Breastfeeding Policy Will Help Army Retain Female Soldiers: Lawmaker

Woman breastfeeding

A recently updated Army breastfeeding policy is a practical step toward increasing gender equality as women are integrated into all military roles, a lawmaker who advocated for the changes said this week.

"As more doors open to servicewomen and a greater talent pool is tapped, the military must find ways to support all those who wear the uniform," said Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Massachusetts, in a statement.

"From a practical standpoint, the Army spends millions of dollars training women to do a job," she added. "Without adequate support, resources and health care options, many women may choose to leave the military at the end of their enlistments, denying the military their talents."

The policy, updated Nov. 10, overrides a previous rule published Sept. 29 that Tsongas called "inadequate." That policy had said that soldiers may be given space in a bathroom to pump breastmilk, though that space could not be a restroom stall.

The most recent policy states that the space must be "a private space, other than a restroom, with locking capabilities for a soldier to breastfeed or express milk." The space must also have a place to sit, a flat surface other than the floor to place the pump, an electrical outlet and access to a "safe water source" near the pumping area, it says.

The newest policy also states that although breastfeeding soldiers will still be required to take part in field training or deployment, commanders must give them time and space to pump and, if needed, discard breastmilk just as they would in garrison. It also instructs commanders to give soldiers "adequate time" to express milk, while further clarifying that time requirements may vary depending on a variety of factors, including the age of the baby.

A provision sponsored by Tsongas and included in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act ordered the Army to establish the policy and specified that "restrooms should not be considered an appropriate location" for breastfeeding or pumping.

Prior to the Sept. 29 rule, the Army was the only service without an established, service-wide standard governing female soldiers and breastfeeding.

Air Force rules require a private room and pumping breaks every three to four hours, while the Marine Corps and Navy require a private room with running water, but don't mandate the timing of breaks. The Coast Guard requires a private room, but does not specify running water and does not mandate break frequency.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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