As part of World Breastfeeding Week (1 – 7 August) we hear from Army Medic and Paramedic Lance Corporal (LCpl) Natasha Day who set up the Defence Breastfeeding Network in 2020.
Natasha, who was recently awarded an MBE for her support to breastfeeding mothers in Defence, tells us why she was inspired to set up the Network and what it means to provide online peer support to members of the Armed Forces and their families on their infant feeding journey. Here she takes up her story.
“In March 2020, after six months of maternity leave with my first child, I returned to work as a combat medical technician in the Army. Except, at the time, I was exclusively breastfeeding my five-month-old son and had received a new posting order 130 miles from my nearest relative.
Returning to work was a scary time for me Lance Corporal Natasha Day
“Returning to work was a scary time for me, I was posted to a new place away from my partner and family. I didn’t know anyone there and had a baby that fed every two to three hours on demand, day, and night.
“I took six months maternity due to personal finances, but I could have taken up to a year in line with the Army’s maternity policy.
“I knew lots of people that had returned after maternity leave and knew some of them faced challenges but when it came down to the decision, I realised how much I loved my job, and knew that I would make it work somehow.
“The Army does lots to support working parents, with a flexible working and flexible service policy, and the introduction of shared parental leave, so I knew that they would be forthcoming towards breastfeeding.
“Luckily for me, my new chain of command was very accommodating, ensuring I had the space to express milk and store it, the lead clinician in the medical centre had previously breastfed her children which meant the situation wasn’t alien to them, and with a mix of male and female colleagues I knew how important it was to educate those around me.
“However, I did feel that I had to work harder than everyone else to account for the breaks I was taking to express the milk, not due from pressure from others but from the pressure I was putting on myself to deliver the same, if not better output than my peers. I couldn’t help but ask myself if I was doing the right thing for my son by returning to work.
“I wondered: what did my colleagues think of me? Did they think I was slacking off by taking breaks to express milk for up to 30 minutes at a time? Was I going to be penalised when it came to a possible promotion for not working as hard as everyone else? How on earth would I be able to deploy on field exercises with a breast pump attached to me?
“After months of my questions going unanswered and feeling alone, I decided to set up the Defence Breastfeeding Network in June 2020, which initially was only Army based.
“It then opened up to the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, civil servants, and dependants of service personnel, because I realised that if I felt so gloomy in myself about being so alone, then surely there were others that felt the same.
“The Army has a very successful parents’ network, which can be accessed by anyone in the Army and is really useful for asking questions and finding solutions to problems, but I couldn’t ever dream of asking for advice on cracked nipples there as I knew male colleagues on there and didn’t feel comfortable sharing such intimate issues.
“So, I went about setting up an exclusive group for service personnel also on their pregnancy and breastfeeding journey. The Network has been a hit from the get-go; we have a Facebook page that is closed access, an Instagram that anyone can follow, and also a Defence Connect page which is available on our intranet.
“Currently supporting over 800 service families, I have been able to support breastfeeding families in a variety of ways, and in turn, they help others with what they’ve learned from the Network, too. We currently support just shy of 1,300 members and are growing every single day.
I can confidently say that the Army has embraced breastfeeding mothers Lance Corporal Natasha Day
“I can confidently say that the Army has embraced breastfeeding mothers, adapting to suit their needs where appropriate and recognising that mothers are an asset to the organisation.
“By making reasonable adjustments in the workplace, we can retain fantastic female soldiers, who should not fear joining the Army or returning to work due to the fact that they are choosing to breastfeed.”
Natasha, who joined the Army in 2014, won the Defence Inclusivity Award at the Soldiering On Awards 2022.
At the 2021 Women in Defence Awards the Defence Breastfeeding Network won the Equality of Opportunity Award and Natasha was nominated for the Unsung Heroine Award.
She deployed on Op TRENTON to South Sudan in 2017 as part of the UN Peacekeeping operation UNMISS.
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