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Is Breastfeeding the "Cause of an Outside Organization"? The Case of Moms Breastfeeding in Uniform

There has been a lot of stir about two moms who were photographed breastfeeding in their Air Force uniforms. The photos, taken by photographer Brynja Sigurdardottir, were comissioned by the Mom2Mom Breastfeeding Support group to help promote breastfeeding and encourage new and expectant mothers to breastfeed. I'm not displaying the photos here, because the photographer has made it clear that she owns the copyright and has not given permission for their distribution and use. However, you can view them on her facebook page.

The photos have created a stir for the same reason that breastfeeding photos always create a stir (sigh), but it seems there is one additional reason this time. According to Air Force News, this is the problem:
The Air Force has no policy on breastfeeding in uniform. But it does forbid airmen from using the uniform to advance the cause of an outside organization.

“The uniform was misused. That’s against regulations,” Kosik said. “I want to be very, very clear about this. Our issue is not, nor has it ever been, about breastfeeding. It has to do with honoring the uniform and making sure it’s not misused. I can’t wear my uniform to a political rally, to try to sell you something or push an ideology. That was our point of contention.”

But is breastfeeding promotion really similar to a political cause? Or trying to sell something or push an ideology? Sometimes it may feel that way, both to people who are promoting breastfeeding and those on the receiving end of that promotion. However, breastfeeding is simply one thing that people can do to help live a healthy lifestyle and it is supported, in that sense, by the government itself.

This is not similar to someone carrying a "Vote Obama" sign, appearing in a Gatorade commercial, or attending a pro-life rally while in uniform. The picture of these women breastfeeding in uniform is a simple representation of support of a healthy living choice. It is also demonstrating work-life balance and the possibility of being both a mother and a soldier.

In many ways, the picture of the breastfeeding moms is like this picture of a soldier holding an apple on the U.S. Army Medical Department's Healthy Living page.

What do you think? Is appearing in a breastfeeding photo in uniform "pushing an ideology" or is it simply representing a healthy living choice supported by the U.S. government itself?
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Reader Comments (69)

If breastfeeding is an ideology, then so is just about everything else you do with your body.

Don't show a pregnant woman in uniform or a father in uniform kissing his child upon his return. Now you're promoting your pro-family agenda.

And all those athletic builds in the military? Totally a pro-fitness agenda.

And did I see a woman with tweezed eyebrows in uniform. What's she doing be pro-tweezing?

This is a ridiculous argument. She's not making a statement; she's feeding her baby, and if feeding your baby IS making a statement, that's a commentary on the sad state of our cultural view on breastfeeding, NOT on the mother's "ideology."

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBalancingJane

I think it depends on the use of the photos. If they are for personal use, no big deal, but if they are used to promote an agenda then technically the Air Force has a right to sanction them. Ironically this is the first time I've seen these pictures and I think they are amazing. I'm kinda sad it's become a big deal because they are so pure and beautiful.

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeah Segedie

Ironically, I'm commenting while breastfeeding...

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeah Segedie

Do I think it's an ideology? No. But the photos aren't home photos, they were commissioned by a specific (non-profit?) group for their purposes. While it sounds like the group's purpose is to promote a healthy lifestyle (breastfeeding), I can see why the army is upset: the women are in uniform for promotional purposes for another organization. Whether that non-profit is truly promoting an "agenda" is up for debate (I'd agree with you that it's no more of an agenda than other healthy living promotions).

However, it sounds to me that the army is not complaining about the ideology/agenda itself but that these photos were commissioned by another organization to be used in promotional materials. And in that case, I suppose the sanction is reasonable.

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarfMom

That description up there, next to the photo, under "Healthy Living"...breastfeeding fits right in there, too. Probably under the tab labeled "Nutrition" in their sidebar. It's so important to keep reminding people that breastfeeding is the biological norm, and likely the answer to countless health issues for generations to come, although I have to admit I'm getting really tired of saying it.


June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWendy

They aren't just for personal use. But whether they are to support an "agenda" depends on how you define that. Is modelling healthy living an "agenda"?

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


June 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Love this, Jane.

