WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 2, 2016) — It’s important for mothers and fathers to have time to bond with their infants following birth, said Sgt. Rachel Badgeley and Staff Sgt. Jose Ibarra, who are stationed on Fort Meade, Maryland, and are parents of newborns.
Both said they were very pleased with the Department of Defense policy change that lengthens the time Soldiers can stay with their newborns.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the following changes Jan. 28:
– Full-paid maternity leave to be extended from six weeks to 12 continuous weeks of leave DOD-wide.
– DOD will “seek legislation to expand full-paid paternity leave from 10 days to 14 non-continuous” days of leave, DOD-wide.
So far, the only published policy is a DOD fact sheet, according to an Office of the Secretary of Defense spokesperson.
In the meantime, the Army is working on implementation guidance for the extended maternity leave, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Army Human Resources Command.
“The Army’s No. 1 priority is readiness and balancing the needs of Families,” he said. “We are prepared to implement the secretary of defense quality-of-life initiatives and will provide the field with appropriate policy guidance.”
A MOTHER’S PERSPECTIVE
Badgeley said she welcomes the new policy. She has just used her six weeks of maternity leave, so she hopes the policy will be retroactive, because she’s now using 30 days of personal leave to be with her 6-week old son, Cannon. He was born Dec. 11.
At this stage of his life, “I can’t imagine sending him to a day care,” she said. “We have emotional needs. Bonding at this age is important to establishing a strong relationship.”
The first three months of a newborn’s life is the “fourth trimester,” she said, explaining that the first three trimesters are before the baby is born. Her point was that closeness to the mother is vital for at least the first three months.
Her first son, Maddox, was born April 5, 2014. She added that both love “to curl up with mama.”
Badgeley said she talked to other female Soldiers about bonding with their infants.
One of her friends left the Army last year because there was no child care available on post and she wanted to be home with her baby, she said.
Had the policy then been 12 weeks, Badgeley said her friend might have reconsidered staying in the Army.
Badgeley said the Army and DOD have actually been more progressive than most companies in the United States, which offer parents of newborns even less time for maternity and paternity leave. “It’s sadly low,” she said.
A FATHER’S PERSPECTIVE
Ibarra’s son, Kai Roman, was born Jan. 8. His other son, Ian Alfonso, was born Dec. 7, 2013.
Ibarra’s 10 days of paternal leave has now expired and he plans to use two days of personal leave to be with Kai, he said.
Any increase of paternal leave would be welcoming news for other fathers, he said. Fathers need time to be with their infants too. “Bonding is a definite plus.”
Besides bonding, Ibarra said he’s helping his wife, Ricel, care for the infant. He noted that her parents live in Germany and his are on the West Coast, so there’s no grandparent around to assist.
The birth of their first child, Ian, was even more difficult for them, he said. Ibarra was deployed to Afghanistan and didn’t see Ian until he was 3 month’s old.
“I wish I could have connected with him earlier,” he said. “It really impacted me and affected me.”
To continue with his important mission in Afghanistan, Ibarra said he tried to block out thoughts about Ian. His wife struggled alone to take care of the infant and didn’t tell him how much it affected her because she didn’t want him to worry while he was overseas.
Ibarra said when he was stationed in Germany, he noticed that the Germans had a very generous maternity and paternity leave policy for their workers. He added that he thinks the extension of the leave policy announced by Carter will have a positive impact on recruiting and retention.