29 January 2016

US military introduces 'family-friendly' packages for women

Military women will have the benefit of thousands of breastfeeding rooms for when they return from their maternity leave.


The United States will provide thousands of rooms for military mothers to breastfeed their babies, Defence Secretary Ashton Carter announced as part of a package of family-friendly initiatives.

Major reforms

Carter, who has long said the US military must look for ways to attract and retain top talent, said he got the idea from his friend Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook executive who wrote the best-selling female leadership and empowerment book "Lean In".

We can "make relatively inexpensive improvements so that our workplaces are more accommodating to women when they return from maternity leave, with a focus on making it easier for them to continue breastfeeding if they choose," Carter told reporters at the Pentagon.

Read: Why breastfeeding is best

New rules mean every military facility with more than 50 women will be required to provide a mother's room about 3,600 in all.

Carter, who is President Barack Obama's fourth defence secretary, has spoken frequently about the need for the vast US military to be more inclusive.

He has ushered in major reforms such as by opening up all positions to women, including specialised commando roles.

Generous changes

He also said that the Pentagon would implement 12 weeks of paid maternity leave across all military services while increasing paternity leave to two weeks.

Read: Breastfeeding and work – how to make it work

The move represents a doubling of maternity leave for the Army and Air Force, but will come as a disappointment for members of the Navy and Marine Corps, which currently allow 18 weeks.

Women comprise about 15.6 percent of the 1.34 million active-duty personnel now in the US military.

The latest changes are generous by US standards. Unlike almost every other industrialised country, the United States fails to guarantee new mothers paid time off.

Carter announced other changes too, including better access to child care and in-vitro fertilisation treatments for couples trying to have a baby.

Read more:

Longer maternity leave in India to encourage breastfeeding

Good news: more breast milk banks are opening up in SA

Breastfeeding may not prevent allergies in kids

Image: Mother breastfeeding from iStock


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