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Air Force offers options to new moms

Airman 1st Class Lauren Sprunk, 23d Wing photojournalist, and her son, Jayce, pose for a photo illustration, May 11, 2017, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., in honor of mothers who serve in the military. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Lauren M. Sprunk and Senior Airman Janiqua Robinson)

Airman 1st Class Lauren Sprunk, 23d Wing photojournalist, and her son, Jayce, pose for a photo illustration, May 11, 2017, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., in honor of mothers who serve in the military. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Lauren M. Sprunk and Senior Airman Janiqua Robinson)

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Expectant and new parents are faced with many decisions in choosing what is best for their child. Will they sleep in their own crib or co-sleep? Vaccinated or not? And one of the many questions, should they be breast or formula fed?

While the answer differs with individual circumstances, my family chose the path of breastfeeding because it can provide many benefits for both myself and our baby, and due to Air Force regulations, I have been able to continue my choice while serving as an active duty Airman.

“One of the most important decisions you will make is how to feed your baby,” said Capt. Katherine Rorer, 23d Medical Group pediatrician. “Deciding to breastfeed can give your baby the best possible start in life and provide tremendous benefits to both the mother and baby.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breast milk is easy to digest and contains all of the nutrients a baby needs to be healthy, as well as substances to protect the child from many diseases and infections such as ear infections, pneumonia, bronchiolitis and viral infections. Research also suggests that breastfeeding may help to protect against obesity, diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome, asthma and more.

“People often think about how breastfeeding benefits the baby, but it is good for the mother as well,” said Rorer. “Breastfeeding releases hormones into a mother’s body that promotes mothering behavior, it burns calories, and can reduce the risk of cancers and bone degeneration. The physical contact also helps create a special bond between the mother and baby.”

Air Force Instruction 44-102 Section 4.15 recognizes the many benefits of breastfeeding and states, “The Air Force Medical Service recommends that supervisors of Air Force members who are breastfeeding work with the member to arrange their work schedules to allow 15-30 minutes every 3-4 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.”

To accommodate the guidelines of this regulation, the 23d Communications Squadron went above and beyond in creating a room designated to their breastfeeding mothers.

"When I first heard about the lactation room, I thought it was going to be a normal back office with an office chair but I was very surprised,” said Airman 1st Class Shavona West, 23 CS network infrastructure technician and new mother. “The room was very quaint, relaxing and way above anything that I was expecting. It provided the privacy I needed to feel comfortable with [my daughter]."

In addition to providing the time and location for mothers to express milk, new regulations state that mothers will be exempt from a fitness assessment and permanent change of station, temporary duty, or deployment orders for 12 months from the date they were discharged from the hospital after giving birth.

Included in this 12 month exclusion period is three months of convalescent maternity leave. This time allows mothers the time to bond with their child and gives them time to adjust to life with a newborn, which can be especially important when breastfeeding.

“While breastfeeding generally goes smoothly from the start, it can take time and several attempts for some,” said Rorer. “Like anything new, it takes practice so I urge mothers not to give up. However, in the rare circumstance that a mother is unable to breastfeed or does not produce enough milk, it is okay to supplement with formula to ensure the baby is fed and consuming enough calories.”

Mothers needing help or support should ask the doctors and nurses in their hospital or contact their child’s pediatrician, a lactation consultant or a breastfeeding support group. Moody is slated to receive a new lactation consultant within the next month.