After years of giving women in the military six weeks of maternity leave, the Defense Department has changed the policy and will allow them to take off up to 12 weeks when they have a baby. The aim is to retain more women in the military.
For women in the Navy and Marines, 12 weeks is a step back. Last July, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, recognizing the retention problem, decided to give sailors and Marines up to 18 weeks of maternity leave rather than six weeks.
For women in the Army and Air Force, however, the move from six weeks to 12 weeks is an improvement.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the 12-week maternity leave policy on Jan. 29.
On a visit last week to Marine and Navy bases in San Diego, Carter explained the new policy.
“The more maternity leave, the easier it makes things for mothers who want to take that maternity leave," he said. "On the other hand, there are impacts on readiness.”
Carter said 12 weeks struck the right balance between maintaining readiness and helping to retain women, who cite family conflicts as one reason for ending their careers in the military.
Marine Lt. Abigail Dredge just came back to her job as a public affairs officer at Camp Pendleton, after giving birth to her son.
"I give every stay-at-home mom credit, because it is a very tough job," Dredge said. "It’s a rewarding job, but it was just a time to begin developing our relationship, getting to really know him.”
Dredge took her leave under the policy instituted in July so she was allowed to be off for 18 weeks..
The 12-week maternity leave policy goes along with other changes being instituted to make life easier for military families. Daycare centers, for example, are open longer so parents can now drop off their children before reporting for their shifts. A pilot program offering extended daycare hours also was tested last year at Naval Base San Diego.
As part of the proposed 2017 budget, the Defense Department is also asking Congress to increase parental leave for men in the military from 10 days to 14 days.