Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Military MomsIn August 2011, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin issued The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding, a call to employers, health care providers, policymakers, and the public to support mothers in reaching their breastfeeding goals. Consequently, August was officially established as National Breastfeeding month. As women continue to make gains in the modern workforce, policies and practices to support working mothers, such as breastfeeding and lactation policies, have become increasingly important to organizational culture.

More firms are embracing these policies and practices, and as leading organizations offer Mother’s rooms and other accommodations to attract and retain top talent, the military has followed suit. While traditionally a male-dominated occupation, military service has become an increasingly common career for women. Women compose a larger share of our nation’s armed forces than ever before — more than 15% of active duty military service members and almost 19% of the National Guard and Reserve are women.[1] These demographic changes have led to the introduction of new policies aimed at supporting women in the workforce.

Last September, the Army issued its first ever service-wide guidance on breastfeeding, becoming the final military branch to do so. These guidelines, which apply to active duty, National Guard, and Reserve service members, provided breastfeeding soldiers access to a designated private space for lactation. Among other considerations, this space must be somewhere other than a bathroom stall and include “locking capabilities, an electrical outlet, and access to a safe water source.”

While the initial policy was brief, it was soon followed by an updated and expanded set of guidelines in December 2015. This update further detailed acceptability standards for the lactation area, adequate time to express milk (15 to 30 minutes every two to three hours), support systems in place at military treatment facilities, and the responsibility of commanders to inform pregnant soldiers of the breastfeeding policy. Since July 2015, Tricare has covered costs associated with breastfeeding,[2] including a breast pump and lactation counseling, making it easier for new mothers to work outside the home.

Across all occupations, it is vitally important that leadership implement policies to support employees and their families. However, these guidelines must be continuously revisited and updated where necessary to ensure the best outcomes possible. Breastfeeding policies in the military are no exception. These new policies are a step in the right direction for military service members and their families and a sign of continued progress and support for working mothers.

Employers and employees who are interested in supporting nursing moms at work can find an extensive list of resources at the HHS Office of Women’s Health website. Altarum Institute partnered with OWH; Every Mother, Inc.; the California WIC Association; the California Breastfeeding Task Force; and the state breastfeeding coalitions in Colorado, Kansas, Texas, and Washington to develop this online searchable resource, which also includes photographs of appropriate lactation spaces and video testimonials. For more information and ways to connect and participate in National Breastfeeding Month 2016, visit the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) website.


[1] U.S. Department of Defense 2014 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community http://download.militaryonesource.mil/12038/MOS/Reports/2014-Demographic...

[2] TRICARE See What’s Covered: Breast Pumps and Supplies.

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