This post is sponsored by The Breastfeeding Shop.
Military life is full of unpredictable schedules and last-minute changes. This is true even when military spouses are trying to plan a baby’s birth. Babies notoriously have no respect for their own due date. They can come two weeks late or over a month early. Service members aren’t always able to plan their schedule around a baby’s birth, due to deployments, TDY’s, PCS moves, and other training assignments that take them away from their family.
So what’s a pregnant military spouse to do? Have a backup birth plan.
Of the four times I have given birth, none of them have been simple or straightforward. The first hospital was in a different state from our duty station, over an hour away. The next two births occurred right before or during a deployment. And the final one was overseas. Military life challenges played a role in every one of them. Luckily, my children are all healthy and their births went well. But a single hiccup in the plans could have meant serious health complications for myself and the baby. The best way a pregnant military spouse can prepare for birth is to research her options and have several plans.
Look into hospitals both on and off base. If you have TRICARE Prime, you will automatically be assigned to a base hospital or medical facility. If there is not an OB-GYN at your current location, you will be sent to the next closest military base, even if it is another branch. And you can be told to deliver at any military hospital within a one-hour drive. However, with TRICARE Select (formerly called Standard), you can choose a civilian hospital closer to your location. TRICARE Select has higher co-pays, so weigh the pros and cons of switching providers. You can’t make a switch at the last minute, but it’s good to know you have choices about where to deliver.
Know your TRICARE options for out of state locations. If your spouse will be away for a long time before or after your due date, you may consider going “home” to give birth closer to your family members. TRICARE will still cover you for pre-natal and post-natal care, as well as the birth, even if you move out of your current region. However, you need to contact them in advance to make the change and get assigned to a new hospital. Plan to move before the last month of pregnancy, so you will already be settled in case the baby comes early.
Get a ride to the hospital. During deployment (or any time your spouse is gone), you will need a back-up plan for getting to the hospital when you are in labor. You should not plan to drive yourself! For some women, labor is a slow and gradual process, but other times babies come very quickly and painfully. Ask a local friend or neighbor in advance if they are willing to drive you to the hospital. Give them time to set up childcare or make arrangements. You can also consider hiring a doula using a military discount. A doula is a medical professional trained in labor and delivery. They can stay with you when contractions begin and take you to the hospital, then remain with you throughout the birth.
Arrange several childcare options for other children, if needed. Once you have at least one child, planning for a birth becomes more complicated. Many women don’t know when they will go into labor and whether things will happen quickly or take forever. That’s why it is important to have multiple options for childcare. Since children typically aren’t allowed in hospital birthing rooms, you will want a few people on speed dial who are willing to help out. Whether your other child needs a ride home from school, an overnight sleepover, or someone to come to your house, plan out the possibilities far in advance. Don’t have any local friends or family? Ask for help from neighbors and other spouses in the unit during your pregnancy. Most military spouses are willing to help a pregnant mom any way they can.
Use your base resources. Military bases and hospitals offer a variety of programs for new parents, including classes like “Budget for Baby” and a visiting nurse program called New Parent Support. You can get advice from a lactation consultant if you are nursing, and even get a prescription for a new breastpump. All these benefits are free to military dependents, so make the most of them!
No matter what challenges military life throws your way, a pregnant military spouse should never feel like she is on her own. There is a whole network of support, ranging from medical care to free programs, to neighbors who are happy to lend a helping hand. You can’t predict everything in military life, especially a birth, but you can make plans ahead of time so you have options when the time comes.
By Lizann Lightfoot