Army changes pregnancy policy to help women grow in career while being moms

Suggestions made on a Facebook page for Army moms have led to an updated policy on how the Army handles pregnancy.

  • There are about 182,000 women in the Army. Fewer than 6,000 are expecting at any one time.
  • Under the new policy, pregnant soldiers won't have to wear dress uniforms.
  • Postpartum soldiers will be given a year to defer deployments.

WASHINGTON – Soldier moms have successfully petitioned the Army to change its policy on pregnancy, allowing them to advance in their military careers while growing their families.

The change grew from suggestions on a Facebook page, “The Army Mom Life.” Those morphed into a white paper, and senior Army leaders accepted a number of its recommendations. The new policy, which includes extending the exemption from height and weight requirements from six months to a year for pregnant and postpartum soldiers, was announced Thursday. 

Among the other changes: Pregnant soldiers will no longer be required to wear dress uniforms, and after giving birth they will be given a year to defer deployments.

Two of the soldiers who helped write the paper talked to USA TODAY before the policy was released.

"When we're pregnant, it's almost like we're incapable and that's so far from the truth," said Lt. Megan Gephart, 26, a 2018 graduate of West Point and mother of two sons.

Gephart, an engineer officer, acknowledged that physical fitness is a prerequisite for military service and part of Army culture. She has coached and trained pregnant and postpartum athletes.

"But there are so many other leadership qualities and other character traits that are valuable and have a measurable impact and have no relationship to pregnancy," she said.

Failing to accommodate pregnant soldiers who can lead is "myopic," she said. It could mean the Army fails to identify women who can fight and win the nation's wars.

Updated policy invests in health of Army moms

There are about 182,000 women in the Army, representing about 18.4% of its soldiers, according to Maj. Angel Tomko, an Army spokeswoman. Fewer than 6,000 of them are pregnant at any one time.

“These updated policies are an investment in the health, wellness and quality of life of approximately 400,000 parents who serve in our Army,” said Lt. Gen. Gary Brito, the Army's top personnel officer. “Even though this began as a grassroots effort, the soldiers who contributed to the implementation of this directive have made a lasting positive impact on our Army.”

Capt. Kelsey Boursinos, 28, a signal officer and paper co-author, said she found few female role models to help her adjust to life as a pregnant soldier. Later, she learned how valuable the Facebook page was for sharing information.

"It kind of became a common ground for people to relate in the Army together," she said. "How are other people doing it? What's working for you? How do you navigate telling your commander you're pregnant. Things like that."

On the frontline:Women in combat wear armor designed for men. In the 21st century, that's finally changing.

Army & mental health:Army's suicide crisis in Alaska spurs bipartisan call for action

New policy should aid Army retention

Lt. Col. Scott Stephens, 41, another author of the paper and a combat veteran, said he was prepared for criticism that accommodating pregnant soldiers could damage readiness to fight. Nobody would blink an eye if a soldier broke a bone on a parachute jump and needed time to heal, he said. The same should hold for pregnant soldiers. 

The minimal investment in pregnant soldiers will pay off in the long term with their "lifelong love of the profession," he said. That professionalism makes the U.S. military the best in the world, he added.

The new policy will help the Army recruit and retain good soldiers, Stephens said.

"If we want to continue to be the most effective fighting force on the planet, we have to continue to look at ways to diversify," he said.

Brad Carson, a former senior Army official who also oversaw personnel policy at the Pentagon during the Obama administration, said the changes reflect the military's need to find and keep the best talent.

"This is a move in the right direction," Carson said. "The Army and other services must recognize the changing nature of warfare and must recruit more women to the force. These are common sense measures that don't inhibit readiness but do improve morale and retention."

Army suicide crisis:A mother lost her son to suicide. The Army sent her a botched report on his death.