In the past, female members of the U.S. Armed Forces who became pregnant could request a discharge and get it automatically. But in the 21st-century military, with more than 200,000 women on active duty, women play a larger role than ever before. The rules surrounding discharge for pregnancy have changed as pregnancy no longer disqualifies the women for service, or better stated, pregnancy no longer qualifies women to be automatically discharged.
The specific rules about when a woman can request maternity leave and for how long will vary depending on the branch of service she is in and her specific medical circumstances. In fact, military women typically get better maternity leave benefits than their civilian counterparts. Current DOD policy allows for maternity leave of up to six weeks plus any personal leave that can also be taken. The Navy allows up to 18 weeks. The civilian law (Family Medical Leave Act) provides for up to 12 weeks for employers to allow their female employees during pregnancy. Married fathers on active duty can get up to 10 days of paternity leave and must be taken within 60 days of the child's birth.
Here are a few of the details about how the different branches may handle pregnancy separation issues. If you are unsure, it's best to talk to your commanding officer about the specifics around your situation. It's probably also in your best interest to inform your superiors as soon as you become aware that you're pregnant (and have had it confirmed by a medical professional). That way you have time to plan your course of action and make sure the information you're getting is accurate. Also, as a backup, make sure you accrue several weeks of leave time in case of any complications that may arise.
Military Pregnancy Regulations
In the Army, a woman who becomes pregnant after enlistment, but before she begins initial active duty will not be involuntarily discharged due to pregnancy. She can't enter active duty until her pregnancy is over (either through birth or termination).
In the Navy, most separation requests due to pregnancy are denied, unless it would be in the best interest of the Navy, or, the servicewoman demonstrates a compelling personal need. No pregnant servicewoman can remain aboard a ship past the 20th week of pregnancy.
Pregnant servicewomen may remain onboard up to the 20th week of pregnancy while the ship is in port. Members discovered to be pregnant while deployed should be transferred ashore as soon as possible, under Navy rules.
Paternity Leave in the Military
Paternity Leave is paid leave in addition to the 30 days of leave a year a military member earns. Many members save their personal leave and use it to extend their time at home with a new baby and convalescing wife if the deployment schedule allows. All paternity leave applies only to active duty, married spouses.
The Army paternity leave policy is 10 days of consecutive leave within 45 days of the birth of his child. If deployed, the father will have 60 days upon returning from deployment to take his 10 days of leave.
The Navy’s policy allows for 10 days (not consecutively) within 365 days to take paternity leave.
The Air Force paternity leave policy allows for 10 days of leave within 60-90 days (commander’s discretion) of the birth of the child.
The Marine Corps policy allows for 10 days of paternity leave within 25 days after the birth of the baby. However, if deployed, the commander can approve paternity leave within 90 days of deployment return.
Types of Discharge for Pregnancy
Single parents and military spouses with children can be discharged if they fail to implement and maintain a family care plan, which is one of the terms of remaining in the military after having a baby. Basically, the pregnant servicewoman has to demonstrate that once she has the baby she will be able to fulfill her obligation to the military and provide care for her child.
If the commanding officer is convinced that the member has done everything within his/her power to maintain a proper dependent care plan, the discharge characterization will normally be honorable. Otherwise, it would likely be general.
However, if you do receive a discharge due to pregnancy (assuming there are some extenuating circumstances), the type of discharge you receive can affect which benefits you are entitled to. It will also affect your veteran status and have an impact on any veterans' benefits you may be able to receive.
All branches of the U.S. military are required to offer a minimum of 12 weeks of maternity leave to pregnant members, per Department of Defense order.