Nursing mothers in the United States Air Force have a new undershirt option.
Working, breastfeeding moms in the military have multiple roles and can definitely do more than one thing at once, and now moms in the Air Force can wear shirts that are as multifunctional as they are.
The Air Force announced that starting this summer, "Airmen are authorized to purchase and wear a long or short sleeve breastfeeding t-shirt with their utility uniform."
That means mamas who nurse or pump while in uniform don't have to pull up their shirt to do so.
According to a military news release, the movement for this policy update was initiated and pushed forward by Tech. Sgt. Natalia Wood, a mother of three expecting her fourth child. As reported by Military.com, Wood knew the Army had already approved nursing shirts, and advocated for the Air Force to follow suit.
"I'm trying to normalize breastfeeding, not for me, but for all future generations," said Wood. "I was thinking more about everyone behind me. I just feel like we are the leader in securing our skies, but when it comes to this, we're lagging behind. I'm just trying to bring us up to speed, where we do support women who are breastfeeding and we do provide spaces (for nursing and pumping)."
U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Senior Airman Ashley Maldonado cdn.dvidshub.net
The nursing shirts are available through Miss Military Mom, an apparel business founded by Kenisha Heath. Heath had a baby in 2014, but when she returned to work as an active duty Airman, she found the multiple layers of her daily uniform made breastfeeding and pumping difficult.
She explains she had to "unfasten several buttons and pull my t-shirt over my breasts completely exposing my prune-like postpartum belly," and wasn't happy with how exposed she had to be in order to provide her child with breastmilk.
She founded Miss Military Mom with the goal of making nursing tees available to mothers in all branches of the U.S. military, and is happy to see the progress so far.
"The Army approved our breastfeeding shirts as an optional uniform item on 16 Apr 2018 and the Air Force was close behind with their memo on 13 July 2018. We are thrilled that these two services are supporting new moms in uniform by making their nursing experience easier," notes an update on the Miss Military Mom blog. "But we are hopeful that the other branches will soon follow suit."
Airmen who wear the nursing shirts must have them tucked in and "may not remove their ABU or OCP coat while wearing the shirt unless they are in designated lactation rooms," according to the military release.
Wood says more work needs to be done to accommodate breastfeeding mothers in the Air Force, but the approval of these shirts proves that change can come when mamas fight not just for their country, but for other mamas, too.