Government and Regulations

Are Active-Duty Mothers Receiving Enough Breast-Feeding Support?

By implementing and adhering to U.S. military lactation policies for active-duty women, the DoD could help improve breast-feeding rates after mothers return to active duty.



Driven by scientific evidence that supports the nutritional and health benefits of breast milk for mothers and children, breast-feeding rates have trended higher in the U.S. in the past decade. However, these rates decline once children reach 6 to 12 months. Nonsupportive work environments may contribute to this decline. A recent study in Military Medicine analyzed how active-duty women perceive support for breast-feeding in a military setting and concluded that the DoD could improve breast-feeding rates by implementing and adhering to lactation policies.

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The study’s authors polled 318 women soldiers using adapted questions from the Workplace Breastfeeding Support Scale (WBSS), which measures mothers’ perceived support for breast-feeding in the workplace. Responses were measure on a Likert scale, ranging from 12 to 84 points. A high score indicated a more positive perception of support for breast-feeding in the workplace.

Across all branches, 65% of respondents said they were able to meet breast-feeding goals in the workplace, while 34% were not. The study also found some discrepancies between officers and enlisted personnel: Officers across all branches averaged 7.5 points higher on the WBSS.

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Except for the Army, each branch of the military has an official policy in place that dictates how to accommodate active-duty mothers who are still breast-feeding while at work. The Air Force, for example, allows pump breaks of 15 to 30 minutes every 3 to 4 hours in a private, clean room.

Because Air Force guideline are explicitly stated, women in the Air Force reported the highest levels of perception for breast-feeding support, followed by women in the Navy and Marines. However, women in the Army reported low perception levels of breast-feeding support, possibly due to the lack of a formal lactation policy in the Army, which prompts members to work with supervisors/commanders to work together to find a workable plan.

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“Military health care providers are in key positions to promote and support lactation programs as well as provide education on the importance of breast-feeding from patients to policy makers,” wrote the study’s authors. “Nurses and other leaders in military settings can improve perceptions of breast-feeding support by focusing efforts to improve workplace support programs.”

Martin S, Drake E, Yoder L, et al. Mil Med. 2015;180(11):1154-1160.

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