by Vaughn R. Larson
The Wisconsin National Guard has recently started implementing measures to provide privacy and security to Soldiers who are still nursing infants.
The armory in Mauston, Wisconsin was the first of more than 40 Wisconsin National Guard facilities across the state to receive a lactation pod — an enclosed booth with a bench, shelving, mirror and lights — which can be used for nursing as well as pumping breast milk. To date, up to 18 pods have been installed.
“Accommodating nursing mothers is essential for maintaining a strong, healthy force,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Vanessa Pederson, an advisor with the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s P3 (Parenthood, Pregnancy and Postpartum) program. “Women make up a growing percentage of the military population, and supporting their ability to breastfeed can help to improve morale, retention and readiness.”
Sgt. 1st Class Kalie Bach, another P3 advisor, said that whether a unit had one or many female Soldiers, the need for the space at any given time was necessary.
“We needed to secure these lactation spaces not only because it was the right thing to do to support our service members and their families, but also to be in compliance with federal regulations,” Bach said.
Armories are currently required to provide a dedicated room for lactation purposes, but space is already at a premium for many armories. Having a lactation pod can free up valuable administrative or training space while still providing a private space for Soldiers who need to express milk.
“They are smaller and more portable than dedicated lactation rooms, and can be placed in various locations as needed,” Pederson said. “This provides our facilities and lactating service members with flexibility.”
Bach said dedicated lactation pods can alleviate pressure nursing Soldiers may feel when using office space.
“My hope is that nursing mothers may feel better supported,” Bach said. “I have witnessed so many Soldiers throughout my career having to pump on bathroom floors, military vehicles, in their car or wherever they could have privacy.”
Pederson said that ultimately, the best lactation accommodations depend on the needs and preferences of the nursing Soldier, as well as available resources and space.
“Lactating service members have unique needs and challenges that can impact their physical and emotional well-being as well as their ability to perform their duties effectively,” Pederson said. “Breastfeeding or pumping milk requires time, privacy and support, and lactating Soldiers may need to take breaks from their work to express milk. This can be particularly challenging in a military environment where schedules and duties can be unpredictable, and there may not always be easy access to private spaces for nursing.”
Pederson said supporting lactating Soldiers also supports the health and readiness of the military as a whole. Bach said supporting service members and their families looks different for each person.
“These lactation pods are one of the many ways that we support our service members, and their families,” Bach said. “Many people will never have to use these lactation pods, and may be indifferent to their presence in their armories. But for the people who will need them, having a lactation pod available to a nursing mother will mean everything.”
Bach, recalling her own experiences as a Soldier during and after pregnancies, was significantly invested in the effort to provide a dedicated lactation space for other Soldiers.
“The work that was done to secure funding for the pods took years, and it was something that we never thought would happen,” Bach said. “When it became a possibility, I remember being so full of hope and joy.”
Bach, the senior supply sergeant for the 132nd Brigade Support Battalion, said several babies have been born to Soldiers in her battalion recently.
“It was very exciting to have the first lactation pod be in one of those units,” she said of the pod placed in the Mauston armory. “I think people were curious about it at first. I know they were very thankful to have a space and proud to support Soldiers and their families in that way.”
The P3 Program began more than five years ago to develop policies and create resources for military families and pregnant and postpartum Soldiers. In addition to the effort to make lactation pods available, the program began training P3 advisors to provide knowledge, resources and support to pregnant and postpartum Soldiers, and bridge communication gaps between unit commanders and parents. Being a P3 advisor is an additional duty assignment on top of a Soldier’s regularly assigned responsibilities.