The Army is reviewing its policies regarding maternity and paternity leave and how long new mothers have at home before they can be called to deploy.
"There is no predetermined timeline for completion of this review," Hank Minitrez, a spokesman for the Army, said. It follows recent policy updates by the Navy Department and Air Force.
New mothers in the Navy and Marine Corps are now eligible for up to 18 weeks of postpartum maternity leave, according to a policy change that took effect Wednesday. That number includes the six weeks that was already available immediately after giving birth. The additional maternity leave can be spread through the first year of the child's life and is part of a Navywide push to attract and retain more women who leave the Navy at a much higher rate than men, particularly when starting a family.
In July, the Air Force expanded its rules so that new mothers will not have to deploy for a full year; the previous rules gave airmen six months at home before they were eligible for deployment. Like the Navy, the Air Force's move is part of its ongoing efforts to retain female airmen who "struggle to balance deployments and family issues, and this is especially true soon after childbirth," Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said.
Current Army regulation gives female soldiers six weeks of post-pregnancy convalescent leave. It also states that a new mother is nondeployable for six months.
For military couples or single parents who are seeking to adopt, one adult is "non-deployable for six months from the date the child is scheduled to be officially placed in the home pending adoption," according to Army Regulation 614-30, "Overseas Service."
Soldiers can request a waiver from the deferment, which would allow them to deploy before the six-month period is up, Minitrez said. Commanders also can "further extend" the deferment period if it is "operationally feasible," he said.
New fathers can take a nonchargeable administrative absence, Minitrez said. That absence can be no more than 10 days and must be taken consecutively and within 45 days of the child's birth, he said.
Deployed soldiers have 60 days after they return from their deployment to use the 10 days of paternity leave, Minitrez said.
If the leave is not used within the established time frame, that leave is lost, he said.
Paternity leave is authorized only for a married soldier on active duty, including Title 10 and Title 32 Active Guard and Reserve duty, whose wife gives birth to a child, according to Army regulation. It cannot be applied to single soldiers fathering a child out of wedlock.
In addition to its maternity leave policies, the Army also has been reviewing its policy regarding nursing mothers.
"The Army is currently conducting a comprehensive review of its personnel policies to include breastfeeding and lactation support," Paul Prince, an Army spokesman, said. "This review will leverage the expertise of our medical professionals as well as coordinate with the appropriate Army offices responsible for policy implementation."
The Army also is reviewing other services' policies to gather and consider best practices, Prince said.
The review comes after prodding from Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., who reported numerous women who have come forward with concerns about the Army's lack of a standard breastfeeding policy.
Tsongas is calling for the Army to create a policy that, at a minimum, designates a private, clean area with electrical outlets for expressing milk and an allowance for breaks.
As the review is underway, the Army also will continue to promote and encourage mothers to take advantage of several resources that support breastfeeding, including lactation support rooms and Nursing Mothers' Programs, Prince said.
As with the review of maternity leave rules, there is no specific timeline for when this review might be completed.
"We are working diligently in a systematic and yet deliberate approach to publish new guidance as soon as possible," Prince said.
Staff writers Meghann Myers and Stephen Losey contributed to this report.