Per the Council on Foreign Relations, women make up 16% of the enlisted forces and 19% of the office corps within the military branches, excluding Coast Guard, as no data was available. This was compared to 1973, when women made up 2% of the enlisted forces and 8 percent of the officer corps. While being a minority within the service branches, women have the unique position of serving during pregnancy. The U.S. Navy began accepting females into their aviation program in 1974. On Mother’s Day in 2021, the U.S. Navy gifted a uniform change to their pregnant service members – a flight maternity suit.
Lt Cmdr. Jacqueline Nordan, Commander Naval Air Force Reserve (CNAFR), received the first maternity suit as part of the early distribution program to determine its usefulness and effectiveness. Lt Cmdr. Nordan stated in a press release, “The addition of this uniform makes an immediate impact on women in the Navy. It shows that leadership is listening and is supportive in response to the issues that female aviators are raising. These additions are important because they show that leadership supports the idea that having a career and having a family can be compatible. Being a dedicated Navy professional while building a family can be done.”
The new flight suits have adjustable side panels that allow for comfort and professional appearance during pregnancy versus what was done previously – having to wear larger flight suits that require hemming or sleeve adjustments for comfort and don’t necessarily look professional in baggy flight suits. In addition, there is less expense involved with the maternity flight suit. This one suit can be worn throughout the stages of pregnancy versus multiple large suits being purchased to accommodate the pregnancy as it was done in the past.
All pregnant aircrew members within the Navy are eligible to wear the new maternity flight suit. While per Navy guidelines, pregnancy is considered a disqualifier for flying duties, those with aircrew duties can get waivers based on medical service group. Flying after the third trimester is banned entirely.
With women growing their numbers within the military community, the recognition with a comfortable uniform during an uncomfortable period is a gesture of recognition of that fact.