There is much to celebrate this 4th of July if you are a breastfeeding mom serving in the military. There have been a number of amazing changes in policy that offer more support for breastfeeding, and motherhood in general in the military, than any other time in the past decade. Keep in mind though that while there has been a huge amount of progress in supporting breastfeeding in the military, there is much left to be done to increase the breastfeeding rates to levels that are anywhere close to those set by Healthy People 2020. Here then are the recent changes and what the military still needs to work on:
Back in April, Colonel Iverson, Commander of the 366th Fighter Wing at Mountain Home AFB put out command-wide breastfeeding in public policy which stated that women were to cover themselves or they would be required to move to a private room to breastfeed. Once the policy was released online, it was met with fierce and rapid opposition. The policy was rescinded within 24 hours due to the huge outrage it provoked from AD mothers and spouses alike, and the fact that it directly violates the Federal law that allows breastfeeding in public on Federal property. A few months later, Major General Charles Flynn, Senior Commnader, US Army Hawai’i also put out a similar breastfeeding in public policy that was discriminatory in its wording, and in effect denied breastfeeding mothers the ability to breastfeed their babies in public on any Army installation in the Pacific area. Once again, due to a huge outcry on social media, the policy was quickly rescinded and a new, much more supportive policy was put out in its place. (The new policy is light years ahead of anything else the Army has in place for breastfeeding. Quite frankly it should be the model policy that an Army-wide breastfeeding policy is based on).
- But, there shouldn’t even be an issue regarding breastfeeding in public on a military installation at all. Military installations are Federal property and as such fall under the Federal law protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed wherever she and her baby have the right to be. The military also needs to extend this right to mothers in uniform who might need to breastfeed while at a well child visit at the base clinic or when picking up or dropping off baby at the CDC.
In May the Air Force officially extended deferment from deployment to a full 12 months, bringing the Air Force in line with AAP recommendations for breastfeeding, and equal to what the Navy already offer new mothers.
- Extending the deferment from deployment (overseas or shipboard) should be military-wide, not just for the women in the Air Force and Navy. Allowing ALL military mothers that extra time is integral to the baby’s health. Remaining at the home installation means moms can more easily pump while at work and breastfeed at home, without having to worry about being sent away for extended periods of time and needing to ship milk back home. Extending the deferment to all branches of the military would allow all mothers to meet the AAP goal of at least 12 months of breastfeeding.
As of July 1st, TRICARE is now providing coverage for breast pumps, breastfeeding supplies and Lactation Counseling for all TRICARE beneficiaries. This is particularly good news for active duty moms who now can get a breast pump for their return to duty at 6 weeks.
- But the process for obtaining a pump is frustratingly confusing as there seems to be differing rules in place depending on which Region mom lives in, many of the providers have no idea what the Policy even states, the claims process is a nightmare and there are questions as to what pumps will be covered. But most dismaying of all is the lack of counseling by qualified Lactation Professionals. Right now the only TRICARE-authorized providers of Lactation Counseling are MDs, RNs, CNMs and NPs or PAs. Not a single one of whom has the necessary training, experience or board-certification to properly care for the breastfeeding Mother-Baby dyad. This WILL lead to breastfeeding failure by moms who do not receive the care they deserve by the qualified practitioners who should be providing it…. IBCLCs and CLCs.
On July 2nd the Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, made the announcement that all Navy and Marine Corps women would receive 18 weeks of maternity leave after the birth of their baby. It is retroactive to Jan 1st and can be taken in one lump or broken up in the first year. This is a huge step forward in providing paid maternity leave for new mothers, and one that the civilian sector could learn from. The United States is one of the very few countries worldwide that does not offer paid maternity leave. OORAH to the U.S. Navy for being the first to support new moms.
- Extending maternity leave to 18 weeks should be military-wide as it will greatly improve breastfeeding rates. Numerous studies have shown that a longer return back to work results in higher breastfeeding duration rates. The military has some of the highest initiation rates but lowest duration rates due to the quick 6 week return to duty. The other services need to follow in the footsteps of the Navy ASAP and offer a similar maternity leave policy.
Finally, while the Army does not, as yet, have a breastfeeding policy….there are winds of change in the air. Rep Tsongas has written an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act 2016 that will require the Army to create a breastfeeding policy similar to those offered by each of the other branches of the military. She wrote a very compelling op-ed piece in Army Times last week, using stories submitted by the readers of this Blog and the BFinCB Facebook Page detailing the horrible conditions they are forced to pump in, if they are even given time to pump, many are denied both.
- While we are creating breastfeeding policies for all the branches of the military, let’s also include Breastfeeding Sensitivity training as part of the GMT that every airman, marine, sailor, and soldier, regardless of rank or gender, has to take. Far too many co-workers and supervisors have no idea why breastfeeding is important, not only to the baby and mother’s health, but ultimately to the unit’s mission readiness and the recruitment and retainment of qualified women in the military. For every dollar spent supporting breastfeeding women in the workplace there is a $2-3 return on that investment. Let’s make sure that everyone in the military workplace understands and supports breastfeeding, not just the mom struggling to make it work.
While the military is still not a very breastfeeding friendly workplace, there have been some much-needed and monumental changes in the past few months, that are heading the military in the right direction. It’s about time too. The military is an all volunteer force, and as such it needs to remain competitive in the workplace if it wants to recruit and retain the best employees. Becoming more family friendly, and yes, breastfeeding friendly is one way to do that.
So this Independence Day weekend, while you are enjoying the long holiday weekend take a few minutes to celebrate these successes, but also keep pushing for more supportive policies in the future. Take a few minutes to think about how YOU can support breastfeeding in the military such as: setting up a lactation room at your command, starting a breastfeeding support group on your installation, donating to BFinCB or purchasing a coin, shirt or water bottle; so we can continue to operate this website, answer your questions on the Facebook Page, speak at military installations, and advocate at the government level for the thousands of military women Giving the Breast for Baby and Country!
What are your thoughts about these recent policy changes? Do you think they are needed? Will they increase breastfeeding rates in the military? Leave a comment below.