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Actually, YES, healthy living technically IS an agenda. As funny as that sounds. I mean because healthy living a promotion of something that really isn't the norm right now. I think what you are asking me is do they have the right to do this and I think legally they do, but if you ask me SHOULD they do this, my answer would be NO. I honestly thought breastfeeding was mainstream enough to merit it not being a big deal. But evidently, I was wrong. The Air Force is still uncomfortable about it, so until it becomes more mainstream, it would be considered an agenda.

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeah Segedie

Here's me squirting you from across the border *squirt love*

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeah Segedie

Couldn't a woman just be casually captured breastfeeding her child in uniform? I used to rush home from work and breastfeed in my "work" clothes. Because the photo was taken and used by a group (Mom2Mom), it's somehow considered a campaign, as opposed to an every day event. Definitely don't understand this, although I don't understand much that goes on these days when it comes to breastfeeding our children!

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMisty Pratt

It was the Air Force, and while I don't have a link to prove it, I have on good authority that the women in the photo had been given permission to participate in the photo shoot for the purpose of promoting breastfeeding among military mothers.

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDiana

I can see their point...and while I don't see breastfeeding as an ideology, it's all up to personal interpretation. When my husband was in the service, he wasn't allowed to do a lot of things in uniform - like ride his motorcycle - I probably don't have ALL of the information behind this particular issue, but I don't see the Air Force as being too harsh here. They purposely wore their uniforms while participating in a campaign, regardless of what the campaign was. But you are so right, that's no different than the photo of the soldier holding the apple!

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenn @therebelchick

Whoops sorry! And then if they were given permission, I'd say it's a different issue then. Why is the Air Force changing their mind? That seems really unfair. Are the women being sanctioned?

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarfMom

I started a huge mess on my Facebook wall (full disclaimer - I am about a pro-breastfeeding as you can get, while still realizing there are some people who refuse, and that those people are NOT evil! Just because I went for 2 1/2 years with my last, doesn't mean everyone else can or will) over this yesterday, especially because I have a daughter who is active duty USAF and stationed overseas, with a 10 month old. She fought to breastfeed for the three months she did, and it wasn't without the occasional snide comment or rude remarks from fellow troops in her flight. While the USAF has NO specific policy in regards to breastfeeding while in uniform (and in my opinion, the shouldn't!), I think the uproar over this has gotten a bit extreme.

However as stated in the above article, Kosick (and I'm paraphrasing) said that the women being photographed in uniform breastfeeding was basically a misuse of the uniform. I couldn't disagree more. Breastfeeding is NOT an ideology or political position. What it IS, is life-giving and the natural way we were intended to nourish our offspring.

These women are willing to fight for our country, and the lives of others, and some even die, while in uniform! It's really a shame that they can't be encouraged to give life sustaining milk to their infants, while in uniform.

I pretty much copied this comment from the comment I left on Leah's thread on her Facebook feed, but wanted to add that while the USAF has no real regulations surrounding breastfeeding in uniform, they are the only branch of our military that has specific rules surrounding breastfeeding mothers and how they MUST be allowed a private place to pump (and not the loo!) for long so, so many periods a day. MUST! So if they're willing to do this, I'm not sure the statements about the photos being a misuse of the uniform make much sense, in my mind.

The USAF promotes breastfeeding as the best choice for mother and child. This is documented. The women being photographed were doing so in order to promote breastfeeding on their base, not to provoke, or cause a huge controversy unlike another recent prolific magazine cover that that comes to mind.

TOTALLY agree with Jane! What a load of crap. Feeding your child the food s/he was meant to consume is not an "outside organization".

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKim

"The USAF promotes breastfeeding as the best choice for mother and child. This is documented. The women being photographed were doing so in order to promote breastfeeding on their base, not to provoke, or cause a huge controversy unlike another recent prolific magazine cover that that comes to mind."


June 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Are soldiers allowed to eat in their uniform????
Or do they have to remove it for feeding times too???

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterExpatB

When I saw the photos the first time I am pretty sure they said they had obtained permission for the photo to be taken so not altogether sure what there problem is

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

I think if the women took the pictures and posted them on Facebook themselves that would've been fine, but because they were comissioned by an outside group, it crossed the line of acceptable "use" of uniforms. I think that is really the issue the air force is concerned about here. I love the picture, but it does sound to me like they broke regulations.

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCrunchy Con Mommy

Technically they are not supposed to smoke, eat, or show PDA while in uniform.

