Military moms will get some financial help when nursing

by Dianna Cahn
The Virginian-Pilot

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Mothers in uniform and military moms will soon enjoy a benefit that many civilian women have: Starting next month, Tricare will pay for breast-feeding essentials. Coverage includes a breast pump, supplies and lactation counseling — things mothers often need if they want to breast-feed their babies and work outside the home.

"This is an absolutely fantastic and much-needed policy that's finally been put in place," said Robyn Roche-Paull, a lactation consultant who runs a website and blog called Breastfeeding in Combat Boots and author of a book by the same title.

Roche-Paull, who lives in Virginia Beach, was an aircraft mechanic in the Navy when her first baby was born. She endured taunts from colleagues in order to continue breast-feeding, which meant pumping in the ladies bathroom at the hangar.

The guys would grimace and make jokes. Her female boss told her she was setting women back by conducting such womanly, nurturing activities. She spent more than $200 of her own money to buy a breast pump, and sometimes, when on a tight deadline at work, she'd be lying under an aircraft with swollen breasts, milk leaking down her uniform, her boss telling her that the job came first.

Eventually, Roche-Paull left the Navy. She wanted more children and didn't want to have to go through that again. She became a registered nurse and a lactation consultant, took to writing on the issue and became a staunch advocate for women in uniform who breast-feed their babies.

Until now, Tricare didn't cover most lactation-related costs, other than for mothers with premature babies. The Affordable Care Act requires that insurance companies cover those costs, Roche-Paull said. But Tricare is a benefit, not an insurance company, so it does not fall under those same rules, she said.

The new policy — in a bill introduced by Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri — was authorized in December and takes effect July 1. It covers the cost of a doctor-prescribed medical grade pump and related supplies and, for those who need it, sessions with a lactation consultant.

Tricare has also said it will reimburse women retroactively from the time the budget was passed, though exact terms are unclear.

Roche-Paull and other military mothers say this goes a long way toward making the military a family-friendly employer.

For Petty Officer 1st Class Twilyght Mattera, the news is long overdue.

The Norfolk-based nuclear electronics technician had her first baby, a girl, in September and had to buy her own pump.

"I was disappointed it didn't come sooner," she said.

Mattera counts her blessings. Her communications command is supportive. It has a lactation room and recently upgraded it with medical-grade furnishings for better sanitation. The government requires those conditions for its civilian workers, but not military workplaces. She credits the service for going beyond what is necessary.

Her mother — who retired from the Army — breast-fed her as an infant by going home at lunchtime. But she was unable to do that for Mattera's younger sister, who was formula-fed.

Mattera chose to breast-feed because it's considered healthier for the baby. She wakes up at 4 a.m. to feed her daughter and drop her at a baby sitter.

"If I had formula-fed... my life would have been easier," she said.

"But that's not the point," she said.

Mattera has been in the Navy for six years and is committed to another three.

Whether she stays in, she said, depends a lot on how the Navy continues to change policies to make it more family friendly.

©2015 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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