A bill introduced in Congress last week would give service member moms up to 12 weeks off for maternity leave -- six of those unpaid.
Right now military moms are given six weeks of leave after childbirth unless a longer leave is medically necessary. Those adopting can take up to 21 days of leave. New dads are given 10 days of leave at the discretion of their commander. Both current paternity and maternity leave is paid and does not count against their other total leave days.
The new bill aims to put the military policy in line with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that applies to all other federal workers. That law grants up to 12 work weeks of leave in a 12 month period to women who give birth, adoptive or foster parents and anyone taking care of a sick family member or their own health.
Since the language for the bill is not yet available, it's unclear whether the bill, offered by Rep. Tammy Duckworth, (D-Ill.) and Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) would expand leave to as many cases as the FMLA does. In a statement Rep. Duckworth did confirm that the bill will cost taxpayers nothing because the proposed six weeks of additional leave would be unpaid.
"For working moms, going back to work after having a child is one of the most difficult days,” Noem said in a statement. "But when you put on fatigues instead of a business suit and return to a military base halfway around the world instead of an office around the corner, that day can be even more difficult. Extending maternity leave and offering more time to recover from childbirth is the least we can do for these mothers who have not only made sacrifices for their children, but for their entire country.”
Male military spouses we talked to said the extension would be very helpful in some cases. For example, when a baby is born prematurely and sent to the NICU, the six weeks of already granted leave fly by.
"The extension would be great. Six weeks can sometimes be too short depending on post labor hospital stay. Our son was sent to NICU after an emergency C-section," said Chris Hillman, an Army spouse at Fort Benning. "This meant most of the six weeks were spent in recovery and at the hospital with our son. So not very much bonding and adjustment time eight-to-twelve weeks would of allowed time for maternity leaves true purpose."
Phillip Eskridge, an Air Force spouse whose wife recently had a baby, said that longer leave would've been helpful.
"Having just gone through this in December, I think six weeks was just barely enough," he said. "Eight weeks, I think, would have been best and would have given us enough time to really get comfortable with a new schedule. But my wife and I both agree that 12 weeks is too much."
But some spouses worried that because the extra six weeks is unpaid and not mandatory, those who take it will end up being punished by their units. And taking an extra six weeks off isn't a practical option for those in some types of military fields, such as medical training. That time off has to be made up by more work later.
Others worried that taking six weeks off without pay is not practical or wise, particularly for junior ranking families.
"Can junior enlisted or junior officer families really afford to both go without six weeks (three paychecks) of income while also massively increasing their spending (cribs, clothes, toys, decorations, takeout, laundry soap, coffee, diapers, wipes, pacifiers, sheets, bottles, pumps, special soaps, lotions, medications, and on and on)?" said military spouse Jack Lee.
Others said that the extra leave creates an even greater discrepancy between maternity and paternity policies. Since the 10 days of paternity leave is at the commander's discretion, it means in many cases that the father does not get to take it at all. For example, out of two children born in this household, we only had about seven days of leave once.
What do you think about the proposed changes? Tell us in the comments.