The Army's new policy on breastfeeding is a first step in supporting women who don't want to choose between being a soldier and nursing their baby.
In the push to protect and support breastfeeding soldiers, the Army has remained the final holdout—until now. On Tuesday, military brass finally unveiled an official, service-wide policy on nursing. The move comes on the heels of proposed legislation that would require such a policy and a viral photo showing 10 active-duty mamas breastfeeding their babies in uniform.
Among the highlights of the basic, seven-point plan: Nursing soldiers will now have access to a private area that's equipped with a lock, electrical outlet for a pump, and access to clean water. If that space is housed in a bathroom, it must be fully enclosed and separate. (Read: No pumping or feeding over a gross toilet.) Breastfeeding moms can also participate in field training exercises, but now they're allowed to stop and express their milk in a "private space." There are also on-staff lactation consultants for extra help, if needed.
As good as all of that is, the policy is missing an important provision. Specifically, it doesn't spell out how often a mom can break to pump or how long she has to get the job done. (Currently, only the Air Force's policy offers specifics on breaks, allowing women to pump for 15-30 minutes every three to four hours, according to the Army Times.) According to the Army's policy, "The time required to express milk varies and depends on several factors, including the age of the infant, amount of milk produced, quality of the pump, and distance the pumping location is from the workplace, as well as how conveniently located the water source is from the pump location." Hmm, a lot of variables in that sentence.
The policy, which applies to all active members of the Army, National Guard, and Reserve, goes into effect immediately. And while it's not perfect, it is an important first step in supporting women who don't want to choose between their duties as a soldier and their desire to nurse their child.
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Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.