In recent weeks I have been quietly working with Senator Gillibrand (NY) who is on the Senate Armed Forces Committee to draft a MILITARY-WIDE breastfeeding policy. Why, you ask, do we need a military-wide breastfeeding policy? Don’t the services each have their own policy?
The answers to both questions go hand-in-hand. At this time there is no overarching DoD policy that provides institutional guidance regarding breastfeeding; rather, it is left to each service to determine its own policy and procedures. The Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy each have distinct policies that outline the benefits of breastfeeding to baby, mom and the military; along with guidelines for a place to pump and time to pump (see Military Policies for a list of all the current policies by branch of service). However, the Army does not have a policy as such, only a brief mention that supervisors should try to accommodate soldiers in regards to breastfeeding, if possible. Furthermore, even between and within the policies of the Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy there are a number of differences and loopholes. For instance, while the Air Force policy clearly gives 6 months deferment (up to 12 months with commander approval) and outlines break times (15-30 minutes, 3-4 times a day) and a place to pump (clean, locked room with running water and electrical outlets), the Navy and Marine Corps policies leave the time and place for pumping up to the supervisor. The Coast Guard offers a sabbatical program for parents to use if they wish after the birth or adoption of a child. For Reserve and National Guard breastfeeding mothers, there is nothing at all in the way of a policy. As you can see, it really is a mishmash of varying policies that are confusing to both the servicemember AND her supervisor. And too often, where there is confusion or any type of loophole (i.e. no policy) it becomes the norm to not offer any support at all. Another point to consider: as more and more military bases combine, there will be issues that arise when personnel from two different services are working alongside each other and one gets time and a place to pump and the other one doesn’t.
With nearly 43% of women in military who are mothers, and 22% of the children born to them who are newborn to 2 years old, there is a huge population of women in the military that are choosing to breastfeed. In fact breastfeeding rates are up in the military as more health care providers are recommending it due to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) statement that children be breastfed exclusively for 6 months, and up to 12 months or as long as mutually desired. Furthermore the DoD is mandated to follow the Healthy People guidelines, of which a core component is breastfeeding. So given these facts along with what we know about the benefits of breastfeeding for babies and mothers (take a look at the AHRQ statement, the AAP statement, the U.S Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding, and the Bartick study), not to mention the cost savings for the DoD; it seems illogical that the DoD hasn’t come up with a policy yet. Breastfeeding is not only a health and safety issue, but an economic issue for the military. Supporting breastfeeding by creating a military-wide policy will lead to increased mission-readiness, morale and retention; as well as less absenteeism and decreased health care costs (due to less illnesses among breastfed babies and mothers). By creating a military-wide policy that is consistent across ALL the branches of the military regarding breastfeeding; active duty, reserve and guard mothers will feel supported in their efforts. It’s a win-win situation for the military and for mothers and babies.
What Senator Gillibrand is proposing, and has before the Senate Armed Forces Committee, is the creation of a military-wide policy that encourages and promotes the ability of active duty servicewomen who choose to breastfeed for up to one year after delivery. This policy would include:
- Allowing optional deferments for both long-term (one month+) training or field exercises and temporary duties (TDY) (that take the mother away from her child) and deployments for up to twelve months following delivery without negatively impacting the servicewoman’s career promotion or progression.
- If there must be training, then the Command should implement a program for transporting breastmilk back to the mother’s home base or provide reimbursement for shipping expenses.
- Requiring that nursing mothers are provided a clean, secluded space (not a toilet space) with ready access to a water source for the purpose of pumping breastmilk and refrigeration for safe storage of breastmilk. When possible, the space should have a locking door to ensure privacy and security and a hospital-grade pump.
- Ensuring nursing mothers are provided reasonable duty breaks (3-4 breaks of 20-30 minutes minimum (depending on her work hours 3 breaks for 8 hour shifts, 4 breaks for 12 hour shifts).
- Services may consider implementing an additional month to her enlistment/officer contract for each month of deferred deployment.
- There should be mandatory breastfeeding education for Commands and a program in place for pregnant servicewomen that offers breastfeeding education.
- There should be a provision to ensure that servicewomen in uniform are not punished for public breastfeeding.
This policy, if approved by the Senate Armed Forces Committee and included in the National Defense Authorization Act 2013, would also help to bring the U.S. military in line with federal law (specifically the Workplace Pumping Law that is part of the Affordable Care Act signed into law in 2010). The policy is in DRAFT form currently and has gone to the committee for debate and that is where YOU come in. At this time the Committee members are already voicing concerns about the need for such a policy, as well as integration and readiness issues. Your input and letters of support on WHY this policy is needed are requested! It is hoped that this policy can be included in this year’s Defense Authorization Act, so time is of the essence. You can send your email to Kirsten Gnipp (Senator Gillibrand’s Intern) firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also want to visit Senator Gillibrand’s website to see why this legislation is important to her (hint: she breastfed her children).
Do you want to see a military-wide breastfeeding policy? Do you think it is necessary? Do you feel that it will affect military readiness and the integration of women? What would you like to see included in a military-wide policy? Leave your comments below!