SALT LAKE CITY -- Military mothers will now get to spend twice as much time with their newborns. In February, the Department of Defense announced military maternity leave would extend from six weeks to 12 weeks.
It was a part of policy change the new Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, announced last fall for the year 2016.
“We show them that supporting a family and serving our country are by no means incompatible goals,” Carter said.
It was a big change, and a great change, for 25-year-old 1st Lt. Dene McCracken. McCracken is an airman at Hill Air Force Base.
“When we first found out we were pregnant, we were under the assumption that we would have six weeks,” McCracken said. “We knew that wasn't going to be enough time at home for us, so we planned on building up as much leave as possible. I was going to take a month and he was going to take a month so that we could have as much time at home before we had to send him to the CDC [child day care].”
Around her 30-week mark, the policy change was put into effect.
“Knowing that this policy has been changed makes me feel like the Air Force is starting to think of family units more, and it makes me happier,” McCracken said.
However, she also knows there are other incentives for the policy change.
“This puts the DOD in the top-tier of institutions nationwide and will have significant influence on decision-making for our military family members,” Carter said.
It means the DOD sees this policy as a way to help attract and retain military service members.
“We lose a lot of people every year for wanting to start families or for other reasons,” McCracken said. “There's interest at headquarters looking at how they can retain people, and I think this is one really big step forward.”
Another DOD legislative request is to extend paternity leave from ten days to 14 days.
McCracken said it is long overdue to increase fathers’ stay at home time too.
“My personal feeling is that is not enough,” McCracken said. “I think that it should be equal. I do think that it's important that both mother and father to be actively engaged with parenting. I think that makes a big difference with how children grow up.”
The DOD did extend it’s military child care services from eight hours to 14 hours, to allow for parents’ schedules to be more flexible. McCracken said that has been a large complaint from military parents.
McCracken can feel a little less stressed over the maternity leave now that it is 12 weeks instead of only six weeks; however, her husband’s mother will also be there to help them care for their newborn when he arrives.