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Mother's Day a chance to highlight care in the Military Health System

The Nunns with daughter Sabella and son Gideon. (Courtesy file photo) The Nunns with daughter Sabella and son Gideon. (Courtesy file photo)

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Mother’s Day is a special time for Army Maj. Olivia Nunn. For years, she and her husband tried to have a baby.

“A child is considered a miracle,” said Nunn. “Having a baby is something to celebrate every day.”

This year, the Army spokesperson at the Pentagon will be celebrating this special day with six-year-old daughter Sabella and two-year-old son Gideon. Sabella was born in a small military hospital at West Point, New York, and Gideon entered the world at the much larger Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in suburban Washington, D.C. While their births in many ways were very different encounters for Nunn – small vs. large hospital, new mom vs. experienced – both were excellent events with a little help from the Military Health System.

“They were great facilities with the information I received from the care providers each step along the way,” said Nunn. “The staff never acted as if we were a burden to them; if we had a question, they were there to answer. Both times, I felt as an individual going through the process, they were paying attention to me, and we were the stars of the show.”

Nunn’s experience is music to the ears of Theresa Hart, the program manager for the Defense Health Agency’s perinatal, pediatrics, and special medical programs. She said the Military Health System handles about 100,000 births each year, the largest number of inpatients in military treatment facilities and TRICARE-approved community hospitals. Almost 50,000 of those births take place in 50 military hospitals around the world. Hart said taking care of mothers and babies is a huge readiness issue, as moms are active duty service members, wives, and daughters.

“We want to ensure our families get the care they deserve,” she said. “Care for mothers and babies keeps our providers ready for humanitarian missions, such as the response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti when the military hospital ship USNS Comfort housed a community of families, because there was nowhere to go.”

Recent advances in technology help military families connect during pregnancy and childbirth.

Service members sent downrange can link to their families back home when a baby is actually being born through phone or face-to-face applications. Deployed spouses have coached during labor or met their new family member through technology, such as regular email updates on the growing baby and information to help with parenting skills. Family members can share in the experience of following the growing family from the first month of pregnancy to three years of age.

Hart said there’s been a change from the old attitude of, “If the military wanted you to have a family, it would have issued you one.” The focus now is keeping people healthy through all their life choices, including whether they want to have a baby. She pointed to resources that help:

  • Military OneSource, a one-stop shop that includes parenting tips, children’s health advice, and special medical programs.
  • TRICARE’s Extended Care Health Option, which provides resources to qualified beneficiaries with complex medical, behavioral, and educational needs for an integrated set of services and supplies, such as assistive technology devices and institutional care.
  • Paid maternity leaves for active duty moms expanded from 40 days to 12 weeks after delivery, and paternity leave, adoption leave, and expanding child care hours developed to support families serving.
  • Certified nurse midwives options offered at many facilities.
  • At some locations, group prenatal care, where small gatherings of women can come together and support each other through pregnancy and afterwards.
  • Lactation or breastfeeding support at all facilities, with some even recognized nationally as ”baby friendly,” as health care professionals promote breastfeeding as the healthiest feeding option for infants and good for mothers’ health.

In addition, TRICARE recently revised coverage regarding breastfeeding supplies and services, adding coverage for two additional breastfeeding supplies. TRICARE continues to cover breast pumps, breast pump supplies, and breastfeeding counseling at no cost for new and adoptive mothers.

TRICARE also now covers prescribed banked donor milk for infants with certain serious health conditions. Your baby and you must meet certain criteria for TRICARE to cover banked donor milk.

And don’t forget, giving birth, adoption, or the court-ordered placement of a child are Qualifying Life Events if you wish to change your TRICARE coverage plan.

Hart said all the services in military hospitals and clinics are offered with the patients in mind.

“We should always be supporting the whole family, and it’s in these situations we get the chances to do that,” said Hart. “This is a celebratory time, so we try to support the family by giving them the care and resources.”

Nunn’s sister isn’t in the military and had a baby of her own in the civilian health care system just a few weeks after Nunn. While what her sister received has been all right, Nunn said it’s not on par with her experience in the Military Health System.

“I got first-class care at world-class facilities with people who really cared about what was going on,” she said. “I wasn’t just some number.” 

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