However I find those regulations to be a huge contradiction because for one thing, from the moment you wake up, to the time you get back into bed, if you are active duty and on base (MOST bases, some bases around the world require our men and women to be OUT of uniform because of the danger that being identified as a US military member, might present to them) you are in uniform. You report to the mess in uniform. You take a break and smoke and are in uniform. And we've all seen the same photos...loved ones coming home from deployment, rushing into the arms of those waiting for them, displaying lots of PDA!

When I went down to Lackland AFB in Texas for my daughter's graduation from BMT, there were other members of the military (those NOT part of BMT though - as BMT, which is boot camp - are not allowed to smoke or drink under ANY circumstances!) those in training school located on Lackland, and senior members, IN uniform that were smoking and *gasp* eating.

What did I see airmen getting ripped for? A thread hanging off a button on a set of ABU's. A wrinkled bed blanket. A part of the pants on a pair of ABU's that were tucked INTO the boot, rather than secured with this thing that resembles a thin scrunchy that secures the bottom of the ABU pants ABOVE the boot...stuff like that. There were even several BMT grads that weren't allowed liberty with their parents after graduation activities for those kinds of infractions.

Meg and I did see a young couple on base, just outside of the BX and cinema, sitting on a bench. She was in her ABU's and he was in his dress blues, and she had just FINISHED nursing her baby. Hundreds of people were milling around, including senior Officers and not one person said anything. That's one of the reasons I think claiming that using the uniform in this instance, being photographed while breastfeeding in order to encourage others on base to try it, or promoting breastfeeding, is particularly galling.

I'd much rather see those in charge of our military enforce the "No smoking while in uniform" issue because that DOES promote something that's unhealthy and actually IS against regs. While I don't know that it actually promotes an outside organization (is claiming that it promotes the tobacco companies, a stretch?), it has been proven that smoking is harmful to your health.

"She’s not making a statement; she’s feeding her baby..."
In general everyday life, like a woman sitting at the bus stop nursing, or in a park, or at church, or school, or in uniform on a military base while on break or for whatever natural reason of just feeding a baby in life, I agree. Women should be able to nurse whenever, wherever. It's not offensive, it's not making a statement, it's about nurturing and feeding children.

However, THIS picture WAS commissioned by an organization not related to the military. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought I saw pictures in the same group by the same photographer, of the same mother of twins, breastfeeding WITHOUT her uniform on (the lying down photo). So, I think in THIS case, breastfeeding in uniform, posing for a professional photographer, for a group of photographs intended to forward a cause (don't get me wrong - normalizing breastfeeding is a noble and necessary cause) via an outside (of the military) organization, WAS about making a statement. These were posed, planned photographs, not just a snapshot of a mother out in her daily life, pausing to feed her baby.

Personally, I didn't see anything offensive in ANY WAY about the photographs. But going by the quote that Annie provided about military policy, uniforms, ideology, and outside organization, I DO see Kosik's point.

First let me state that the photos are beautiful and powerful and great. However they are not casual snapshots of 2 soldiers nursing in public. They were commissioned by an organization, Mom2Mom Breastfeeding Support group, and taken by a professional photographer for that organization's use. My husband is a Marine, there are many things he is not allowed to do in his uniform or in a certain uniform. Sometimes I find these rules silly or annoying (ex. He can not enter civilian places of business in his camouflage) but we respect the rules and the uniform. Each service has its own rules regarding uniform and it is the service members' obligation to abide. If these were personal photos posted on the women's personal FB or other site the Air Force would no have grounds but they are being used in a promotion by a third party. The difference here is subtle but important.

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

But why would it be okay for some things (promoting apples), but not others (promoting breastfeeding).

I agree they were promoting something here, but it isn't something political, ideological or commercial.

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Breastfeeding is not an ideology; it's feeding your kid. If the moms had been photographed with bottles in hand or spoon feeding their children solids would it have been considered an ideological choice?

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPamela

If they were promoting apples via a professional photographs taken for Mom2Mom Apple Support group, then yes, promoting apples would be a problem, too.
The apple photo as I understand it is taken by the military (or at least by someone hired by the military), for display on a military page.
If the apple photo above were being used on some other non-military promo page, then I'd agree with your argument.


