I am thrilled to have Squadron Leader Kelley Stewart of the Royal Australian Air Force as a guest blogger! Squadron Leader Stewart’s post is the first in what I hope to be an ongoing series of posts about breastfeeding in the various militaries of countries outside the United States. I am expanding the website to include information, links, polices and references regarding breastfeeding in the Armed Forces of as many countries as possible (see International Military Breastfeeding Polices). If you are interested in contributing please contact me at email@example.com. But first, please welcome Kelley Stewart, and read on to find out about the amazing support the Australian Defence Force, and more specifically, the Royal Australian Air Force provides to its breastfeeding mothers!
I am very proud to share with BFinCB readers that the last couple of years has been significant for the Australian Department of Defence (DoD) with regard to breastfeeding. Having breastfed three of my own children between 2000 and 2006, I was aware that there was a policy gap regarding breastfeeding potentially affecting many areas of a member’s military service. Like our sisters in other military forces around the world, Australian Defence Force (ADF) mums face unique breastfeeding challenges such as possible separations from their infant when returning to active duty, meeting individual readiness requirements for deployment, through to protecting the work health and safety of the breastfeeding mother-child dyad.
Knowledge about breastfeeding behaviours among ADF women who returned to work after having a baby was not previously available, and in 2008 the Director General Personnel –Air Force (DGPERS-AF) agreed to sponsor/endorse my proposed Masters of Public Health research thesis Breastfeeding rates and behaviours amongst ADF women returning from Maternity Leave. This research took the opportunity to benchmark the breastfeeding behaviours of a group of ADF women who had returned from various lengths of paid and unpaid Maternity Leave, against Australian population norms, identifying barriers and enablers for breastfeeding in the ADF context.
In 2011, proactively responding to my thesis recommendations, insightful DGPERS-AF staff engaged me to develop some breastfeeding guidance material under the Directorate of Air Force Workforce Diversity. Acknowledging that the recruitment and retention of women is critical to Air Force’s future capability, Air Force wanted to produce a breastfeeding document which provided women guidance that included advice, support and some lessons learned from peers, and also some advice for Commanders and supervisors to better and more consistently manage breastfeeding in Air Force workplaces. Robyn’s BFinCB book was an invaluable resource in the guide’s development. In November 2012, under the Chief of Air Force’s signature, the Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers in the Air Force Diversity Guide was released. A corresponding article in the Air Force News detailed the guide’s release (see page 20).
Concurrently, in response to a change in Australia’s sex discrimination laws to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of breastfeeding (refer section 7AA of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984), the DoD began to develop a guidance document Supporting Breastfeeding in the Workplace to address potential discrimination faced by breastfeeding civilian and military employees. It should be noted that civilian DoD (Australian Public Service) employees should already have had access to breastfeeding rooms as part of their current (and previously) negotiated conditions of employment (Defence Enterprise Collective Agreement, Principle F29.2c).
Another exciting development for Air Force was DGPERS-AF approval to commence the Air Force Workforce Diversity project to attain Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace Accreditation through the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA). An Air Force News article detailing this decision was published last August (see page 18) and we are currently undertaking the self-assessment phase of the accreditation process where each location completes an online survey and a follow up visit by an ABA representative will be arranged if appropriate/necessary. The number of Air Force women at various sites around the country will determine the requirement for ABA to undertake site visits or whether the use of the self-assessment tool will be sufficient. As a rough guide, sites with >100 women will be visited by an ABA representative, whereas those with 21-100 women are likely to use a self-assessment tool.
This survey will provide a detailed snapshot of where we are currently with regard the provision of breastfeeding facilities for our Air Force members. The outcomes of the survey will assist ABA representatives work with our local Air Force representatives in identifying or improving the facilities we have for women who are returning from MATL. And almost certainly ensure we receive accreditation as a Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace. For updated information and personal stories about breastfeeding in the Royal Australian Air Force, read this article by the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
About the author:
Squadron Leader Kelley Stewart joined the Royal Australian Air Force 20 years ago as an Environmental Health Officer. SQNLDR Stewart breastfed three children during her active service: the first via expressed breast milk when she was at work, and the next two by being able to visit the on-base childcare centre during the work day. The last time Kelley ever breastfed was on the morning she deployed to the Middle East in 2006, facing just a little engorgement in Kuwait!. After transferring to the Air Force Reserves, Kelley completed her Masters of Public Health research thesis in 2009 titled “Breastfeeding rates and behaviours amongst Australian Defence Force women”. As well as being an Active Reservist, Kelley is now completing her 3rd and final year of a Midwifery degree. SQNLDR Kelley Stewart can be contacted via email firstname.lastname@example.org