By Rachael Tolliver-IRAHC PAOApril 5, 2019
For most people starting a family means being around experienced friends and family who can give advice and help guide the young parents-to-be through territory unknown to them. But for Soldiers who are usually stationed far from family and friends, and rotate assignments every two years, a program developed by the Army is designed to help them, and ensure infant safety.
The Pregnancy and Postpartum Physical Training Program provides safe, consistent participation in physical fitness training and educational classes for soon to be mothers. The intent is to help prepare active duty females who are soldiers-athletes, and soon-to-be mothers for the challenges of being a parent and a Soldier, while maintaining unit readiness, morale and promoting rapid recovery from pregnancy.
According to Angela Thomas, a public health nurse at Ireland Army Health Clinic and the programs education coordinator, more than 5,000 babies are born to active duty Army Soldiers each year but they still have a responsibility to maintain fitness, weight standards and the physical requirements for readiness after delivery. And for many young Soldiers, they also need education on infant safety, and being parents.
"For many of the Soldiers in the P3T program, this is their first pregnancy and they are away from their families," Thomas explained. "In the educational classes, I strive to provide information that is important to the pregnant Soldiers. We cover many topics in our classes to increase their general knowledge, inform them on what to expect, and decrease their fears of not knowing what to expect.
"I was previously a labor and delivery nurse, so I also assess what hands on skills the Soldiers would like to learn, for example- swaddling an infant, bathing an infant, burping an infant…and teach the skills during these classes."
But she has regularly has subject matter experts from the local community visit the class, for example, Erika Janes, a registered nurse with Norton Healthcare in Louisville, Ky. Janes has been teaching prenatal classes since the 1990s, and has been teaching a "safe baby" class on Fort Knox for about two years. She said she wanted to help military mothers access the same resources offered civilian mothers.
"At the heart of my teachings is keeping babies safe," she explained. "For example, a baby dies every four days in Kentucky due to unsafe sleep environments, but these deaths can be prevented with education. Babies should never sleep on their stomachs--babies who sleep on their back do not choke."
She added that there should be no soft bedding, blankets, pillows or soft toys in a babies sleep area because of the risk of suffocation, and that co-sleeping--where the baby sleeps in the parent's bed -- is a big "no-no" for the same reason.
"Babies deserve a safe place to sleep," Janes stated. "They must be in that safe place, alone and on their back, not in mom's bed. If you are bed sharing, you've increased the risk of (sudden infant death syndrome) by 40 times."
For example, according to www.safesleepky.com/need-to-know/unsafe-sleep-in-kentucky, a website sponsored by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, in Kentucky an infant is 70 times more likely to die from unsafe sleep than from a motor vehicle collision. And about 50 percent of the sleep-related deaths in Kentucky were from bed sharing.
Other topics Janes discusses is child passenger safety--which includes how to properly buckle a child into a car seat, and child abuse prevention.
"For example, I provide education to help prevent shaken baby syndrome," Janes said. "I often hear from new moms that they didn't think the baby was going to cry as much as it does. As a new mother, that can be stressful and I want moms to know that if they become frustrated and overwhelmed from the crying, it is okay to put the baby in his or her crib and let them cry it out. Never shake a baby!"
Pfc. Haylee Schoenfelder, a bridge crewmember with the 502nd Multi-Role Bridge Company, 19th Engineer Battalion, said although the class is a requirement for her she is participating because it gives her insight and guidance to what she needs to do, what will benefit her child, and what will help her relationship with her spouse.
"I agree with the new approach to (safe babies) just because from what I've learned it teaches children to not grow up to 5 or 6 years old and think it's normal or still okay to go sleep in mom and dads bed every night--it's referred to as a 'bonding complex,'" she explained.
She added that when she looks back to her childhood she see difference between then and now regarding discipline, baby safety, and raising a child.
But she said one take away for her is "perception."
"I don't want people from the civilian side thinking being pregnant and being active duty in the Army is difficult or stressful," she explained. "The Army does a tremendous job in making sure you are taken care of and that you're taking care of yourself. It encourages pregnant women to go to pregnancy physical training which helps us … keep in shape and stay on that healthy track. At work, leadership knows your limits and are caring about your needs and well-being."
Janes added that information for infant care today has been updated and changed from 30-40 years ago so education and awareness is important.
"A lot of people don't feel like they need a class to keep their baby safe, but every person who has said that to me has come to me after the class and said, 'I was so wrong,'" she noted.
Thomas said while the class is mandatory for pregnant soldiers, it is open to anyone--including civilians--and the spouses of pregnant Soldiers are encouraged to attend. The education classes are taught every Thursday morning from 7:30-8:30 a.m., in the Margetis building classroom, and a different education topic is covered each week.
Classes she covers include True verses False Labor; Labor and Delivery-What Happens; Infant Safety/SIDS/ Shaken Baby; Breastfeeding/ Infant feeding; Budgeting for Baby and Stress Management.
Thomas added that if any organization has helpful information or would like to present a topic please call her at 502-624-6314 or the Public Health Office at 502-624-6243 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.