A few days ago,Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced the increase of paid maternity leave for the Navy and Marine Corps from six weeks to 18 weeks. This tripling of leave for new mothers doesn’t just align the Navy with most of the public sector, but it surpasses the 12 weeks of unpaid leave required by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). And that move, U.S. News and World Report notes, "makes the Navy the first of the military services to provide more than six weeks."
I have served in the Navy for eight years as a Naval Flight Officer flying P-3 Orions (maritime surveillance aircraft) around the world. And even though there are few women in the role, I love what I do.
I am also a dual military spouse, as my husband serves in the Coast Guard. With both of us on Active Duty it has been a challenge to find time to start a family that fit in with our careers and allowed both of us to be home during the first few years. But in May our daughter arrived, and so for me, the maternity leave policy change isn’t just poignant, it actually is going to extend the time I get with my child this summer. I’m so grateful.
“When the women in our Navy and Marine Corps answer the call to serve, they are making the difficult choice to be away from their children — sometimes for extended periods of time — so that they can do the demanding jobs that we ask them to do,” Mabus said. “With increased maternity leave, we can demonstrate the commitment of the Navy and Marine Corps to the women who are committed to serve.”
Balancing military life with starting a family is a challenge for most women in the military. Before having my daughter I honestly didn’t think six weeks of maternity leave was too short, but fellow service women who were moms all suggested taking at least two weeks of personal leave on top of the six weeks of maternity leave. In the past few weeks I have come to realize how short six weeks really is, and how I wished I had more time with my daughter before returning to work. And once I’m back from leave, our family will continue to face challenges balancing my Navy career and the demands of deployment and relocation, with our growing family.
Here are four reasons why the Navy’s policy change is so significant to sailors and Marines:
1. It’s an amazing baby gift for Navy moms who gave birth in 2015
The Navy’s new Maternity Leave policy applies to all women in the Navy and Marine Corps who have given birth after January 1st of this year and allows them to take the paid leave whenever the service woman chooses to within the first year after her child’s birth.
This could not have come at a better time for me since I was four days away from returning to work when the policy was announced. I will probably take a few more weeks now, while saving the rest for later in the year when I see it fit best for my family. Most likely, this will happen during my husband’s two-week Reserves duty, so that our daughter doesn’t have to go to daycare.
2. It shows that the Navy respects women
The birth of a child is a different experience for each and every woman. Some have easy births with quick recoveries, while others do not. Six weeks doesn’t give a mother who has had a C-section enough time to fully recover, let alone bond with her child and get into a good rhythm with breastfeeding, if she so chooses. Eighteen weeks will helps to give a new mom time to fully recover from childbirth and bond with her child, which is highly beneficial to both child and mother.
Numerous studies show that granting extended maternity leave to women is an investment in the long-term health and happiness of moms and babies. I’m glad to see the Navy recognize that these new short-term benefits will have lasting impact on our families.
3. It means the military might be able to better retain the talented women in its ranks
I see this policy as being a game-changer for women’s retention in the Navy and Marine Corps, as family friendly policies like this will help keep women in the military. Not only does it make the private sector’s comparatively generous leave policies look a bit less appealing, but it also says to women we value you and your family. Most women I know in the military love to serve their country, but also desire to have children. If they have to choose between the two they will likely choose having a family, which in the past meant leaving the service. Now they have the support needed to try and make both work, which in turn will keep more women in the Navy.
4. It’s just another reason to GO NAVY!
Those of us in the Navy have a friendly competition with service members in the Army and the Air Force, and the policy change gives us yet another reason to celebrate the difference. I’m rooting for all branches of the military to extend the same kind of leave benefits to women that was just extended to female sailors and Marines, but until then: GO NAVY!