A recent U.S. Army directive extended leave opportunities for primary and secondary caregivers, more than doubling the amount of leave days available after the birth or adoption of an eligible beneficiary.

The Army Military Parental Leave Program, authorized on Jan. 23, provides guidance on extending parental leave from 10 to 21 days for Soldiers designated as secondary caregivers, while primary caregivers are able to take up to 6 weeks of parental leave following the birth of the child. For female Soldiers, that may be added to the six weeks of maternity convalescent leave previously approved by the Army's Leaves and Passes policy, AR-600-8-10, should they choose to be designated as the primary caregiver.

"With new children in the family, that initial bonding time is really important, extending leave is crucial to get to know the family member and supporting the primary care giver especially if the primary care giver delivered the baby," said Maj. Marimon Maskell, clinical nursing officer in charge, Labor and Delivery, Maternal Child Health, William Beaumont Army Medical Center. "That's a huge transition time frame for mom, that bonding period is very important and best to have it after childbirth."

The directive also provides a thorough definition for primary and secondary caregiver designations, timeframes to designate, and defines qualifying birth events or adoptions. By doing so, the directive also provides guidance for service members with children born outside of marriage.

"Usually primary caregiver is mom, but this policy definitely spells out families that are undergoing adoption or same-gender couples who have a baby," said Maskell, a mother of two. "As a mom, I think this is great, you can be at home spending time with your baby establishing a routine for your family, breast feed if that's what you choose."

Various studies demonstrate the positive impacts paternity leave has in both parents involvement in their newborn's life such as increased child care-taking activities nine months later. Additionally, the studies credit parental leave with improvements in both maternal and infant sleep during the first six months postpartum.

For Christina Dixon-Moton, 23, a civilian employee at a child development center on Fort Bliss, the new leave program will allow her more time to recover and prepare her newborn daughter, Ella Rose, along with her husband, Pvt. Yolando Moton, for her return to work.

"(The program) helps a lot because I won't be able to cook and clean (following a cesarean section), and will especially help with our other child because she's four and it would be extremely difficult to do these things," said Dixon-Moton, a native of Covington, Georgia. "I can't even put her in daycare until she's two months old, so having (dad) home will help."

"Being able to stay at home longer (for primary and secondary caregivers) may also help with mental health and postpartum depression, just because you're not being forced to come back to work so soon," said Maskell. "It was rough with my first, you're learning as you go. Being able to spend that time at home makes it easier and gets you more confident with your routine. There's a big difference from 8-12 weeks old and a lot of development which occurs."

"I'll be multitasking the next couple of weeks, taking care of mom, baby and our other daughter," said Moton, a cavalry scout with 4th Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. "Because she had a C-section, it's good to be off (work) to help her out. I'm trying to alleviate any of that extra stress for her."

For the Motons, high school sweethearts who had their first child as civilians, the extended leave policy will provide some relief from the stressors which come with the birth of a child, something they weren't fortunate enough to have during their first born. Additionally, the extra time puts Moton at ease when thinking about returning from leave.

"The program will definitely help prepare me to go back to work," said Moton, 26, a native of Covington, Georgia. "It's just me and her here, we have no family, so we need to be prepared."

For primary caregivers who are the birth parent, the extra time will also assist with postpartum recovery, especially when it involves medical procedures such as a C-section.

"Eight weeks is recommended (for women's bodies to recuperate after birth)," said Maskell. "It's also important for active duty moms to start exercising after eight weeks so it's not so much of a struggle going full blast physical training as soon as they come back to duty."

The leave directive is retroactive to Dec. 23, 2016, and will apply to all active-duty Soldiers, active guard, reserve-component and National Guard Soldiers who are on active order for a period in excess of 12 months.

"Because we're constantly training, most times I'm either in the desert somewhere, something like (the new directive will help prepare Soldiers to get back to work, especially for combat arms Soldiers," said Moton. "My leadership personally has done a great job supporting, and that's awesome because it seems like the Army really cares."