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April 1, 2013
By Mrs. Michelle Kennedy (Drum)

FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Five fingers. Five toes. Tiny feet. Button nose.

Having a baby brings joy, excitement and sometimes a little fear of the unknown to many parents. Whether they are expectant parents, new parents or parents experienced in the art of child rearing, adding a new member of the family adds a new set of challenges.

Fort Drum's New Parent Support Program, part of Army Community Service's Family Advocacy Program, provides education, information and support to Soldiers and Family Members welcoming home a new baby.

While the New Parents Support Program is designed to help new parents, it also provides support to pregnant women and parents with children younger than 3, according to Kim Contino, NPSP home visitor and registered nurse.

"Our focus is on parenting, strengthening Families and helping children," she said. "It starts when they're babies. If they're not getting the parenting they need and aren't exposed to the environment that's good for them, there will be long-term effects.

"We're there to educate, support, provide referrals, resources and teach (parents) about resources in the community," Contino continued. "The whole idea is to make parenting easier, enjoyable and decrease the risk of child abuse and child neglect."

Chantal Lopata, who is also a NPSP home visitor and registered nurse, agreed.

"It's a free program to military Families," she said. "Some people think they aren't eligible for the services, because they have other children so they aren't a 'new' parent. If you have a new baby come into your life and you have children, it changes the dynamic and you might still need help."

If having a newborn at home isn't stressful enough, being part of a military Family has its own set of challenges, and things can be overwhelming.

"One thing I stress to Families is that we are here to support them," Lopata said. "I am also a military spouse, and I understand what it's like to be so far away from Family and you don't have all the support that you need.

"With all the stressors you experience as a military Family, between deployments and moving all the time, it can be really important to have support," she added.

Many of the homes Contino and Lopata visit are those of young parents.

"Some of them really want to learn what to do as new parents and are also learning what to do (being new to) the military," Contino said. "Babies don't come with a manual. Some things (you do to soothe fussy babies) aren't common sense. A lot of parenting is not common sense, and it helps for someone to give you tips.

"We recognize that not every child will respond in the same way and not every parent will do things the same way. We try different techniques," she continued.

When a Soldier or Family Member requests assistance or schedules a home visit, Contino and Lopata base the appointment on each Family's needs. Clients fill out a checklist of what they need help with or what they would like to learn more about during the visit. Home visitors can travel up to a 50-mile radius of Fort Drum.

"We're not there to judge them or tell them how to raise their kids," Lopata explained. "We want to give them all the resources to do what's best for their Family.

"A lot of people don't understand the importance of making sure your child is developing the way they should," she added. "You go to the doctor and the visit doesn't last very long and the children aren't acting normally, so the doctors don't always pick up on that. So we … teach (parents) how to look out for developmental milestones that children should be reaching."

While parents with several children sometimes get overwhelmed when they add a new baby to the Family, others simply don't know how to play with their kids, Contino said.

Sometimes home visitors provide support by playing with the Family's other children or just sitting and talking to new moms.

"A lot of the spouses are home all day with the kids and they just want to talk to an adult, so we're there for that too," Lopata said.

Families can be in the program for as long as they need it -- provided they still meet the requirements, Contino said.

"For Families that need more intensive assistance -- like mothers suffering from post partum depression or something -- we'll come once a week," she explained. "We focus on the parent. All parents need coping mechanisms, and if we see they need (help) with some, we'll teach them that."

Home visitors bring books, resources and information about different parenting classes and support offered by ACS and FAP.

"The classes are fun, and you meet other parents," Contino said. "You strengthen your parenting skills, (but) another thing we stress is strengthening your marriage. Sometimes, (people) get so focused on parenting that they forget about the relationship. If they have a strong marriage, the family tends to be happier, the children are happier and life is easier."

ACS provides many beneficial services to Soldiers and Family Members, but the hard thing is getting the word out to those who don't know about it, Contino said.

"The whole point is to support military Families so the Soldiers can accomplish their missions and they know their Families are being taken care of while they're deployed or at work," she said.

Military Families who give birth in local hospitals receive new parent packets filled with information about NPSP, FAP classes, support groups and baby bundles. FAP representatives visit hospitals in Watertown, Carthage and Lowville and deliver baby bundles filled with necessities -- wipes, diapers, toiletries and other baby items. Baby bundles also may be picked up at ACS.

The classes range from "ScreamFree Parenting" to father-specific classes and infant massage. Dani Reed-Thompson, Army Volunteer Corps coordinator, began teaching infant massage while working with FAP. She teaches the four-part infant massage class to parents and caregivers with babies ages 8 weeks to 8 months.

"There are so many different benefits to infant massage," Reed-Thompson said. "The No. 1 benefit that I've found is attachment and bonding with parents or caregivers. It's a wonderful time to build and gain trust with your baby.

"Sometimes it's hard to connect with your child, because we live in such a busy, fast-paced world. It's good to take that 30 minutes to be able to relax with your baby," she continued, adding that infant massage also has health benefits like helping with colic and gas.

Contino, Lopata and Reed-Thompson will assist with "Mom and Baby Palooza" from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. April 24 at the Youth Center, Bldg. 10788, on Chapel Drive. Parents can attend education sessions focused on topics such as baby bathing, breastfeeding and calming fussy babies. Parents also may participate in activities and demonstrations on car seat safety, nutrition and baby massage. Preregistration is encouraged by calling FAP at 772-5914.

For more information about NPSP, call 772-0748. For a list of all classes offered by FAP, call 772-6929.