12.14.2010

Support for Military Mamas (better than an underwire!)

I’ve been doing some research into resources for new moms – I had tried to collect resources from friends, groups they found helpful in the early weeks/months, but I got only a few responses. Does this mean that people don’t know what resources are out there? Did people not want to seek support? Or are my friends just too busy? Ack, I don’t know! Seriously people, what resources did you tap into in those early days as a mom? Or did you not know of any? If so, that’s a huge problem, and I want to know that too!

So I started trying to figure out some options. There are of course thousands (millions?) of websites dedicated to being a new mom – some are helpful, some are confusing, but it’s definitely overwhelming. In addition to web resources, I wanted to find places/groups/organizations that a new mom could call with a question, or go to some kind of meeting.

One of the things I found was the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington.

In addition to offering support and information for moms, the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington sponsors an award for workplaces that support breastfeeding, called the Employer Award. Cool. So I looked at the list of award winning employers who are particularly supportive of breastfeeding/pumping in the workplace.

Businesses like Weyerhaeuser, Eddie Bauer, Blue Bird, Inc., The City of Tacoma and the University of Washington have all won the award. Nice.

But then – a shocker.

The 2004 award recipient was Ft. Lewis/Madigan Army Medical Center!

The military digs breastfeeding!

I’m quite familiar with the hospital. The doctors I’ve seen there have been top-notch. The hospital is also a teaching facility, so med students to rotations in various departments as a part of their training. I’ve had nothing but excellent experiences at MAMC.

But wow – I didn’t know they were so socially progressive. I’ve heard the woosh-woosh sound of pumps going behind closed office doors while walking the halls, but it never occurred to me that there was an official policy (see below) supporting & encouraging it!

2004 Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington Employer Award Winner:

Madigan Award

From left to right, Col. George McClure, (Deputy Chief, Clinical Services, Madigan); LTC. Katie Opitz (former chief nurse of the medical unit responsible for supporting lactating soldiers in the field), Lisa Jones, RN, IBCLC (lactation consultant at Madigan); Col. Paul Whittaker, (responsible for initiating policy development at Ft. Lewis); Ann Whittaker, IBCLC (wife of Col. Whittaker, responsible for educating him about the importance of breastfeeding!); Jean O;Leary, MPH, RD, WIC Breastfeeding Coordinator, Dept. of Health (presented the award on behalf of the BCW).

The 2004 Outstanding Employer Award was presented to Fort Lewis & Madigan Army Medical Center. In 2001, Fort Lewis initiated Command Policy Statement 21 entitled: "Policy on Support for Soldiers with Nursing Infants." This policy statement is a first for the military. {Editorial comment – awesome! A first for the military!} It addresses how commanders can support breastfeeding soldiers by being sensitive to their needs, allowing for time to pump and deferring field duty or other training that might separate the soldier from their infant for the first 4 months. When a breastfeeding soldier is involved in field training and separated from her infant for 1-2 weeks, a daily mail courier is used to transport expressed breastmilk to main headquarters for pick-up by the infants' caregiver. {Editorial comment: NO WAY! The military will pay to have your milk couriered from the field to your Babe, when you do have to be away! That’s double awesome.}

Madigan Army Medical Center, located at Ft. Lewis, is the first Army Medical Center to develop a position for a full time Lactation Consultant. This job description has been accepted and formalized for use within the Department of Defense Civilian Personnel Office. As an employer, Madigan provides employees the use of on-site breastpumps and a freezer for breastmilk storage. All employees, even civilians are able to access the lactation consultant. Madigan's weekly breastfeeding support group that has had over 1500 nursing couplets participate. As a result, Madigan has a 95% breastfeeding initiation rate.

"Ft. Lewis and Madigan Army Medical Center have come a long way towards mother-baby-friendly policies and programs, but we have a long way to go. Change may at times seem slow within the military system but as positive changes occur, it is community recognition, such as this award, that encourages further change to meet the needs of today's families." Col Paul Whittaker, (responsible for initiating policy development at Ft. Lewis).

Wow. I’m surprised by this, and so, so excited about it! I usually think of the military as being rather socially conservative, and not very hip to the needs of Mamas serving. But this is downright PROGRESSIVE! This allows women who are soldiers to feed breast milk even when away from their Babes for field duty, offers pumps, lactation consultation, storage, support groups… amazing. Way to go, Madigan & Ft. Lewis. I hope other US military bases & hospitals around the world follow your lead – or maybe they have already. It has been 6 years.

I also have been under the impression that a lot of the military families formula feed. I wonder if this is true?

Political beliefs aside, I think this is a pretty cool way that Ft. Lewis has chosen to support breastfeeding soldier – the daily courier is too cool. It’s a shame that those mamas may be back in the field after only 4 weeks, but this plan allows for their babes to receive the benefits of breastmilk even when Mama is away.

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