June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCandace

I am actually friends with and was in a breastfeeding group with the woman on the right while we were stationed in Germany. When all this controversy began she posted on her facebook to her friends that she was going to lay low for a while because people were directly harassing her. She did state in that same post that they had obtained permission with the AF to participate in this photo shoot and to be in uniform. It wasn't a choice they made on their own. And now that this photo has been making headlines for at least a week now, it seems like the AF is going to throw them under the bus by saying they weren't following regulations. But I have seen more men and women disgrace the uniform by not wearing it properly, participating in behaviors such as walking with hands in pockets, etc but you don't see the AF jumping all over them.

I don't think they are trying to promote any kind of ideological position beyond a healthy lifestyle choice which is a position the AF holds itself. If it didn't then there wouldn't be gymns on base, or health and wellness centers, or activities that support healthy living throughout the year.

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMeghan

That is what I thought Meghan that they had asked for permission This is where I saw it http://breastfeedingincombatboots.com/2012/05/forget-breastfeeding-publicwhat-about-uniform/

What a fuss about nothing IMO Hope it blows over for them soon

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

This exactly. They put on the uniforms specifically for the photoshoot, to prove a point. To me, that is vastly different than the picture also attached to some of the press of the Active Duty mom who is at the CDC (base daycare) breastfeeding on her lunch break. That to me is completely appropriate, but using the uniform specifically to prove a point is what makes it an issue.

USMC, Retired

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKit

They aren't even wearing dress uniforms for goodness sakes, they are BDUs. Anyone, civilian or military can wear and buy them at a military surplus shop. They are making a fuss where there need not be one. Having an agenda for breastfeeding is like having an agenda for breathing. It's a normal natural bodily function and anyone who doesn't see that is an idiot with his/her own issues. *sigh*

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDeb

As a breastfeeding woman myself i am absolutely appalled at the notion that they shouldnt be allowed to wear a uniform while breastfeeding. It doesnt play at any social construct or anything like that it was simply two women who happened to be in the service feeding their babies the way they see fit. If this is such a terrible problem then other women or men for that matter should not be allowed to bottlefeed children while in uniform or they themselves should not be allowed to eat while in a uniform at all. Simply put if you reject one feeding preference bc of a "false representation" for the service then all options and variations of such nonsense must be rejected as well in order for it to be completely justified.

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAngela Greseck

Just to clarify, they are allowed to breastfeed in uniform. They just aren't allowed to have promotional pictures taken while breastfeeding in uniform.

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I completely agree with you. Based on the quote: "The Air Force has no policy on breastfeeding in uniform. But it does forbid airmen from using the uniform to advance the cause of an outside organization."
They violated the rules that are enforced EQUALLY. They don't get an exception for promoting a cause via an organization simply because they are women and breastfeeding is a buzzworthy topic.

I find this quote: "Is appearing in a breastfeeding photo in uniform "pushing an ideology" or is it simply representing a healthy living choice supported by the U.S. government itself?"
extremely hypocritical. They were not simply "pushing an ideology" they were trying to advance the cause of their organization. Yes, breastfeeding is supported by the US government, but so are several other things which have organization (e.g. Young Liberals, Chiquita (http://www.chiquita.com/Home.aspx), mayo clinic (both of which claim to support healthy lifestyles), etc.) and they CANNOT wear their uniforms while promoting the organization.

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoline

"outside organization"....outside what? outside the norm? By that logic a woman in uniform shouldn't be allowed to bottle feed her child since, you know, THAT is an outside cause supporting big businesses and lobby money.

By that logic a woman (or man) shouldn't be allowed to get married in their uniform since that supports family.


Angela <

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAngela England

In this case the outside organization that organized the photo shoot.

Weddings in uniform are governed by very specific regulations, by the way.

I think a lot of people do not realize how often there are minor to major reprimands against soldiers for being out of uniform or publicly using the uniform or rank to support a cause. True, no one in the civilian world would have noticed if it didn't involve BEWBS but that does not mean this is about breastfeeding for the military.

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCandace

Thanks for that link Karen. I wonder if what happened is that the women obtained proper permission, but then when the photo was brought to the attention of this Kosik person, he spoke offhand without looking into the specific situation.

What a mess.

