Becoming a parent is life-changing and can be overwhelming. Fortunately, the military offers several different resources for parents who are expecting a baby, and those who have children already.
Pregnancy can be an exciting time, but it can also include challenges. These challenges can increase for military families, when consistent care during pregnancy may not be possible due to moves, or family and friends may be far away and not able to share in all the milestones associated with pregnancy. In order to help address these challenges, and ensure that women have care and support during pregnancy, the military offers the following resources:
- Pregnancy classes: Many installations offer prenatal classes, designed to inform pregnant women and their spouses on various pregnancy-related topics. These include: OB Orientation, First Trimester, Second Trimester, Third Trimester, Breastfeeding, and others. Classes are free and are a great way to learn about pregnancy and ask questions.
- Pregnancy information: During OB Orientation, pregnant women receive several books, as well as a journal to help them on their pregnancy journey. These materials can help answer many questions that may arise during pregnancy, such as when to schedule an ultrasound, or what types of symptoms are normal.
- Blood tests: While not mandatory, there are several blood tests that are offered to pregnant women to ensure their health, and the health of their baby. These include testing for the Zika virus, as well as testing for genetic disorders.
New Parent Resources
There are also resources for new parents. One resource is the New Parent Support Program, which helps military parents as well as those who are expecting their first child transition into parenthood. The program also provides childcare and other nurturing environments for children. The program helps parents to:
- Bond with their babies and toddlers, helping to prepare them for future emotional and social development
- Manage the different demands parenthood brings, as well as how to handle those demands through deployments and other stresses of military life
- Stay flexible while responding to all the stresses of day to day life
- Build a strong support network
- Know how to respond to children’s behavior in a sensitive way, and help meet their developmental needs
- Be able to locate services in their local community as needed
There are many services available through the New Parent Support Program. The program’s staff includes social workers, nurses, home visitation specialists, and each installation supervises the program through their Family Advocacy program manager. The goal of the program is to provide one-on-one support for parents through home visits. Some installations may also provide parenting groups and parenting classes. While these services vary by branch, they may include:
- Home visits: These visits allow new parents to feel more comfortable asking questions and expressing their concerns in the privacy of their own home. Home visitors can help with questions about behavior, sleep, nutrition, breastfeeding, and more.
- Prenatal classes: These classes are designed to help parents be prepared when the baby comes home from the hospital. Classes cover topics such as bathing, nutrition, and preventive health care.
- Parenting classes: These classes are designed for both parents of infants and toddlers, and are hands-on. They focus on many different parenting issues, with topics such as feeding and discipline. There are also classes specifically for new fathers, designed to help them adjust to life with a new baby, and to provide support in being an active parent in their child’s life.
- Referrals to other resources: Home visitors can help parents locate and utilize additional services that the military health care system offers, as well as services and resources at their specific installation or within the local community.
- Playgroups: These groups provide structured activities to help children improve their social skills, as well as their motor skills. These playgroups also provide new parents with the opportunity to get to know other parents, and to develop a support system within their community.
For families who have challenges that require services beyond the typical offerings of the New Parent Support Program, additional services are available. These families can qualify for higher priority, or intensive services; these services vary by installation, but can include:
- Frequent home visits
- More formal engagement in other support programs
- Follow-up from a Family Advocacy Program provider
Who is eligible?
The New Parent Support Program is free for active-duty service members and their families, who meet at least one of the following:
- They are expecting their first child
- For the Army, Navy and Air Force: they have at least one child under the age of three
- For the Marine Corps: they have at least one child under the age of five
Service members who are no longer on active duty may still be eligible for the program, depending on the nature of their separation from the military. Service members and their families who have access to a military treatment facility may be eligible for program benefits on a space-available basis.
How can parents enroll in the program?
Individuals who would like to participate in the program can enroll through the following:
- Their installation’s Family Advocacy Program
- Their installation’s Military and Family Support Center
More information can also be found in the weekly “Tricare Pregnancy and Childhood Education for Military Families” newsletter. This newsletter is free, and provides information about pregnancy and answers to parenting questions for new or expecting parents, from the time of pregnancy until the child’s third birthday.
Child Development Centers are located on military installations, and offer full, half, or partial daycare for children of military and DoD personnel. Rates for child care vary, by installation as well as total family income.
Family Child Care (FCC) offers in-home child care, and is an average of 15 percent less expensive than traditional care. Care providers work on military installations, as well as approved locations off-post. FCC allows siblings to stay together, making the process easier for families. However, this option is not available at all installations. More options for child care for military families can be found here.
Heather Maxey works at a non-profit that addresses military ineligibility. She is an Army spouse, and met her husband while working as a Health Educator at Fort Bragg.
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