Newly released photos of two adult women dressed in military garb while breastfeeding have sparked sparked a debate about what is, and what should be considered unacceptable, for uniformed U.S. service members.
The photos, taken by Brynja Sigurdardottir Photography in Washington, were showcased on a breastfeeding website earlier this week and are part of a campaign launched by breastfeeding support group Mom2Mom located near Spokane. The pictures were taken to be used locally to raise community awareness for World Breastfeeding Week, members of Mom2Mom have said.
The campaign features photos of several women, many of them military wives, posing in shots breastfeeding their children. Some of the photographs also feature two female Air National Guard service members, Terran Echegoyen-McCabe and Christina Luna, dressed in uniform and breastfeeding their children at the Fairchild Air Force Base.
The women were given permission to take the photos, but the Air Force does not endorse them, according to Breastfeeding in Combat Boots' website, but the images have caused an outcry and stirred debate. Some have suggested that breastfeeding in uniform is unprofessional and pays a disservice to the uniform. Others, however, have argued against what they believe is a traditionalist perspective on breastfeeding and the uniform.
"Service before self is one of the three AF core values. People know of the core values before they even sign the contract to come into the AF. If you cannot fulfill this, you are welcome to remain a civilian," one commenter said on an Air Force Times article regarding the case.
"No one's saying they can't breast feed. They're saying, because there are rules to how you should wear your military uniform IN PUBLIC, you must comply with those rules regardless of what you are doing," the commenter added.
"These women are using the uniform to promote a political issue. Public breastfeeding is a political issue right now, so these pictures are wrong. These women and anybody who authorized these pictures need to be reprimanded immediately," another commenter wrote.
Others, however, believe that the photographs pay no disrespect to the Air Force and merely showcase natural interaction between mother and child.
"Breasts are for feeding babies. Period. It doesn't matter if the woman is wearing a dress or ABU's. If the child needs to eat, the mom needs to breastfeed. This is kind of a no-brainer," a supporter of breastfeeding wrote on Air Force Times.
"I have three children who I breast fed. With my first, I felt uncomfortable doing it because people seemed to look at me like I was out of my mind for leaving my post to pump," 10-year Air Force veteran Gina Holbrook Mitchell also wrote on the website.
"These woman are proud mothers and proud soldiers. I think these photos do nothing but enhance the prestige of the military for all," she added.
Despite the debate, the women of Mom2Mom have said that their intention was to create support for breastfeeding, not to spark controversy or "exploit" the uniform.
"We want to clear a few things up...The military photographs were NEVER meant to exploit, promote or to use the uniform to help our group," the support group said on its Facebook page. "Our mission is to help raise awareness, educate and support breast-feeding mothers. That has always been our mission and will continue to be our mission."