Breastfeeding has been having kind of a moment lately, culturally speaking. Between the "attachment-parenting" movement championed by celebs and everyday moms alike, and that eye-popping TIME cover, everyone seems to have an opinion.
Now, pictures of two Air Force mothers breastfeeding in uniform are adding another layer to the conversation. Terran Echegoyen-McCabe and Christina Luna were just posing for a series of photos commemorating Breastfeeding Awareness Month, but the image of the two women, with their fatigues unbuttoned and shirts hiked up, has moms and military members buzzing.
Is it appropriate for women in the service to breastfeed so openly in uniform? Is it a right, or is it a freedom service members are best to relinquish for the sake of professionalism? Reactions to the photos have offered no conclusive answer.
Crystal Scott, a military spouse who started a breastfeeding support group for military moms and came up with the idea to photograph the two women for the breastfeeding series, says people are calling the act a "disgrace" and comparing it to defecating in uniform. "It's extremely upsetting," Scott told MSNBC. "Defecating in public is illegal. Breastfeeding is not."
Robyn Roche-Paul, a Navy veteran and breastfeeding advocate, runs a blog called "Breastfeeding in Combat Boots." She says that, surprisingly, a lot of military women seem to agree that breastfeeding while in uniform is not acceptable. "I continue to be surprised at the numbers of women in the military who have told me that they would never even consider breastfeeding in uniform," she writes. "As it is not considered proper to do so and would go against military etiquette, good-order and discipline. Many said it just felt plain 'wrong' to do so."
Similarly, a commenter on Roche-Paul's site, who identified herself as a former member of the Marine Corps, said such acts violate the professionalism associated with military occupations.
"The military is not a civilian job," the woman wrote. "We are warfighting professionals. Woman before us have worked too hard to earn and retain the respect of their male peers. I don't want my Marines to look at me any other way than as a Marine ... We give up many freedoms being in the military. Breastfeeding in front of my fellow Marines was one of them."
A statement from the Air Force regarding breastfeeding in uniform confirms there is no hard policy to reference:
"There is no Air Force policy specifically addressing breastfeeding in uniform," the statement reads. "However, Airmen should be mindful of their dress and appearance and present a professional image at all times while in uniform."
Echegoyen-McCabe and Luna, the two mothers in the photos, are members of the Washington Air National Guard. A statement on behalf of the branch clearly states that their concern over the photos has nothing to do with the act of breastfeeding itself:
"Military regulations prohibit the use of the uniform, title, rank or military affiliation to further a cause, promote a product or imply an endorsement...I want to be very clear that our issue is not, and has never been about breast-feeding. Our issue is that the uniform was used by an outside entity to further their cause - and with all of the attention this has received, it appears that they succeeded."
Since, despite some clarification, there are factors of the controversy that are still open to interpretation, the question remains of how often a scene like the one in the photo, a scene of two women, multiple babes perched on their barely-exposed chests, really happens.
"Many moms serve our country and breastfeed. But how often are they doing them at the same exact time?" says a CafeMom writer. "... by and large, babies aren't spending time in the business part of a military base, making breastfeeding in uniform rather... unrelated to the military at all."
So are these pictures being sensationalized past its value as yet another lightning rod in the already electric breastfeeding debate? Is the prospect -- as some have said -- inappropriate or unseemly, or should military moms be able to breastfeed as they please?