Air Force improves lactation support for nursing mothers

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The Department of the Air Force recently announced new guidance that will improve support to nursing mothers when they return to work after having a baby.

The updated policy, which is effective immediately, increases flexibility with lactation breaks and also mandates access to a refrigerator for the purpose of storing human milk.

“Many women choose to continue breastfeeding after they return to work,” said Christy Nolta, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for reserve affairs and Airman readiness. “We should do what we can to support that choice, making it easier for nursing moms to continue to serve. Changes like these contribute to readiness, and improve quality of life for our service members and their families.”

In August 2019, the Air Force released the initial lactation policy, which required commanders to provide nursing mothers with dedicated space in the immediate vicinity of the workplace for the purpose of pumping breast milk. The policy was well received, but feedback from the field suggested it needed some adjustments.

“We continued to receive feedback from the field, so we updated the guidance to further empower leaders across the department to establish proper lactation rooms and provide overall support for nursing mothers,” Nolta said.

The policy changes were championed by the Women’s Initiative Team, and the changes align the Air Force with public law, Office of Personnel Management guidelines, and Department of Defense guidance. The WIT consolidated feedback, consulted with experts and routed recommendations.

“Every mother and infant are unique, and so are their breastfeeding needs,” said Lt. Col. Jeanette Anderson, Air Force Surgeon General prenatal nursing consultant and women’s initiative team member. “The amount of time needed to produce breast milk varies from woman to woman, and this updated policy recognizes that.”

The changes, which are outlined in an Air Force guidance memorandum signed Aug. 15, detail responsibilities and procedural steps to better enable commanders to align the needs of nursing mothers with mission requirements by supporting nursing mothers with a private, secure and clean area within unit facilities.

“Breastfeeding is incredibly important not only to the individual mother-baby dyad (care for the two individuals as a unit in the first three months post-partum), but also in the role it plays more broadly in the health of our women and children,” said Lt. Col. Larissa Weir, doctor of medicine and fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “Policies which support breastfeeding and promote increased duration of breastfeeding are policies which promote the overall health and readiness of our force.”

Under the new policy, unit commanders are required to meet the needs of breastfeeding women by identifying a private area as a lactation room within unit facilities. The room may be temporary or permanent, depending on needs and availability. Lactation rooms must be private, lockable from the inside, sanitary, and have access to refrigeration, hot and cold water and electrical outlets.

“Transitioning from maternity leave to work can be a difficult time,” said Tech. Sgt. Natalia Wood, aircraft maintenance Airman and Women’s Initiative Team member. “Having a dedicated, clean pumping space and a cold storage solution at work allowed me to harmoniously take care of my family and accomplish the mission. The Department of the Air Force’s continuous commitment to providing practical lactation spaces assures me the military cares about my family and my readiness.”

For more information, members may view the complete guidance click at https://static.e-publishing.af.mil/production/1/af_a1/publication/afgm2019-36-02/afgm2020-36-01.pdf.

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