If a Military Mom Can Ship Breast Milk Home From Afghanistan, You Can Pump Too

Military Mom pumpingRobyn Roche-Paull is a serious badass. That doesn’t sound like something you say about a lactation consultant, those gentle creatures encouraging calm and kvelling about endorphins, but Roche-Paull isn’t your average LC. She’s a veteran of the U.S. Navy -- where she was an aircraft mechanic -- and breastfed her son while on active duty.


Robyn Roche-PaullShe’s also the author of Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, a book intended for military moms who want information and support for their own breastfeeding efforts. If her tips help moms figure out how to breastfeed in combat zones and on military planes (like the mom to the left), surely they can be of use to any working mom.

 So hup, two, three, four -- nurse your kid like you’re at war!

“Let’s face it,” Roche-Paull tells me, “a lot of working moms don’t have corporate-type jobs where they can close the door of their office to pump. But that doesn’t mean they can’t breastfeed. It just means they’ve got their work cut out for them. But I’m not taking any back-talk about this -- I know a woman who shipped her milk home from a combat zone in Afghanistan. If she can do it, just about everyone can.”

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See what I mean? Badass. Here are her top tips for breastfeeding success no matter what your job may be.

1. Get the right mind-set. “Too many moms have an all-or-nothing attitude,” says Roche-Paull. “Hey, I’m a lactivist, I want everyone to breastfeed -- but even if you can only do it for the six weeks of maternity leave, or on nights and weekends and you end up supplementing, that’s better than nothing.” Ditching the fear that anything less than 100 percent is failure -- that’s the first step toward being able to breastfeed while working.

2. Get your ducks in a row. “I don’t know if it’s like this outside the military, but in the male-dominated world I lived in, there was a tendency to put everything off to the last minute,” Roche-Paull says. But, she points out, no supervisor wants to be blindsided by a request, your first day back from maternity leave, for a pumping room. “It’s going to be an uncomfortable conversation, but you have to pull your bootstraps up and do it well ahead of time,” she says. “With the new federal law, you might be surprised: people do know about this, and it might not be as tough as you think.”

3. Have your resources organized and in-hand. Roche-Paull recommends the United States Breastfeeding Committee, which provides information about federal laws regarding workplace support for breastfeeding moms, and the U.S. Department of Labor, which has a section devoted to break time for nursing mothers. “The average eight-hour day should have two 20-minute pumping breaks plus lunch,” she says. “You’re entitled to running water, a door that locks from the inside, and not in a bathroom.” Knowing your rights makes it easier to stand up and demand them.

4. Stockpile your milk during your leave. “Military moms only have 42 days to get their stuff together,” Roche-Paull says. “Make your best use of that time. I don’t know a single working mom -- no matter what her job is -- that doesn’t experience a dip in supply when she goes back to work. You want to start pumping while you’re home with the baby so you have some extra for that dip, or a growth spurt, or when you have to work late.”

5. “This is my bottle! There are many like it, but this is mine!” It can be daunting to get a kid used to a bottle, and who the hell wants to bother when you’ve got the handy boob? But Roche-Paull learned the hard way, when her son refused to feed for up to 12 hours at a time after she went back to work, that early insistence on the bottle might be a necessity. “It was stressful to hear him cry when the caregiver called me,” she says. “I advise parents to offer the bottle once a day. Worry about nipple confusion later, if that happens.”

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6. Do an overnight pump. If you’re not with your kid all day, and she’s sleeping through the night, your supply is going to drop. “This is a pain in the neck, and it’s hard, but even one middle-of-the-night pump -- even though your kid isn’t nursing -- will make all the difference in keeping your supply up.”

7. Get support. And she’s not talking about the right bra. “Your partner’s support is fantabulous -- I couldn’t have done as well as I did without my husband -- but if I had known other women facing the same challenges I was, I wouldn’t have felt so alone.” La Leche League was great for Roche-Paull, but she also needed her peers; find like-minded (and -breasted) women, via social networking sites, to share tips and experiences.

8. Gird yourself. Male (and female!) co-workers are going to make un-PC jokes. People will refer to you as a slacker for taking so many breaks. “What is fun and relaxing about pumping?” Roche-Paull wants to know. “It’s sad but true, but these attitudes still continue, and you’ve got to be strong enough to know what you’re doing is worth it.”

9. Just accept that pumping (literally) sucks. It does. It sucks. “You’re going to want to throw that thing against the wall some days,” Roche-Paull admits. “The day you hang up your ‘horns’” -- that’s her term for the flanges, ha! -- “is a day to rejoice. Again, this is about you being stronger than the people around you: what you’re doing is worth it.” Man, that does make me feel like a bit of a warrior!

10. Know that you can do it. And it’s worth it. “There were days when I’d be ready to throw in the towel,” Roche-Paull says. “And then I’d get home, and he’d latch on, and give me that milky grin, and I’d get that rush of calm and good feeling, and -- yeah. It’d just be so worth it.”

Heh. Maybe she does sound like a regular lactation consultant after all!

Do you know military moms who breastfed? Did they inspire you? What tips would you take?

Images courtesy of Robin Roche-Paull/BreastfeedingInCombatBoots.com

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