MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. —
Nursing Airmen serving at Minot AFB have more places to pump after the 5th Security Forces Squadron installed three new lactation pods around the base. This is the latest effort by the 5th SFS to accommodate women who have children while in uniform.
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Brian Lawley, 5th SFS training section chief, and his team spearheaded the project after assessing the conditions under which mothers had been nursing in the past. They saw a need for change, and they stepped up.
“Our training section had been talking about doing this for a long time,” said Lawley. “When mothers get back from primary caregiver leave they need to catch up on all the training they missed. We noticed while these mothers were catching up on training that they would always ask us to use a spare room for pumping. We had end-of-year funds and had been doing research, so we decided to go through with it.”
Prior to the installation of these pods, Team Minot had few lactation rooms, none of which were specifically designed for this purpose. What was typically a large closet in a hidden hallway is now a standalone pod. The lactation pods stand over seven feet tall and have many comfort features to include soundproof walls and ceilings, locks, comfortable seating, and outlets to charge devices.
“Mothers needed a clean, scheduled, and reliable place to pump,” said Lawley. “Most mothers still need to pump even after taking primary caregiver leave and our Security Forces moms can work anywhere from nine to 14 hour shifts. The only place in the Weapons Storage Area to pump prior to the new pod was in either a bathroom or they had to ask to borrow an office.”
The pods are open 24/7 and are available to all Airmen who need to utilize them. They are located in the Security Forces Armory (building 547), the Joint Training Facility (building 537), and in the WSA (Building 1107). They can be unlocked by signing out a key from the 5th SFS first sergeant, if the pod is not already unlocked.
Lactation pods have been rolling out at Air Force bases as an additional way to provide access for pregnant and nursing Airmen since 2019, in response to a Department of Defense mandate that secure and sanitary spaces be made available. The pods provide a quick solution that avoids more extensive construction costs or delays.
“Available space is hard to find in some of our buildings, and being able to place a pod that takes up a minimal amount of space is important,” said Lawley. “Space is a big factor in the WSA. The pod is lockable, has a fan for circulation, white noise machine, and an outlet for any devices they may need to plug in.”
The additional accommodation for Airmen comes with some policy changes over the past few years. A revision to Air Force policy allowed pregnant women to apply and compete for an Officer Training School commission. If selected, trainees could head to training as early as six months after giving birth.
The Department of the Air Force announced new guidance in 2020 that aimed to improve support to nursing mothers when they return to work after having a baby. The updated policy increased flexibility with lactation breaks and also mandated access to a refrigerator after pumping.