August is National Breast-feeding Month

  • Published
  • By Capt. (Dr.) Kara Garcia
  • 412th Medical Operations Squadron staff pediatrician

What saves the lives of babies born too early and reduces missed work and saves money? Breast-feeding. 

Breast milk is the ultimate infant food. It’s conveniently packaged, organic and always the right temperature from the tap. Plus, it comes with an added benefit — mom snuggles. Breast-feeding has been proven to reduce the number of infectious illnesses to include ear infections, colds and those nasty gastrointestinal bugs that make their way through squadrons and families. This means fewer sick days for kids and fewer missed work days.

Breast-feeding has also been linked to decreased breast cancer risk, type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer risk and reduced postpartum depression in moms.  Even further, breast-feeding moms return to better health sooner after the birth of their infant.   

While these recognized health benefits are important, breast-feeding in the active duty mom population also improves mission readiness and morale. Parental absenteeism is higher for formula-fed infants than for breast-fed infants. When properly supported, moms meet both the nutritional needs of their infants and the operational demands of their units. With less health risks, moms are more mission ready.   

Command support for breastfeeding means supporting breast pumping.  Air Force Instruction 44-102 states, “The Air Force recognizes the importance of breastfeeding and has made steps to promote breast pumping at work.”

Breast-feeding provides optimal health benefits for both mother and infant throughout their life spans. Exclusive breast-feeding is optimal nutrition for the first six months of life. Gradual introduction of solids begins in the second half of the first year and complements human milk, which remains essential to nutrition during this period.

Extensive medical research has documented that breast-feeding has significant health, nutritional, immunologic, developmental, emotional, social and economic benefits to mother and baby. The Air Force Medical Service recommends that supervisors of breastfeeding Airmen work with the member to arrange their work schedules to allow 15-30 minutes every three to four hours to pump breast milk in a room or an area that provides adequate privacy and cleanliness. Restrooms should not be considered an appropriate location for pumping. The AF member must supply the equipment needed to pump and store the breast milk.

The Air Force recognizes the importance of breast-feeding and has made steps to promote breast pumping at work.  Personnel policies in place have greatly contributed to improving the moms who continue to breastfeed beyond the first three months of their infants’ lives. These include the increased parental leave options, postpartum deferment of deployment and TDY, requiring the provision of a private and clean space to express milk while away from their infant, and most recently including a lactation shirt option for the ABU undershirt in the most recent dress and appearance AFI update.

As part of expanded Tricare insurance support for breast-feeding, new moms are eligible for a new, electric double pump with associated parts including pump bags with each pregnancy. Importantly, unless for very specific medical conditions, infant formula is not a covered Tricare benefit.    

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants be exclusively breast-fed for the first six months and continued breast-feeding with the introduction of complimentary foods for one year or longer. The World Health Organization recommends exclusively breast-feeding for the first six months with continued breast-feeding along with appropriate complimentary foods up until two years of age or beyond.

But, just because breast-feeding is promoted and protected, does not mean that it is easy or comes natural. Problems with perceived low supply, true low supply, pain with breastfeeding and overall comfort of the mom with breast-feeding are common, but can be overcome with help.