June 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSally

They WERE promoting a cause because the deliberately went somewhere to get photographed. No matter how natural BFing is, it certainly isn't what the majority of people do anyways, so in a way, promoting BFing is a cause. Don't some women call themselves lactivists? (Yes not all women may identify with the term.) In the US being anti-circumsicion is a cause because in the past 30 years (estimate) more boys were circumsized than weren't (though I think the tides are finally turning) even though being intact is the normal state of existence. And also they are out of uniform by lifting up their shirts. Being in the military means a lot of lame rules. Those rules are as silly as no talking and walking on a cell phone while in uniform. That is unfortunately the way it goes. I am all about BFing in public but when you put on a uniform it becomes more challenging. On drill weekend they could have feed their little ones in an office room or something or if that wasn't available at least in a corner of a room with the chair turned around. A dad feeding his kid a bottle would not be out of uniform so he would be fine. I am not going to bring up the blanket issue because I agree with most moms, it isn't a practical way to nurse. My daughter would sweat like crazy with a blanket over her head. While training in the field I've pumped in the back of a humvee and in the middle of the woods under a poncho and can appreciated the challenges service members face. (And yes I too was out of uniform but the difference is no one saw me.... well except for the old unsuspecting male officer that accidentally stuck his head in the back of the humvee :-) ) I really don't think those airman thought through the situation clearly. They probably thought it was a good idea to promote BFing (an awesome and healthy thing) especially for servicesmembers (that face many BFing challenges). Unfortunately they now have to deal with the fact that everyone has seen these pictures and will have an opinion on it. I know these peoples opinions shouldn't matter, but really they do. What if she goes to a promotion board and someone on that board thought it was unpropessional? There is talk that they got permission from someone but my guess is it was from someone that wasn't in a position to give permission. The airman should have gone to their Public Affairs Office (PAO) to get permission (at least that is what they call it in the army). That is who could give them permission on matters like this and they would have told them not to get photographed. The military is has its own set of rules sometimes you have to get permission to do some basic things. And I do think the pics are beautiful, they just shouldn't have been taken.

June 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelinda

Actually there are no regulations prohibiting breastfeeding in uniform but that does not actually permit it. The argument could be made that they are violating uniform policy so it is up to the interpretation of the regulations of any higher ranking servicemember that walks by while they are BFing in uniform in a public place. They could ask them to go elsewhere or stop.

June 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelinda

The pics are beautiful. In terms of the "outside organization" question, I think promoting breastfeeding is the same as promoting eating healthy foods. But it seems from other commenters that if a private organization wanted to promote healthy foods and did a photo shoot including soldiers in uniform eating healthy food, that would be a problem with army rules too. (As opposed to the apple photo you showed which seems to have been taken for internal use by the army)

June 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChanna

I find it interesting that you think promoting breast feeding in uniforms is ok but promoting a woman's right to abort a pregnancy is not. Both are choices we make over our own bodies that affect other people, but one has not (yet) been politicized (although breast feeding politization is well on its way).

June 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGal

If you are truly an advocate for natural parenting et al, abortion and chemical contraception are not natural and are contrary to mother nature.

June 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGrace Hogan

I do not understand how a person can support a baby's right to breast milk but not a baby's right to live.

June 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGrace Hogan

I do not understand how a person can support a baby’s right to breast milk but not a baby’s right to live.

June 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGrace Hogan

-for Gal

June 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGrace Hogan

Babies do not have a "right to breastmilk". No one here thinks a mother who truly does not want to breastfeed should be forced or aggressively pressured to do so.

June 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChanna

Grace, I don't support neither as an agenda. I related the two because they are both extremely personal choices, and both have a million factors playing into them, so I really don't think anyone can make generalizations about them. Like it's non of my business if you want to breastfeed your baby or give her formula, it's non of my business if you use contraceptions of any sorts, or if you are in a position that requires you to abort your pregnancy. The only thing I do support as an agenda is my right, and yours, to make these choices on our own, without anyone interfering or coercing us to conform to their beliefs.

June 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGal

My point is: "What's the point of promoting breast milk, when you don't promote the child's life, first and foremost?" I would rather have a mother who chose life for me and bottle fed me, than a mother who aborted me.

Does anyone here think a child who is truly not wanted should be forced to die and aggressively pressured out of the womb? (That is what abortion is.)

June 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGrace Hogan

The reason things like the use of contraception are our business is because it affects all of us; it affects our world, our environment, our planet: http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/what-the-pill-is-doing-to-our-water-supply

June 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGrace Hogan

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