The Air Force has directed unit commanders to create improved, easier-to-use lactation spaces for nursing moms, to include access to a refrigerator or freezer to store breast milk, according to an updated policy.
The service last week announced the latest changes as a part of a comprehensive policy unveiled last year and spearheaded by the Women's Initiative Team. The policy instructs that commanders establish private, secure and sanitary locations with outlets, adequate lighting and a place to sit in the immediate vicinity of the woman's workspace, with nearby access to a washing area to clean pumping equipment.
The latest update gives mothers more flexibility for their lactation breaks, providing enough time to not only pump but also be able to drop off their breast milk in its proper storage area, according to a news release. New moms are currently allowed between 15 and 30 minutes to pump every three to four hours during duty hours.
"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, in the release. "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."
The update was the result of feedback from the field, Nolta said, and prompted additional changes "to further empower leaders across the department to establish proper lactation rooms and provide overall support for nursing mothers."
"Every mother and infant are unique, and so are their breastfeeding needs," said Lt. Col. Jeanette Anderson, Air Force Surgeon General perinatal nursing consultant and Women's Initiative Team member, in the release. "The amount of time needed to produce breast milk varies from woman to woman, and this updated policy recognizes that."
According to the memo, commanders should also give nursing mothers the ability to pump during a field or training exercise, if feasible. The spaces should clean, private and "specifically not a restroom or latrine," it states.
Commanders should inquire with appropriate medical staff whether women can have access to cold storage during field training. If the airman can't move or store her milk properly, leaders "will permit her the same time and space to express and discard her breast milk with the intent to maintain physiological capability for lactation," the memo adds.
"Transitioning from maternity leave to work can be a difficult time," said Tech. Sgt. Natalia Wood, an aircraft maintenance airman and Women's Initiative Team member, in the release. "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 change, which went into effect last month, is in line with the Air Force's overall effort to remove career-limiting barriers for women, especially for those who are trying to have a family.
Last last month, the Air Force moved to give airmen who suffer a miscarriage a more flexible time period before they take their next physical fitness assessment.
The service also said it has begun allowing all pregnant and postpartum airmen to attend professional military education without requiring an exception to policy or a fitness assessment test first.