US military mums to get nursing 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.

He said the all-volunteer military is primarily a married force, and making it more family-friendly and responsive to the changing needs of a new generation would allow it to attract and retain the best talent available.

Mr Carter said he got the idea from his friend Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook executive who wrote the best-selling female leadership and empowerment book Lean In.

The US military can "make relatively inexpensive improvements so that (its) 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", he told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday.

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.

Mr 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 opening up all positions to women, including specialised commando roles.

He also said on Thursday 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 to members of the navy and Marine corps, which currently allow 18 weeks.

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

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2016, with the headline 'US military mums to get nursing rooms'. Print Edition | Subscribe