A bill introduced in Congress last month would require Tricare to cover the services of doulas -- trained professionals who provide physical and emotional support for pregnant women throughout labor, delivery and the postpartum process.
The proposed legislation, sponsored by Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, aims to help service members and dependent spouses who are stationed away from family and friends or delivering alone because their partners are deployed.
Arguing that doulas reduce the risk of complications during and after childbirth, the senators said the bill would help cut health care costs and improve maternal health.
"Military moms, either service members themselves or the partners of those who serve, are at a higher risk of stress and isolation during their pregnancies, and they're more likely to give birth alone -- all factors that make doula access especially important," Blumenthal said in a prepared statement.
"Pregnancy and childbirth are difficult under any circumstance, and moms who are serving their country as service members and partners deserve all support available," Gillibrand said in another release.
The term "doula" comes from ancient Greek, meaning "woman's servant." The doula as a childbirth professional developed in the 1970s and 1980s in the U.S. with the growing interest in natural childbirth.
Doulas are non-medical professionals trained as labor coaches to assist with proper positioning and pain management during labor, such as breathing exercises and massage. Some doulas focus on postpartum support, providing guidance on breastfeeding and newborn care in the early weeks following a birth.
The cost of doula services ranges from $800 to $2,500, with the average around $1,200, according to the What to Expect Project. Citing research, Heidi Murkoff, author of the "What to Expect" book series and founder of the What to Expect Project, said the cost of providing physical and emotional support for military moms would "pay off dividends in both outcome for mom and her baby and in lowered health care costs."
"Being pregnant or becoming a parent is never easy, not even under the best of circumstances. But being an expectant or new mom in the military -- tackling the heavy lifting of nurturing a baby while doing the demanding work of serving her country, whether she's active duty or a spouse -- is exponentially harder," Murkoff said.
The bill would also require the Defense Department to track how many service members and military spouses give birth each year without their spouse or partner present and disclose the number of births that occur each year at military treatment facilities and civilian hospitals through Tricare.
The data, the senators said, would allow Congress and the DoD to track trends in childbirth.
In 2016 -- the last year data was published on births among active-duty women -- there were 29,337 pregnancies among active-duty service women, down from 32,006 in 2012.
The percent of service women of childbearing age who became pregnant while on deployment in 2016 was 1.05%, down from 1.44% in 2012.