Should you nurse during deployment?
(Photo: Pixabay)

Sometimes it works out that you have a baby during a deployment. It isn’t easy, but I know that you can do it because I have been through two separate deployments with a newborn. Every mom has to make a decision how they will feed their baby; however, the choice to nurse or bottle-feed can be complicated by deployments. Ultimately, you will choose whichever method works best for you and your baby. If you are considering exclusively breastfeeding during deployment, here are some things you need to know.

Benefits of nursing during deployment

Nursing is the fastest way to get baby’s food: When the baby cries in the middle of the night, you don’t have to get up, mix a bottle, and warm it up. Nursing moms are always ready to go. Many moms choose to let a newborn sleep in the same room or even in a co-sleeper attached to their bed. That way, in the middle of the night you can just roll over and nurse. Quick and easy!

Save time and money: Formula is expensive. Breastfeeding is basically free. Restocking formula requires bundling up baby and making a trip to the store. In contrast, restocking breastmilk happens naturally. When you formula feed, you must always remember to pack enough formula in the diaper bag, even for emergencies or times you stay longer than expected. When you breastfeed, you don’t need to prepare anything in advance. . . unless you will be away from baby. Then you need to pump and store breastmilk. Many moms choose breastfeeding simply for the time and money savings.

More WIC benefits: Any pregnant woman with a low income qualifies for government WIC (Women, Infant, & Children) benefits. Most enlisted military families have a low enough income to qualify for WIC vouchers. WIC will help cover formula costs if you bottle-feed, but the vouchers cannot be used on specialty formulas or allergen-free products. However, WIC provides additional benefits for nursing moms. WIC vouchers for nursing mothers cover fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, whole grains, cheese, beans, and canned fish. This can go a long way towards covering your grocery bills during a deployment.

Drawbacks of nursing during deployment

Infections are no joke: As wonderful as it is to nurse a baby, breastfeeding can sometimes be uncomfortable or even extremely painful. The three worst things that can happen to a nursing mom are a clogged duct, mastitis, or a yeast infection of the breasts. A clogged duct is a lump in one of the milk ducts that can become painful and swollen. If not treated, it can lead to mastitis, which is a painful breast infection that causes a fever of 103 degrees or higher. A yeast infection can occur on the mother’s breasts or the baby’s mouth (where it is called thrush). Symptoms include dull pain, swelling, discoloration, and a mild fever around 100 degrees. Mastitis and a yeast infection both require a doctor visit and medication. These can be painful and frustrating illnesses to get through during a deployment, especially if you are caring for the baby alone.

No one else can help you: If you are lucky enough to have friends or family visit during deployment, they will want to help out with the baby. But a nursing mother spends hours holding the baby–day and night–which doesn’t leave a lot of time for others to be with the baby. When I had my third baby during a deployment, my mom was able to visit for a few weeks. We divided the jobs so that I mostly took care of the baby, and she spent most of the time taking care of the older kids. Sometimes I would pump and let her give the baby a bottle, but formula feeding does provide more flexibility and opportunities for others to help feed your baby.

Nursing in public: Unfortunately, society still has not accepted the fact that a nursing mom needs to feed her baby when it cries. . . no matter where she is. A nursing mom can cover up with a blanket or specially-made drape, but she may still endure stares and rude comments from strangers. You may also be put in the awkward situation of having someone walk in on you while you are nursing. This has happened to me at friend’s houses, in public restrooms, and even at my own house when a friend came over unannounced. Bottle-feeding, on the other hand, is considered more polite in mixed company and more acceptable in public.

Each mom can make her own choice about how to feed her baby. There are benefits and drawbacks to both breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. If you are facing an upcoming deployment with a very young baby, then this list should help you make an informed choice. Good luck, mama, and stay strong!

By Lizann Lightfoot