Less restrictions for nursing pilots aids in 931st ARW pilot retention

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Abigail Klein
  • 931st Air Refueling Wing

McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. – When the Secretary of the Air Force Manpower and Reserve Affairs released an Air Force Guidance Memorandum requiring bases to establish lactation rooms for nursing mothers within unit facilities in 2019, Team McConnell began upgrading its facilities and offices to accommodate nursing mothers.

As of December 2022, there are more than 20 locations at the base to accommodate the active-duty, Reserve and Guardsmen at the base. While most of the locations are repurposed office spaces, two of the locations featured in the Robert J. Dole Center and Building 1176 are lactation pods. The lactation pods are equipped with a table, two built-in benches, an external numeric keypad lock, internal deadbolt with external indicator showing “vacant/in use” and much more.

In addition to these spaces, Airmen of the 931st Air Refueling Wing lead an initiative that created lactation facilities at all of McConnell’s air refueling squadrons.

According to said Lt. Col. Liz Hein, 924th Air Refueling Squadron director of operations, the rooms further enable nursing mothers to balance their personal and professional life. She said the stress of scheduling pumping sessions during pre-mission and post-mission requirements is also reduced by having the lactation rooms nearby.

“Instead of having to pump in the bathroom stall or in my car, I was able to pump in the lactation room right before we stepped to the aircraft and immediately upon returning from the flight,” said Hein.

To accommodate breastfeeding in-flight pilots, the requirement for lactation rooms has also extended to aircraft, particularly the KC-46 Pegasus.

 This implementation has already benefitted many mothers within the 931st Air Refueling Wing and has even helped aid with the retention of its members, including Lt. Col. Susie Crespo, 924th ARS A-Flight commander and traditional reservist.

“Once you have a baby, you only have 12 weeks before you are required to return to work,” said Crespo. “If you choose to breastfeed your baby, many females, given the opportunity and support, would choose to breastfeed for longer than 12 weeks.”

She said this can be even more of a challenge for female pilots trying to keep current on their training.

“For pilots, especially with all our training requirements and the time you may have spent out of the jet while pregnant and post-partum, the sooner we can get back to training, the better,” said Crespo. “However, it's important that you don't create tension between parenting the way you want to (potentially breastfeeding) and getting training/proficiency at your job. Protecting the opportunity to pump in the plane is critical to removing this tension.“

Crespo says it in addition to benefitting training, the ability to pump longer is also beneficial to the health of the female who gave birth and the baby. For this reason, she says breastfeeding and breast-pumping should be encouraged and supported.

Maj. Victoria McBride, 924th ARS DOP and TR, agrees. She believes the ability to pump on the plane enables pilots to continue feeling a part of the mission.

“It lets us remain integrated in our mission set and feel validated in our contributions to the unit,” said McBride. “I've had times medically that I've been out of the flight deck for extended times and it’s disheartening to not be able to contribute.”

McBride says it aides the pilot’s ability to balance their careers with motherhoods.

“It lets us decide how we want and can contribute while balancing all our roles: mother, officer, reservist, aviatrix,” she said. “Additionally, I love discussing with the crew my physiological need to hop out of the seat, as it normalizes it for the next generation.”

For more information on the policies and procedures of breastfeeding and breast pumping, read the Air Force Instruction 44-102, Medical Care Management, paragraph 4.15. You can also view a map of the lactation rooms at McConnell by viewing selecting this link to the map.