Aug. 30 (UPI) — U.S. Air Force units must provide breastfeeding stations for nursing personnel under a policy announced this week.
An Air Force Guidance Memorandum of Aug. 15 calls for action that “immediately implements policy and procedures for women’s health by supporting nursing mothers with a private, secure (lockable from the inside) and sanitary area, herein referred to as a lactation room, within unit facilities.”
The order applies to accommodations for all new mothers in the Air Force, and calls for a lactation room, similar to a break room. It specifies appropriate furniture and lighting, as well as electrical outlets and proximity to hot and cold running water.
“This policy gap came to our attention from the grassroots level. Our job here is to do what we can to make it easier for Airmen to serve,” said Christy Nolta, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for reserve affairs and Airman readiness. “Women shouldn’t feel like they must choose between serving and being a mother. A small policy tweak can actually make a difference to our Airmen.”
A 2019 survey indicated that 20.6 percent of all U.S. Air Force personnel and 21.6 percent of officers, are women. Female officers tend to have lower overall continuation rates, indicating that they leave the service earlier than male counterparts.
The policy also offers guidance for lactation breaks and refers to a 2015 order, codified in a 164-page implementation policy for Air Force medical care management, expecting supervisors to offer 15 to 30 minutes every three to four hours to personnel to pump breast milk. That order specifically notes that a rest room is not adequate for use as a lactation room.
“We received a lot of feedback from nursing mothers about having to pump or nurse in less than ideal facilities,” said Maj. Alea Nadeem, chief of the Air Force Women’s Initiative Team. “They were having to pump in bathrooms, locker rooms and borrowed offices, and this sometimes discourages new mothers from continuing to express milk.”