Dear Col. Iverson,
My name is Leah Wilson. I am an Air Force wife and mother of two small children. Although my husband is not currently stationed at Mountain Home AFB, as a member of the Air Force community and as a nursing mother who could someday wind up living at Mountain Home, I felt compelled to follow up yesterday’s phone call to your hotline with an open letter.
I am gravely concerned about your new breastfeeding policy for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that this new policy is an unreasonable burden on the women you claim to respect. Though breastfeeding is a natural process it is not an intuitive one. In fact for the vast majority of women there is a steep learning curve and any number of challenges they may face. Instituting a discriminatory and sexist policy is not in any way respectful of them or their needs. Requiring them to use a cover, which by the way many children (including my own) refuse to nurse under, or to relocate themselves, all their things, and any additional children to a separate area while simultaneously juggling a now screaming infant (because he’s hungry but not allowed to eat for fear of his needs offending someone’s delicate sensibilities) is a ridiculous expectation. Not only is it discriminatory and sexist but it draws even more attention to the nursing mother than if she were simply permitted to feed her hungry child as she chooses.
Additionally, while your memorandum specifies this policy applies to nursing mothers in a customer service area, it does not clarify what constitutes a customer service area. For example, the BX and the Commissary both by their very nature serve customers. Are they considered a customer service area? Do I have to stuff my children and all our things into the manager’s office with any other nursing mothers and their kids? What about the waiting room at the pharmacy? Or the clinic? Should I request the appropriate office in those locations as well? Are we allowed to go to the park or do we have to leave every time my child needs a snack? I’m sure you’re aware that children nurse more when it’s hot, similar to the way adults drink more water. You can see how utilizing outside facilities would become very impractical when we have to leave every 15 minutes so the baby can nurse.
Also, I am curious about the legality of this policy. Although I know base commanders certainly have the discretion to institute new policies over those under their command, I am not sure they have the authority to revise federal law. It seems unlikely that a base commander would be allowed to essentially reverse a federal discrimination law, specifically Public Law 108-199, Section 629, Division F, Title VI (January 23, 2004), which provides that “a woman may breastfeed her child at any location in a Federal building or on Federal property, if the woman and her child are otherwise authorized to be present at the location.” (As an aside, I am quite curious what the law you referenced has to do with breastfeeding since it seems to deal primarily with loan origination fees.)
While it may never have occurred to you that this policy is discriminatory and sexist, I would beg to differ. It is by its very nature sexist, as only women will ever be asked to relocate while feeding their children. Furthermore, it is undoubtedly prejudicial as only one segment of the population will ever be effected by it, unless you plan on expanding this policy to include all children, regardless of how and from whom they receive their nutrition.
Finally, I am dismayed that this has even become an issue. I recognize that our culture has become so misogynistic that it can only conceive of the female body as a sex object but I am disappointed that Mountain Home’s Air Force leadership has taken the same stance. Breasts are not a sex organ. Their primary bodily function is to feed children. Two generations ago, this policy would have been laughed down before it was ever sent out a memorandum for record because women feeding their children was not something they had to be ashamed of. It was, and is, a normal part of life for billions of people the world over. Except, apparently, at Mountain Home AFB.
I strongly urge you to reconsider this ludicrous and burdensome policy which in no way respects the rights of nursing mothers.
As of the morning of April 23, 2015, Col. Iverson has rescinded the previous policy!
Thank you, Colonel Iverson, for listening to the concerns of so many and for responding so quickly.