The congresswoman who backed legislation asking the Army to develop a servicewide policy for nursing mothers called the guidelines released Wednesday "a positive first step."
An advocate for breastfeeding mothers in uniform who literally wrote the book on the topic agreed, but said the step wasn't nearly far enough, and that compared to policies already on the books with other services and at some Army installations, the new directive doesn't measure up.
"Although there is much more work to do to support Army moms, the changes announced today are a positive first step," she said.
The last service to implement such a policy, the Army's version leaves out some details found in the directives issued by the other branches, Roche-Paull said:
Timing. Air Force guidance recommends breaks of 15-30 minutes at three- to four-hour intervals to allow nursing mothers to pump breast milk. Navy guidance mentions that setup as an example of a possible break schedule, but does not recommend it. The Army's guidance doesn't offer any recommendations or requirements for breaks, but states that "Commanders and Soldiers will balance lactation support and readiness."
"It's all left up to the supervisor," Roche-Paull said. "And that's so easily overrun with, 'I'm sorry, this needs to be done. Readiness. You can't go pump.' "
Space issues. The Army guidance states that restrooms may be offered as a location for soldiers expressing breast milk, but that the space must be a "fully enclosed, separate area" for that purpose, and not a bathroom stall. The guidance may be well-intended, Roche-Paull said, but offering the restroom as an acceptable location could lead to problems, despite the caveats.
"It should not say anything about a restroom," she said. "None of the other services say anything about a restroom: In fact, they clearly state it is not to be a restroom. They really kind of blew it on that. They need to find some other space."
Both Navy and Marine Corps guidance state that the pumping area should not be located in "a toilet space." The Air Force guidelines state that bathrooms "should not be considered an appropriate location for pumping."
A better example?
Roche-Paull, a certified lactation consultant who was a nursing mom while in the Navy in the 1990s, said she was in contact with Army officials who were developing the policy, sharing feedback and concerns from active-duty nursing moms. Many of those mothers sought more specific guidelines regarding the issues mentioned above, which was one of the reasons she expected a more comprehensive policy.
Another reason: Army installations already have their own policies in place, giving the service a number of example directives to pull from. Roche-Paull called the guidance in place at Fort Bliss, Texas, a "model policy," one that establishes break times to pump breast milk, prohibits the use of a bathroom as a lactation facility and includes a chapter covering "breastfeeding in field environments," addressing refrigeration requirements and other concerns.
Roche-Paull provided Army Times with the 22-page, four-chapter policy. The Army's servicewide guidance is less than two pages.
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.