The Army just made a huge change in policy for moms.
On Friday, the Army announced that active duty or reserve soldiers who have just given birth will have 365 days to meet body fat requirements, instead of the previous 180 days.
Moms in the miltary welcomed the change. U.S. Army Major Natalie Mallue said the new policy means she can focus on what's best for her baby and her body, instead of cutting weight to meet the standard.
"It’s a huge relief," the mom of two told TODAY Parents in an interview as she breastfed her daughter. "I will continue to make good nutrition decisions, but the number one goal of my nutrition plan should be to nourish my baby and myself."
Sergeant Major of the Army Michael A. Grinston tweeted, “This is a common sense decision to help ensure our mothers have time to recover and build back their personal readiness.”
Captain Veronica Bean, Public Affairs Officer for the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Drum, told TODAY Parents that the news is life-changing for both mothers and women who want to become mothers.
"This decision is essentially the Army telling women in the formation: We see you, we hear you, and we’re going to support you," she said.
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Captain Ashlie Fransoza, U.S. Army brigade human resources officer for 10th Combat Aviation Brigade in Fort Drum, New York, said she had to stop breastfeeding earlier than planned so she could meet Army fitness standards.
"I quickly discovered losing weight and increasing physical fitness while nursing was challenging," she said. "I personally had to choose between maintaining Army fitness standards and continuing to nurse my newborn."
The fitness test loomed over her pregnancy and recovery, she said: "I also chose to take an Army fitness test at nine weeks pregnant, so that I could remain in compliance throughout my pregnancy, knowing it would be difficult to pass a test postpartum."
As part of a dual-military couple, she said the new policy benefits everyone: "This change allows both service members time to make healthier decisions for their family, which in turn creates more focused and ready leaders.”
Mallue agreed that the time extension will encourage more soldiers to continue breastfeeding if they are able to, which requires additional calories.
"We can make workout plans tailored towards postpartum recovery, and not tailored towards weight loss," she said. "The Army is a learning organization and it’s learning how to best take care of its team by listening to women and health professionals."
The Army’s official release states: “Soldiers will not be entered into the Army Body Composition Program or face adverse administrative actions during this timeframe. In addition, Soldiers who are between 181 to 365 days postpartum and were flagged and entered into the ABCP after their pregnancy ended will have their flag removed and they will be removed from the ABCP program.”
In an internal email sent Monday, Army leadership outlined new combat fitness requirements.
"While there is often a focus on fitness, as it is one of the cornerstones of a fit and lethal force, fitness is just one metric the Army rewards excellence for. Soldiers understand there are many leadership and performance elements that make up a great Soldier. We need to continue to grow and set new challenges in all of these areas," the email obtained by TODAY stated.
The changes, published March 19, come in the wake of a larger conversation about pregnant women in the military as well as body fat standards in the military, particularly for women.
“Presented here are the images of strong, capable, healthy women serving in the U.S. Army while fighting against outdated body fat standards,” one Twitter user wrote, alongside photos of physically fit women and military paperwork showing they do not meet the body fat standard.
Earlier this month, Fox News host Tucker Carlson drew criticism for mocking pregnant women in the armed forces.
"So we've got new hairstyles and maternity flight suits. Pregnant women are going to fight our wars. It's a mockery of the U.S. military," Carlson said, referencing new grooming and appearance standards, which include allowing pony tails, nail polish, and earrings — all previously banned. “The bottom line is it’s out of control and the Pentagon is going along with it. Again, this is a mockery of the U.S. military and its core mission, which is winning wars.”
Military leaders were quick to defend the force.
In a response to Carlson's remarks, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the Department of Defense would not be taking personnel advice from “a talk show host.”
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, an Army veteran who lost her legs during a deployment in Iraq, responded to Carlson with a tweet referencing his brief appearance on "Dancing with the Stars.”
"While he was practicing his two-step, America’s female warriors were hunting down Al Qaeda and proving the strength of America’s women," Duckworth wrote. "Happy belated International Women’s Day to everyone but Tucker, who even I can dance better than."
This story first appeared on TODAY.com. More from TODAY: