A new baby can bring about many wonderful changes. As a military family, you may be separated from extended family that would otherwise help with a new baby. You can prepare for the big event by getting the skills you need to support your child's mother and welcome your new baby home.
Before the birth
Learning you're going to be a new dad is both exciting and overwhelming. You're likely to be excited about the addition to your family, but also feeling a little anxious about handling a fragile newborn or changing your first diaper. The following are ways that you can prepare for fatherhood:
- Contact TRICARE. Make sure your spouse is enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System to be eligible for TRICARE medical benefits. You can confirm enrollment in DEERS through your installation's personnel office, by calling the Defense Manpower Data Center at 800-538-9552 or online at the TRICARE DEERS page. You'll also want to understand how TRICARE or your other health insurance covers prenatal care and childbirth in your area. Your nearest Military Treatment Facility has a Beneficiary and Counseling Assistance Coordinator who may be able to answer many of your questions about coverage for the pregnancy and birth. Visit the TRICARE BCAC Locator to find one.
- Call the New Parent Support Program. The New Parent Support Program on your installation provides one-on-one support for expecting parents and new parents. This free service provides information, support, and guidance related to pregnancy and childbirth, infant and toddler growth and development, and parenting. The program varies by service branch and by installation, but most offer home visits by trained professionals. You can go online to MilitaryINSTALLATIONS for contact information on your installation.
- Inform your command that your family is expecting. Your command will want to know about the pregnancy and whether you will be requesting a leave.
- Take parenting or childbirth classes. Classes like these will boost your confidence by teaching you what to expect during the baby's birth and after the baby arrives home. Your installation's New Parent Support Program can provide information about classes, including classes especially for fathers. You may also find childbirth classes at your Military Treatment Facility, a local hospital or a local community center.
- Select an alternate birthing coach. If military duty may prevent you from attending the birth, make sure you have a stand-in who can drive your spouse to the hospital and act as a birthing coach.
- Prepare yourself emotionally. Having a baby is a big change for most parents - especially first-time parents. You can prepare by visiting websites dedicated to new parents, reading books or taking a class.
- Make a birth plan. By creating a birth plan, you and your baby's mother will be able to describe what you want (or don't want) during the birth process. Although medical circumstances may prevent the hospital staff from carrying out all your wishes, creating a written plan will encourage open communication about your options before labor begins. Your birth plan consists of your ideal choices about labor and delivery, including:
- Pain medication.
- The mother's freedom of movement during labor.
- Visitation during labor and delivery.
- Feeding the baby after birth.
Be sure to give copies of the birth plan to your primary care physician and to your alternate birthing coach and pack a copy to take with you to the hospital.
- Pack for the hospital. You may want to pack a few items that will help make labor and delivery a little easier, including:
- Playing cards.
- Favorite music.
- Camera or video camera.
- Change of clothes for you.
- Items for the new baby, such as diapers, clothes and a car seat.
At the hospital
The following tips will help you take an active role in welcoming your new baby to the world:
- Be an advocate. You and your child's mother have discussed ideal choices for the birth. Now is your chance to help implement them. But keep in mind that there may be medical reasons why the medical staff can't follow all your requests.
- Be supportive. It's your role to support your baby's mother, both mentally and physically. Take cues from her about what she needs. As the labor progresses, it may be difficult to see her in pain. Try to do the best you can and provide support, even when the going gets rough.
- Step in and help with the baby. Don't stand back while everyone else does all the work. If you're not sure how to change the baby's diaper or hold the baby, ask for help. You'll catch on quickly and soon be comfortable with your new baby.
At home with the baby
Many new parents are struck by how much they've prepared for the birth, but how little they know about what to do with a baby once they're home. The following suggestions can help:
- Expect to feel exhausted. A new baby's schedule can seem to run the house for the first few weeks. Be prepared to feel exhausted from all the excitement and from frequent middle-of-the-night feedings. You and your newborn's mother can cope with the challenges during the first few weeks by eating a balanced diet, taking turns caring for the baby and trying to get some rest while the baby is sleeping.
- Remember that the adjustment takes time. For most first-time parents, having a new baby in the house can be a complete lifestyle change. Taking care of the baby becomes your first priority and you may miss out on some of your favorite activities for a while.
- Take care of mom. New mothers often feel exhausted after the baby is born. It may take several weeks to recuperate, both physically and emotionally. Help any way you can - care for the baby or clean up around the house - to ease the transition into your life as new parents.
- Accept help. When friends offer to cook dinner or take the dog for a walk, you may want to take them up on it. If family members are coming to help, let them help prepare meals and clean the house, so you and your baby's mom can focus on your new baby.
- Look for child care. Whether you will need full-time or part-time care, check into all the available resources in your area. Be sure to visit your installation's Child Development Center for information on availability and referrals.
- Plan for returning to work. The military provides paternity leave for the birth of a new baby at the discretion of the command. In the months before the birth, you'll want to decide how much time you can take to spend at home with your family. When you go back to work, be sure to bring a photo of your new baby with you to help ease the separation. And if it's possible, visit your baby at home or with the caregiver during lunch or a break.
- Enroll your baby in DEERS. Newborns are covered under TRICARE Prime up to 60 days after birth, as long as one person in the family is enrolled in TRICARE Prime. Visit the TRICARE DEERS site for more information about enrolling your child in DEERS and ensuring TRICARE coverage for medical benefits.