Thanks to efforts by two officers, mothers on Malmstrom Air Force Base now have cleaner, more comfortable environments to breastfeed or pump.
Five Mother's Rooms opened at the Montana base on Oct. 7 after Annabel Monroe and Sheila Koebel, both first lieutenants, realized new moms were sometimes using storage areas or empty offices to nurse their babies or pump milk.
"The [341st Medical Group] clinic had two established places already," Monroe said. "Otherwise, it was squadron-dependent and there were no formal well-lit or well-furnished places."
Koebel said a lot of mothers didn't even know about the designated spaces in the clinic, much less where to go in other parts of the base.
"There wasn't an actual established policy outside of our [Air Force Instruction] that dictates supervisors are required to provide breastfeeding mothers adequate time and space," she said. "We just wanted to expand that and reach a wider net as far as who the base was supporting."
Monroe and Koebel submitted a policy support letter to the 341st Missile Wing command asking to improve the space mothers already had.
"The wing leadership said, 'I love it. Let's do better and come up with more spaces,'" said Koebel, who added that leadership was "incredibly supportive."
The new and updated rooms across the base offer breastfeeding mothers a clean and supportive place to go, the lieutenants said.
Malmstrom Air Force Base has five updated Mother's Rooms where active-duty airmen and spouses can go to breastfeed and pump.
Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Delia Marchick/Air Force
Some of the rooms required asbestos removal, painting and new carpet, Koebel said.
The biggest room has four stations — each station includes a table, a chair, an outlet and a lamp — and the smallest has two stations.
There are also couches, rocking chairs and changing areas for babies.
Monroe, a public affairs officer with two children, said having a safe, designated space to provide for your baby improves everyone's quality of life and the attention of the airman.
"If they choose to be mothers, then they should have all the resources available to them," she said.
Military commands and nursing mothers have clashed in the past when it comes to breastfeeding policies. In April 2015, the 366th Fighter Wing at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho required nursing mothers to either breastfeed in a private room or use a nursing cover. The command revoked the policy after receiving feedback about giving moms more freedom when it comes to breastfeeding. In June 2015, U.S. Army Hawaii rescinded its breastfeeding policy after nursing mothers called it restrictive, according to Military.com.
Military mothers have been pushing for better policies and environments for nursing or using a breast pump.
Both active-duty airmen and spouses are able to use the Mother's Rooms, and Koebel said the feedback has been positive.
"Some of the women who came to the grand opening were thrilled with how [the rooms] look," she said.
It's important to help women feel empowered, said Koebel, a 12th Missile Squadron missile combat crew commander who breastfed one child as a civilian and one while on active duty.
"We want women to feel supported and hope the attention this is getting will help other moms to reach out and feel like they can have support and know part of the process and do this at their own base," she said.
Charlsy Panzino covers the Guard and Reserve, training, technology, operations and features for Army Times and Air Force Times. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charlsy is a Reporter and Engagement Manager for Military Times. Email her at email@example.com.