Marines Update Fitness Rules for Pregnant Women in New Parenthood Order

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Service members and civilians participate in the Marine Corps Marathon Forward at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province.
U.S. and NATO service members and civilians participate in the Marine Corps Marathon Forward aboard Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Oct. 30, 2011. (U.S. Marine Corps/ Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan David Chandler)

The Marine Corps has overhauled a 15-year-old order on parenthood and pregnancy, updating fitness requirements for women who are having a baby and giving them a timeline for informing their commands.

Pregnant Marines are now advised to continue a personal fitness plan throughout their pregnancies, according to a new order issued April 13. They're exempt from unit physical training and fitness tests, but updated research shows it's best they continue exercising, said Col. Douglas Mayer, chief of staff with the Marine Corps' Manpower Plans and Policy Division.

"It's a change in the science to the conventional wisdom on physical fitness for individuals undergoing a pregnancy, emphasizing the fact that, in the case of most healthy adults that are pregnant, it's actually better for the unborn child to have a healthy, physically fit individual," Mayer said.

Related: Marines to Review Proposed 1-Year Maternity Leave Policy for New Moms

The order doesn't lay out a specific fitness program for pregnant women and urges them to consult with their doctor to determine one that's right for them. Women experiencing high-risk pregnancies may need to reduce their training intensity, Mayer added.

Since the last order was written in December 2004, there have been a slew of updates to parental leave policies and other rules, and the revised order puts them all in one spot. It's also purposely named the Marine Corps Policy Concerning Parenthood and Pregnancy, Mayer said, since there's a lot more to Marines starting or adding to their families than just pregnancy.

The new order not only covers policies for pregnancy and postpartum, but also for those fostering or adopting. Officials spoke to pregnant Marines, new parents and commanders about areas that needed clarification.

One of those areas, Mayer said, was when Marines should tell their commands they're pregnant or planning to adopt or foster a child.

Pregnant Marines, including reservists, are now required to notify their commanding officer within two weeks of medical confirmation. Those adopting, fostering or using a surrogate must notify their commanders 60 days ahead of planned delivery or placement.

Mayer said the new timelines allow commands to point Marines toward resources the Corps has available to assist them through their transitions. It also helps leaders support their Marines if things don't go as planned, he added.

"There is a sensitivity and consideration about whether [notification] be mandated, but in the end what the Marine Corps recognizes is that a commander ... can't properly help their Marine if they don't know the situation."

The Marine Corps is still considering other changes for new parents. Commandant Gen. David Berger is interested in giving new moms a full year of maternity leave.

The plan was mentioned in the planning guidance he issued last summer after becoming commandant. In February, he told other leaders he wants a formal recommendation on implementing the policy.

No final decision has been made on the yearlong leaves of absence.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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