Malmstrom trailblazing breast-feeding support

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Annabel Monroe
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Directly following maternity leave, I reported to Airman Leadership School as a senior airman in 2011. I timidly asked if it would be possible for me to graduate while taking breaks to pump breast milk for my newborn son.  The commandant and my instructor allowed me an additional five minutes to previously scheduled breaks, twice a day and explained that I would still be able to graduate. My instructor worked to find an appropriate place.  The place was a large storage closet, with a lock and use of the instructor's refrigerator.

This story is not mine alone.  Some have had better accommodations, but others have had worse.

It was after the birth of my second child, five years later, that I began researching breast-feeding, parenting and military service. Now a newly-commissioned second lieutenant, I sought to learn the history of motherhood in the military, what the regulations say, medical recommendations and how we can support breast-feeding mothers.

I found that I wasn't alone in my search for information and support.  There were women across the wing, in many groups who also looked for support in their breast-feeding journey.

Staff Sgt. Lauren Cerda, 341st Security Forces Support Squadron training instructor, balances the realities of military service and motherhood.

"Balancing your job and being a mother can be tough.  Sometimes you feel like you're missing things with your child.  Breast-feeding offers that special mommy-baby bonding," said Cerda.

A group of 10 women came together to discuss their experiences.

"You have to learn to balance mission requirements and your personal goals for family," said 1st Lt. Sheila Koebel, 12th Missile Squadron ICBM operator.

In my research, I found that before 1972 a pregnant woman was simply involuntarily discharged from military service.  Since World War II "an enrolled woman...will be discharged if she becomes pregnant...Pregnancy will be included on the daily sick report as sickness 'not in the line of duty.'"

It wasn't until 1975 that military women initiated litigation against an executive order recommending discharge and the 2nd District Court found involuntary discharges due to pregnancy a violation of constitutional rights. 

The next decade brought a maternity uniform to women serving while pregnant.  Up until this point, women simply reported for duty in civilian clothes when they outgrew their service uniforms.

During the 2000s, women returned to duty six weeks after pregnancy and to normal operations, to include deployments and physical fitness requirements, after only six months.

Air Force Instruction 44-102, "Medical Care Management," was revised in 2012 to include a breast-feeding policy recommending arrangement of work schedules that allow 15 to 30 minute breaks, every three to four hours in an area providing adequate privacy and cleanliness, excluding restrooms.

Initiatives like the Career Intermission Program, which allows top performing Airmen a conditional separation for up to three years, enables the flexibility to manage short-term conflicts between service responsibilities and life priorities.  This retains valuable Air Force members who desire to focus on family or other professional goals.

In 2015 women in the Air Force were authorized one year from the birth of a child to be exempt from deployments and return to physical fitness standards. 
This year the Pentagon set maternity leave to 12 weeks across the Department of Defense.

Today, women make up 19 percent of the Air Force.  The way was paved by the first women in and out of combat as aviators, nurses, engineers, astronauts, but also as nurturers, caregivers and mothers. 

These trailblazers led the way and I look forward to helping move even further ahead.
By collaborating with other mothers, the process of formalizing a mother's room in our wing headquarters building began in February. With enough support, the idea grew into a medical recommendation from the base's lactation consultant and a support policy endorsed by the wing commander.

"Working with my command and being flexible has allowed me to maintain breast-feeding while taking care of my patients to fulfill the mission," said Capt. Jessica Mahan, 341st Medical Operations Squadron family nurse practitioner.

In recognition of the well documented, evidence-based health advantages of breast-feeding for both infants and mothers, this progressive stance ensures all women have an adequate space to express breast milk and the opportunity to breast-feed.