New parents gain support, guidance from garrison

By Mark Iacampo, U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels Public AffairsMarch 11, 2013

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HOHENFELS, Germany -- Becoming a parent can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but it is not without its challenges. Add in the demands of the military lifestyle and the prospect of giving birth in a foreign country, and it can become downright scary.

The New Parent Support Program (NPSP) is designed to help new parents with children up to 4 years of age face these challenges. With registered nurses and licensed social workers on staff, the NPSP provides tips and innovative parenting tools, as well as the most up to date research available on the health and development of infants.

"One of the biggest questions here is 'What do I do when I'm having a baby in German?'" said Summer Mack, NPSP home visitor.

With no OB/GYN services at the Hohenfels Health Clinic, pregnant women must seek services on the economy. In partnership with the clinic, NPSP arranges hospital visits and helps with paperwork.

NPSP also provides classes on childbirth and delivery, preparing parents for the physical changes that occur during pregnancy and offering diet and exercise tips for a healthy pregnancy. Other classes include infant massage and breast feeding basics.

"Breast-feeding can save a family up to $1,200 a year, and it's a really big bonding activity between the mother and her baby," Mack said.

Fathers can help in breast-feeding as well, Mack said. Not only can they provide emotional and physical support, but they can learn to identify when the infant has achieved a good latch and communicate this to the mother who may be unable to see for herself.

"We encourage both parents to come to all our classes because it's not new mother support, it's new parent support," said Mack.

"There's a big role for dads to play, and we've gotten really good support from command to allow them time to come to the classes," Mack added.

In some cases, when schedules simply can't be adjusted, Mack said they've even held private classes or arranged after-hour visits.

NPSP doesn't stop at birth; the program continues to support parents till their child reaches the age of 4.

"Even if you have one child who is 12, as long as you have one under 4, we can provide services," said Mack. "And it's still beneficial to the whole family."

The NPSP provides many services right in clients' homes, alleviating the added stress of traveling to classes with an infant.

"A lot of times women just want to know 'Is this normal?'" said Mack. "So we come into the homes and we talk about things. We talk about brain development, what to look for, things they could be doing with their infant."

Viola Harrison began using NPSP when her son, Benjamin, was 3 months old.

"Benjamin is my first child. I never baby-sat other kids, I don't have any siblings, so he is my only experience. Summer (Mack) helped me a lot," Harrison said.

"She helped me through his teething stage, food stages, what kind of games I could play with him. She even helped me when we flew to Florida for the first time, things like what I needed to take on the plane, how I can soothe him if there's something wrong. I don't know what I'd have done without her," said Harrison.

"She's always introducing me to new stuff," Harrison added. "Even if you already have four kids, there are always new things to learn."

"A lot of times we get moms with toddlers because toddlers can be a really challenging age with temper tantrums and things, so we helps moms work on ways to handle them," said Mack.

Mack said they discuss various discipline techniques with parents.

"It's always good to have more tools in your toolbox," Mack explained. "We all have backgrounds, we only know what we know, so sometimes we need other people give some encouragement, open new doors and say 'maybe you could try it this way.'"

As licensed social workers, Mack said they sometimes dabble in marital conflicts as well.

"A baby is a good thing, but it can add a lot of stress to a marriage, so we can try and help them resolve any issues," she said.

Mack said that the home visits can also help them identify other challenges couples may be facing and allows them to direct parents to the proper services.

"If you're struggling financially, that's going to affect you as parents, so we may try to hook them up with financial services," she said. "Or maybe they need new winter tires and they don't have the money, so we'll direct them to AER (Army Emergency Relief.)"

In addition, Hohenfels is the only post that offers 20 hours of free respite care per month to their parents.

"That's a free service we provide so that you can go to a doctor appointment without your kids, or you can have lunch with your husband without your kids. You have the opportunity to do things and get out and be a part of your community, and we're providing a safe place for your child to go," said Mack.

Ultimately, the NPSP aims at providing new parents with the tools to provide a nurturing environment for their children.

"I don't know anybody who doesn't want to be a better parent," said Mack. "So whether you came to us through command or you came to us on your own -- awesome -- because we're only going to work on improving on how you are as a parent."