US military to provide thousands of breastfeeding rooms

Washington: The United States will provide thousands of rooms for military mothers to breastfeed their babies, Defence Secretary Ashton Carter announced as part of a package of family-friendly initiatives.

Carter, who has long said the US military must look for ways to attract and retain top talent, said yesterday he got the idea from his friend Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook executive who wrote the best-selling female leadership and empowerment book “Lean In.”

We can “make relatively inexpensive improvements so that our workplaces are more accommodating to women when they return from maternity leave, with a focus on making it easier for them to continue breastfeeding if they choose,” Carter told reporters at the Pentagon.

New rules mean every military facility with more than 50 women will be required to provide a mother’s room — about 3,600 in all.

Carter, who is President Barack Obama’s fourth defence secretary, has spoken frequently about the need for the vast US military to be more inclusive.

He has ushered in major reforms such as by opening up all positions to women, including specialised commando roles.

He also said yesterday that the Pentagon would implement 12 weeks of paid maternity leave across all military services while increasing paternity leave to two weeks.

The move represents a doubling of maternity leave for the Army and Air Force, but will come as a disappointment for members of the Navy and Marine Corps, which currently allow 18 weeks.

Women comprise about 15.6 percent of the 1.34 million active-duty personnel now in the US military.

The latest changes are generous by US standards. Unlike almost every other industrialised country, the United States fails to guarantee new mothers paid time off.

Carter announced other changes too, including better access to child care and in-vitro fertilisation treatments for couples trying to have a baby.