Moms in the Army say that they feel affirmed after the service followed their recommendation, extending the time allowed to get back within postpartum body standards from six months to a year.
Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston announced the policy change March 19. "This is a common sense decision to help ensure our mothers have time to recover and build back their readiness," he said in a tweet.
Under the previous version of the regulation, new moms had only six months after giving birth to conform to body fat standards. As a result, many resorted to "unsafe practices to lose weight" or stopped breastfeeding their baby at four months, according to a white paper.
"It's something that we're all very passionate about, because in order to successfully breastfeed, it's kind of hard to cut weight because you need those calories to continue having a supply," said Army Sgt. Nicole Pierce, founder of The Army Mom Life. "The fact that they actually listened and changed the regulation was pretty cool."
First Lt. Megan Gephart, with the 25th Infantry Division, said that the regulation change is part of a larger cultural shift in the Army for women who previously found themselves "in a difficult position of feeling like they may not necessarily have the freedom to grow their families when they feel called to, while continuing to serve."
"This change is huge on so many levels, but it absolutely supports ... overall holistic health and fitness in terms of a sustainable return to full readiness, [and this is a] sustainable return to height and weight standards," Gephart said. "I think in so many ways, this is just one of those policy changes that is really allowing for the culture to change to be a little bit more conducive to women continuing to progress in their career as well."
Sgt. 1st Class Samantha Grant, who has served for 14 years and is a mother of two, said that it is "reassuring that the Army is changing and being more inclusive to what women need."
"We provide a lot to the Army. And even though we have a smaller percentage of the Army, over the years it's continuing to increase," Grant said.
In 2016, 97% of women who served on active duty were "of childbearing potential," and 13.1% had a pregnancy-related health care visit, according to Health.mil.
Women in the service, including those who are pregnant and postpartum, are "a source of strength" and key to the Army's readiness, Gephart said.
"There are so many attributes that we contribute to the team and ways that we continue to meaningfully do our part for the mission. And we can still do so many of those things, if not all of them, while pregnant and postpartum," she added. "It is a source of strength to include our women that are 18% of the Army as a whole right now; it definitely will be continuing to increase in the future."
Despite their contributions, mothers who serve say they still face misconceptions, including critics who claim women get pregnant to avoid deployment.
First Lt. Silver Beaty, who has served for 12 years, said such accusations are untrue.
"I'm getting ready to deploy soon, and I'm doing everything in my power to not get pregnant so that I can deploy," Beaty said. "Males don't have to consider the worries of getting pregnant before deployment, and trying to avoid it. The burden is put on women, because obviously, we bear the children, so it's just something that I don't think really is processed."
Beyond the pregnancy and postpartum period itself, mothers who serve also experience a career progression delay. After Gephart and her husband both commissioned and got married, she discovered that she was pregnant.
"No matter how wonderful and involved our spouses are, they do not have to bear the same sacrifices that we do," Gephart said. "I, too, was affected in my career progression right away. ... I was scheduled to go to a grad school opportunity that I had earned out of West Point, and my entire career trajectory shifted because that was in China, and I knew I couldn't go. It was a yearlong program, and I just wouldn't have the medical and general support system that I would need there, and so I had to give that up."
Pierce, a mother of two who has served for more than seven years, said that she is about two years behind her peers after her pregnancies.
"I've had two kids back-to-back. They are one and two right now, and I am about two years behind my peers because I was pregnant, because I couldn't attend [professional military education], because I couldn't take a PT test, because I couldn't do all the things that I was supposed to be doing not pregnant," she said.
While servicewomen say that the Army has come a long way from the early to mid-1970s, when active-duty women were involuntarily separated from the military due to pregnancy, they add that changes are still needed. Despite their sacrificies, mothers who serve say they are encouraged by other policy shifts, such as the Pentagon's fall 2020 policy update to "prohibit pregnancy-based discrimination."
Hard conversations with senior male leaders are key to moving the Army forward, Beaty said.
"In my battalion, I'm the only female commander," she said. "Where I think the culture shift is really going to make the change is when our male counterparts that we have those conversations with also speak out ... and show that they may not understand, but they can support us, that they can try to empathize, they can attempt to understand and just be better for their female soldiers."
Change also means taking on preconceived notions about female soldiers, Grant said.
"Everyone's going to have this idea of what a female soldier is, and it's up to us to make that cultural shift, that behavioral change within the Army, with everything, to make it so women are seen as equals to men in the Army," she explained.
Support is necessary to ensure that a female service member who wants to grow her family will "thrive in both motherhood as well as her professional life," Gephart said.
"There is no ideal time in the Army to grow your family. It's always challenging no matter what, but there are some that are more difficult than others," she said. "Motherhood itself is not a limiting factor into what a woman can accomplish or achieve professionally, but lack of support is."