Welcoming a new baby comes with a lot of stress. Bills need to be paid, diapers will be changed and learning the ropes of childcare can be draining. That’s why the New Parent Support Program (NPSP) on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune aims to make the transition to parenthood less painless from pregnancy through pre-school.
The program by Marine Corps Community Services Lejeune-New River is divided into three services — Baby Boot Camp, infant massage and home visitation — which help new parents and parents-to-be at three big stages in their new baby’s life.
“We assist with pregnancy all the way through age five,” said Mary Caldwell, branch manager of NPSP. “They [parents] may elect to have certain services after Baby Boot Camp so they can continue to work on growth and development. … We can do an assessment of the child to see if they’re on track per their age and doing what they should be doing at that age. If not, we work with the families and those kinds of things. Any questions they have, our strong qualified staff is able to work with them. If there’s areas we can’t help with, we can refer you to resources on the base that can.”
Baby Boot Camp is one of the most popular parts of the program. The one-day class gives attendees a chance to learn basic childcare techniques while also providing information about growth and development. According to Sheri Burton, a home visitor with the program, it also provides a community.
“We see people exchange numbers. We’ve had families where mom needs support because dad is deployed. People will say ‘I’ll go into labor with you’ or they’ll do the infant massage class after and exchange numbers in there,” said Burton.
“At Baby Boot Camp, when we went anyways, it was very open,” said Courtney McMillan whose husband, Sergeant Cameron McMillan, 2nd Marine Logistics Group- Corporal Leadership School, found information about the program while stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina.
The McMillans have been involved in the program since before their daughter, Kaydance, was even born. Now she’s 2 years old and receiving benefits from the home visitation program from providers such as Burton.
Home visits seek to take account of individual family needs in terms of child development and other important aspects. Courtney McMillan recalls an instance where the program provided support and peace of mind.
“I was kind of freaking out. Kaydance wasn’t talking yet, and all around the other kids were. I was seeing things on Pinterest and Facebook about, like, my 2-year-old taught my 1-year-old how to use the potty, so it was stressful. But then, it just, the program helped me see that it wasn’t an issue. It clearly isn’t now,” she said.
As her mother talked, Kaydance was busy informing her father that a frog says “ribbit.”
“It’s helpful that Courtney can message me something from a home visitation and we can work with that,” said Sgt. McMillan. “… We have to dedicate so much time to our jobs and to the service. It’s nice to have someone behind you to help out.”
He and his wife have another baby on the way soon and plan to stick with the program through that pregnancy as well.
“You never know what kind of stuff has changed in psychology and whatnot. A refresher never hurt anyone,” said Courtney McMillan.
The home visitation program can also be helpful for active duty personnel. Sergeant Sarah Cain (2nd Intelligence Battalion) said she reaped the benefits of the program as well. During her pregnancy, her husband Tyler, then a Sergeant as well, was deployed as part of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.
“Pretty much every little milestone, she [Burton] has been there,” said Sarah Cain. “Even things like keeping her head up or her tummy time, pretty much everything. … I think a lot of people are hesitant about it just because it’s a stranger or they don’t want someone in their house telling them how to raise their baby. Honestly I think for me, for my personality, having someone say ‘Hey, you’re actually doing a great job,’ helps.”
Cain was introduced to the program while in the hospital.
“We have nurses in the hospital doing rounds to get the word out,” said Burton.
It was very helpful for Cain, whose daughter Skylar is now 2 years old.
“For people who are afraid to do it, it’s actually really a big help,” she said. “It’s a really great support program — with finding out your pregnant, giving birth and just the whole thing.”
Sgt. McMillan agreed.
“Day to day is stressful enough, but it is nice being in garrison and having programs like this to go to,” said McMillan. “When things hit the fan, that’s when it’s especially important.”
Burton said she appreciates the families who welcome her.
“One thing I love about my job and our program is the unique nature of what we do,” said Burton. “It is an honor to be able to work with our military families in such a special way. As home visitors, we get to support parents in their environment as they transition into their parenting roles and become more confident in their knowledge and skills. We also get to see the children of these families grow and thrive because of the amazing work that their parents do with them. Watching happy healthy families develop and grow over time is such an amazing opportunity that we, as professionals, might not have working in other capacities within our fields. I am very proud of the New Parent Support Program team and the work that is done here. … My favorite aspect of my job is the ability to be able to meet parents prenatally at Baby Boot Camp and then provide home visits for them to learn infant massage techniques after delivery. It is very exciting to see through continued home visits how they transition into their new roles and work so hard to help their children grow and develop the following years. We love being there for our families to share in these milestones.”