One of three mobile lactation pods arrived at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Nov. 12, 2020, to provide a private room equipped with the resources needed for women to safely breastfeed and pump breastmilk regardless of the work location.
Secretary of the Air Force Manpower and Reserve Affairs released an Air Force Guidance Memorandum in 2019 that requires bases to establish lactation rooms for nursing mothers within unit facilities. The memo highlighted the requirements for the lactation pods, such as having a private, secure and sanitary area.
The results of a base-wide survey distributed in 2017 determined a need for lactation rooms, said Sharon Kozak, 56th Fighter Wing Community Action Team executive director. Beforehand, women were using public restrooms to pump or their spouse or child’s caretaker would bring their child to the workplace to feed, with little to no convenient options for privacy.
Luke responded to the Airmen’s needs by implementing several lactation rooms in 2019 at the Child Development Center, 56th Medical Group Pediatric Clinic, 56th Fighter Wing Safety Building, 944th FW building 334, and hangar 999.
“I think that having a safe, clean, private place to pump, whether it be a lactation pod or lactation space (office or room with a locking door), helps allow working mothers to be significantly more productive,” said Maj. Valerie Wetzbarger, 62nd Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations. “There are studies that show breast milk delays and prevents illness for babies, which allows the mother to take less days/time off to be at home with a sick child. We’ve had mothers wean their children off breast milk before they were ready because they didn’t feel they had a space to pump.”
Although the lactation rooms are convenient, lactation pods are necessary as well, explained Kozak. Most lactation rooms are in locations that are only available during daytime operating hours; Airmen who work after daytime duty hours need other solutions, she said. The lactation pods are open 24/7 for use and can be moved to locations they’re needed in the future.
“We probably won’t get pods for every building,” said Wetzbarger. “But that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be thinking about and designating a lactation space for their Airmen who may be expecting or nursing.”
Of the three pods, one is in the 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron supply warehouse, building 945. The second will be located in the 310th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, building 9002. The third pod is scheduled be put in the Academic Training Center, building 618 by the end of November.
The lactation pods are equipped with a table, two built-in benches, an external numeric keypad lock, internal deadbolt with external indicator showing “vacant/in use” and much more.
“The pods can be put outside the building or inside the building,” said Kozak. “The lactation pods are very sterile. All you need is to just plug them in, and they’re mobile. It’s not like a room over in the corner. It’s an actual pod.”
All Airmen, including civilian employees, who are nursing mothers are permitted to use the lactation pods. These resources enable each unit meet mission requirements while taking care of Airmen.
“The pods provide a way for mothers to continue to be the best mom they can be while still being able to do the mission,” said Maj. Jessa “Smokin” Charron, 69th FS ADO and mother of four. “If you have a place to pump and you can get it done quickly and you have all the tools and the resources available, it makes you more effective at getting your actual job done.”
According to the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund, breastmilk provides all the energy and nutrients that an infant needs for the first months of life and continues to provide up to one-third of a child’s nutritional needs up to two years of life.
The pods also provide a comfortable and sterile place for mothers to continue to breastfeed, which supports the U.S. Surgeon General goals for increasing breastfeeding for a period of at least one year after a child’s birth, which is 40% more than the current average.
Wetzbarger explained that the pods help advance diversity and inclusion by bringing awareness that breastfeeding is a natural process.
“These natural things that happen need to evolve within our community, and not as an afterthought,” said Wetzbarger. “So, having things like lactation pods or lactation spaces for [all] Airmen allow us to be on par with other civilian organizations. It doesn’t feel like it’s exclusive to a certain rank.”
Kozak explained that implementing these much-needed resources was no easy task, and she can’t wait to see the outcome of the work everyone has accomplished.
“I think it’s extremely important, especially with how many of these young Airmen are single women with children who have enough stress in their lives,” said Kozak. “This is something that’s very natural and only benefits the mother and the child through bonding and nurturing. The benefits are overwhelming. Kudos to everyone for not giving up on this.”
For more information on the policies and procedures of breastfeeding and breast pumping, read Air Force Instruction 44-102,Medical Care Management, paragraph 4.15.