Having a baby can bring about many wonderful changes. As a new mom, you're probably thrilled - and a little apprehensive - about the new arrival. And as a service member, you may face challenges most mothers don't ever have to think about. Military moms need the support to help balance their careers and their families.
Before your due date
It's important to take time now to make plans for your baby's birth and to learn what resources are available to you and your baby. Planning ahead will boost your confidence and make life easier once your baby arrives. The following are some of the things you can do to get ready:
- 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. The program varies by branch of service and by installation, but most offer home visits by trained professionals. Contact the military and family support center or go online to MilitaryINSTALLATIONS for contact information on your installation.
- Inform your command about your pregnancy – Your pregnancy may affect important issues like duty, deployment plans and physical fitness test performance.
- Take a parenting or childbirth class – The information provided in a prenatal class will help you feel more confident about what to expect during childbirth and after your baby arrives home. Check with your installation's New Parent Support Program, military treatment facility, a local hospital or a local community center.
- Understand your medical coverage – Depending on your location, your health care may be provided by your military treatment facility, a local civilian care facility or a combination of both. Your primary care provider or TRICARE can provide more information.
- Write your family care plan – A family care plan may be required by the military if you are a single parent or a dual-military parent. Even if a family care plan isn't required, you should consider preparing one in order to outline the specifics of care for your child if you are deployed. Your commander or supervisor can tell you about the resources available to help you create a family care plan that meets your service's specific requirements. These resources include your installation's military and family support center and legal assistance office.
- Budget for baby – Babies are small but they bring large expenses. Before your baby arrives, make a baby budget to help you prepare for extra costs like diapers, food, clothing and other necessities. If you're in the Navy or Marine Corps, be sure to go the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society website for information about the organization's Budget for Baby classes. If you're a member of the Air Force, be sure to visit the Air Force Aid Society website for information about Bundles for Babies classes.
- Make a birth plan – By creating a birth plan, you 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, a written plan will help think about your options early on. Be sure to give a copy of the birth plan to your primary care physician and pack a copy to take with you to the hospital. Your installation's New Parent Support Program may be able to help you make a birth plan.
At home with your new baby
Many new parents aren't 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 tips will help you adjust to all the changes after you're home with your new baby:
- Expect to feel exhausted – A new baby's schedule can tend to run the house - at least for a while. Be prepared to feel exhausted during the first few weeks as you recuperate from labor and delivery and deal with frequent middle-of-the-night feedings. Try to get plenty of rest and eat nutritious meals in order to regain your strength.
- Remember that adjustment takes time – For most first-time parents, having a new baby in the house can be a complete lifestyle change. It will take a little time to adjust to your duties as a new mother.
- Accept help – When friends offer to cook dinner or take the dog for a walk, take them up on it. If family members are coming to help, let them help prepare meals and clean the house, allowing you to spend time with the new baby.
- Enroll your new baby in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System – 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 website for more information about getting your child covered under TRICARE for medical benefits.
- Think about getting back in shape – As soon as you feel up to it - and your primary care provider gives you the okay - start thinking about getting back in shape. In most cases, you'll need to meet your weight requirements in six months.
Going back to work
Learning to balance a career and motherhood is one of the challenges many mothers - especially military mothers - must face. Consider the following:
- Choose child care – You'll want to arrange child care well before it's time to go back to work. If you live near a military installation, you may choose to use a Department of Defense-sponsored child development center. Check with your installation's CDC for details about waiting lists, priority for military families and referrals to other providers.
- Return to work – Although your first day back at work may feel overwhelming, you will probably be surprised at how quickly you return to a comfortable work routine. Planning and organizing your schedule can make the difference.
- Re-establish ties with your workplace – It can be helpful to talk with anyone who has been handling your job responsibilities to get a better sense of what has happened while you've been gone.
- Take care of yourself – You are likely to be tired for the first few months as your baby adjusts to a regular schedule. Try to go to bed early and get regular exercise. Keep in mind that taking your baby for stroller rides can be a stress reducer for both of you.
- Establish morning and evening routines at home – Create a checklist of the things you will need to do each day. Make a dry run before your return to work and time how long it takes to get out the door.
- Plan ahead for the end of your workday – New parents say one of the toughest parts of the day is dinnertime. Your whole family may be worn out but you still need to care for your baby and fix dinner. Stop before you rush headlong into a whirlwind of activities at home. Even 15 minutes of transition time can make a big difference.
- Try to plan and set priorities for yourself at home just as you would at work – Your time is at a premium right now. Now may be a good time to review household responsibilities with your partner to make sure your arrangement is fair.
Deployments and temporary duty assignment
Leaving your baby for a temporary duty assignment or deployment can be hard. Planning ahead to make sure your spouse or guardian is prepared to care for your baby will help you feel less stressed.
- Prepare emotionally – Although it may be difficult to leave your child, try to remember that babies are very resilient. The most important thing to a young baby is that someone who loves them is caring for them.
- Video record or audio record yourself reading books – Just hearing the rhythm of your voice will help soothe your baby.
- Pack a photo or a special memento of the baby – Keeping photos or another special memento with you will help you feel closer to your baby.
- Take care of finances and other necessities – Make sure your partner or the baby's caretaker has power of attorney or guardianship, if necessary. Also, make sure you have made an allotment to care for your family while you're gone.
- Enjoy motherhood – Even though life can be hectic for you and your family, try to take some time out just to enjoy this wonderful new person in your life.