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Breast-Feeding In Uniform: Brave Or Brazen?

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A group of Air Force moms photographed breast-feeding their children in uniform and in public have sparked a heated debate among parents and service members. The photos, taken at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Wash., were intended to be part of a campaign to empower service members to breast-feed.

Terran Echegoyen-McCabe, who was photographed breast-feeding her 10-month-old twins, told Michel Martin of NPR's Tell Me More that she didn't intend for the photos to be provocative.

"The photos came about pretty innocently," she says. They were meant to be displayed in a health center on her military base, but went viral after the photographer posted them on Facebook.

Echegoyen-McCabe said her command group is opposed to members supporting anything — be it an organization or a product — in uniform. She didn't see it that way.

"I see it just as two moms breast-feeding their children," she says, "and I don't think that we were promoting anything at the time. ... To me, [breast-feeding is] equivalent [to] feeding your child a strawberry, a hamburger, a bottle, anything. It's just feeding your child, simply."

Some military moms called the women brave, but others condemned the photographs, calling it unacceptable, or even disgraceful, to breast-feed in public while in uniform.

"We live by a code of standards, and particularly when in uniform. We have standards of conduct and we have standards of appearance. There are just certain things that — as a mother in the military — we sacrifice that other civilian women can engage in. And breast-feeding publicly is just one of those things," says Claire White, a mom of two who serves in the Air Force.

White, who lives in Sacramento, Calif., says she breast-fed her two young sons while she was on active duty. She says that the military health system was "incredibly supportive."

"I support women and their right to breast-feed," former Marine Chrystal Foster commented to NPR via Facebook. "I did it myself. This photo however will bleed in to combat situations, and is the exact reason many women are kept from serving on the front lines. Women have fought long and hard to get where they are on the battle field and attention screaming photos like this set them back leaps and bounds."

Navy veteran Robyn Roche-Paull, author of Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, says the military policy on breast-feeding is disjointed and the U.S. Army does not have one at all.

"A lot of these mothers aren't being given a place to pump. They aren't being given the time to pump," she says. "And I'm just talking about when they're on their home base."

For now, Echegoyen-McCabe says she hopes her photographs will bring the needs of military mothers into the light.

"We are women, we are mothers. A man is allowed to be a father hugging their child after deployment ... You're saying a man can do these things but a woman has to be simply just a solider, just an airman? It's not fair," she says. "It will keep us back. It will prevent us from going forward and becoming equals in the military."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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