The Air Force is now granting 12 weeks of paid maternity leave to all active-duty female airmen as of Feb. 5.
In a Tuesday release, the Air Force said that female airmen who were already on maternity leave will get an automatic 42-day extension to their leave. The leave will be continuous and non-transferable, the Air Force said, and it will begin immediately after a so-called "birth event," or when the airman leaves the hospital after the birth event.
A birth event refers to when a female airman gives birth to one or more children, who she then keeps, within a 72-hour period. This means that, for example, female airmen who give their child up for adoption will not qualify for the full 12 weeks.
Female airmen previously received six weeks of maternity leave. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Jan. 28 announced all services would receive 12 weeks of maternity leave as part of the Force of the Future initiative.
While the new policy does double the amount of maternity leave airmen can receive, it is still short of what Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James originally hoped for. Last year, after the Navy tripled its leave to 18 weeks, James said in an online town hall that she hoped to do the same for the Air Force.
Female airmen who adopt children also are not covered by this new policy, the Air Force said. Newly-adoptive parents are now eligible for three weeks of adoptive leave for one parent. But for couples where both spouses are military members, the Defense Department plans to ask Congress to provide two weeks of leave for the second parent as well, the Air Force said.
In addition to active-duty airmen, female reservists who are on orders to active service for at least 12 months will also get the extended maternity leave, the Air Force said.
Commanders will not be allowed to disapprove maternity leave, the Air Force said. And the service said the new policy will protect airmen from suffering any retaliation for taking the full leave, such as by receiving poor performance appraisals, missing out on advantageous assignments, or being passed over for professional military education.
The Pentagon is also planning to ask Congress to extend paid leave for new fathers from 10 days to 14 days, which they can use in addition to their annual leave.