying something to the effect of “Of course, it’s just natural!” After hearing so many stories of other Soldiers having unsupportive environments, it was a sigh of relief to just be able to do what I needed to do and take care of business.
- At breakfast and dinner each day I replaced the ice for my cooler and it worked out really well. But we were eating in a DFAC which made it a lot easier. But our food service section told me that even if they had been cooking out of the MKT they could have helped me with ice. Don’t be afraid of simply asking for what you need. You might be surprised how supportive people can be with just a simple request!
- I ended up moving my pump from the normal pump bag into my assault pack so that it was easier to take with wherever I needed to go. It helps decreasing the I’m-carrying-a-breastpump-everywhere feeling too. Just another Soldier carrying around a normal assault pack.
- I used a pillow over the pump in the barracks after lights out and before wakeup to keep it from making too much noise and waking up the other Soldiers.
- I wore tank tops under my tan t-shirt to make sure that when I was getting my pump stuff set to go I wasn’t showing my stomach. That might not bother other people but I like to stay as covered up as possible especially at work, and it is also a good-will gesture to put others at ease who might be around when you need to pump.
- Stay flexible. You might not always be able to pump in ideal conditions. You might end up pumping in places you’d never expect, with people around.
The Army doesn’t have a regulation to protect the rights of breastfeeding mothers like the other services, so you have to be pro-active. Instead of focusing on what the Army doesn’t spell out in writing, we can focus on the flexibility that we can have with it. I’ve found a lot of success with being honest about what I need to accomplish my goals and frankly, not making it sound like a big deal. I don’t ask permission to pump; I let people know that I need to go take care of something and I’ll be with them in about 15-20 minutes. If I have a meeting scheduled at the time that I normally pump, then I pump earlier or wait until after if I know for sure that it’ll be a short one. The more natural we make it seem, the less it will phase others and the more pumping can be normalized.