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Programs aid new, expectant parents

Posted 3/11/2011   Updated 3/11/2011 Email story   Print story


by Kelly Deichert

3/11/2011 - Air University Public Affairs -- The New Parent Support Program aims to help expectant parents navigate their new roles as mom and dad.

Through classes, home visits and 24-hour access to a seasoned nurse, resources are available to aid patients through labor and delivery, newborn care and toddler issues.

"I like to empower my clients with knowledge," said Gwen Hill, a nurse at the 42nd Medical Group.

When parents know what to expect, especially during delivery, the process becomes easier to handle.

"You may not like the pain, but you understand what the (doctors and nurses) have to do," she said.

The program offers two orientations and conducts home visits to help new parents adjust. These services are free and confidential.

"All babies deserve a safe, nurturing environment, and nurse Gwen can answer questions when things seem difficult or share in the joy on those special occasions," said Beverly Lesyea, the family advocacy officer. "Educating new parents, answering their questions and offering support is essential to having a happy, healthy home environment."

Ms. Hill's background as an obstetrics nurse gave her experience in labor and delivery, the nursery, neonatal intensive care and postpartum depression management.

She also is a Reservist with the 908th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, which helps her relate to the needs of military families.

The program is extremely important for military parents, since most of the prenatal medical care will be off base, she said. The orientation teaches them about on-base resources, keeping them connected to the Maxwell clinic.

Also, many military parents are far from their families and therefore far from sources of support and information. Ms. Hill wants them to know "their military family is here to help."

Expectant dads class

Seats are still available for Tuesday's expectant dads class 3 - 5 p.m. at the life skills support center at Maxwell. The class is geared toward men whose wives are five to seven months along in their pregnancy, but Ms. Hill said it's never too early to attend.

"The class helps fathers to understand their roles as a parent and as a support to his wife," she said. The goal is to help new parents-to-be bond during pregnancy and help them work as a team once the baby is born. The class is open to six dads, since Ms. Hill has six high-tech "babies" for each father. Each doll helps the expectant father learn hands-on skills.

"The doll will cry, and the dads have to figure out why," she said.

Sensors in the mouth will ensure the doll is fed until it is full, and sensors in the diaper will indicate the need for a change. Just like real babies, "sometimes the dolls just want to be held," she said.

Ms. Hill also has a doll demonstrating the dangers of shaken-baby syndrome and a bear that walks parents through CRP and Heimlich techniques.

The men also get to try on the empathy belly, a vest filled with warm water to simulate a pregnant belly. The expectant dads class helps men learn "the importance of their role in the child's life," she said.

Ms. Hill encourages new fathers to designate a few hours each day for "dad time" to help them feel comfortable caring for the newborn. This block of time will give the new mom a break and increase the father-child bond, she said.

"Eventually, the mother will feel much more comfortable leaving him alone with the baby for longer periods of time," she said.

Baby and you orientation

Expectant parents during their first trimester are encouraged to take the daylong baby and you orientation offered each month. The next session is from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 6 at the Airman and Family Readiness Center.

The Air Force Aid Society and the Airman and Family Readiness Center invite speakers from a variety of base services to provide information on financial management, car seat safety, Tricare and life skills.

The program is "an excellent opportunity to let Air Force families know about other programs sponsored by AFAS such as child care for volunteers, Give Parents a Break, child care for permanent change of station moves, respite care as well as emergency financial assistance," said John Harris, the Airman and Family Readiness section chief.

The orientation also includes discussion on preparing for a newborn, labor and delivery, and basic baby care. Each couple receives a free baby bundle worth $50 and includes books like "What to Expect When You're Expecting" and stuffed animals.

Home visits

Ms. Hill encourages new parents to take advantage of the home visit program. She can provide assistance on different issues, including toddler bedtime troubles, nutrition, play activities, milestones, breast-feeding and cord and circumcision care.

New parents may have many questions when they bring their babies home: When do I introduce baby food, what about shots, how do I begin discipline, where should the baby sleep (parents' bedroom, parents' bed, the baby's room in the crib or in something other than a crib).

"All of these and more are questions that new parents often struggle with while trying to be the best parents they can be," Ms. Lesyea said.

New parents may not realize their children are sick when they sleep too much or do not eat enough. Or maybe the car seat isn't installed correctly. Ms. Hill can help. Education can help parents keep control when the unexpected occurs.

"If every new parent hears, knows and understands that there will be frustratingmoments but shaking a baby or hurting a baby is never an option -- we have succeeded," Ms. Lesyea said.

To further educate parents, the base is planning awareness events in April to mark the Month of the Military Child.

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