Supporting Military Families: Blumenthal & Gillibrand Introduce Legislation to Expand Access to Doulas for Military Moms

The National Partnership for Women & Families, the What to Expect Project, and the Association of Maternal & Child Health Program (AMCHP) endorse effort to help improve maternal and infant health

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, announced legislation today to expand military moms’ access to doulas. Pregnant servicemembers and military spouses are more likely to experience isolation during pregnancy or be without their partners during childbirth, making them uniquely positioned to maximize the benefits of doula support.

“Studies routinely show that access to doulas for those who want it results in healthier moms and babies. Military moms, either servicemembers 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. “We owe an immense debt of gratitude to the military families who make sacrifices every day in service to our country – supporting their well-being is our responsibility, and absolutely fundamental to our national security.”

“This bill will improve the well-being of all military moms and ensure that those serving our country have the resources to build strong healthy families,” said Gillibrand. “Pregnancy and childbirth are difficult under any circumstance and moms who are serving their country as service members and partners deserve all support available. Providing access to doula’s through the TRICARE Coverage for Doula Support Act is a much-needed step to invest in the physical and emotional health of our military families.”

“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,” said Heidi Murkoff, Founder of the What To Expect Project. “No mom should have to go through pregnancy, the birth of her baby, or the postpartum weeks alone, physically and emotionally unsupported, completely isolated. But unsupported pregnancy and childbirth is exactly what far too many military moms experience – many more since deployment extensions and travel restrictions and base closures and quarantines and endless postponements in change of station have made the already difficult normal of military life far more difficult in the time of Covid-19. Yet we have the power to change that – by putting a doula beside every military mom who needs one and wants one through the TRICARE Coverage for Doula Support Act. To support her through pregnancy, labor and delivery, and those early postpartum weeks – to be the support system every mom needs, and military moms need and deserve most of all. This tiny investment in the physical and emotional wellbeing of every military mom would pay off dividends, research shows, in both outcome for mom and her baby and in lowered healthcare costs. Supporting our troops means more than supporting those in combat – it means supporting moms in labor, too. Or struggling to recover from a c-section or postpartum complications. Or having challenges with breastfeeding or the demands of new baby care done solo. Now more than ever, we owe this unconditional support to military moms who unconditionally serve.”

“The National Partnership applauds Senators Richard Blumenthal and Kirsten Gillibrand on the introduction of the TRICARE Doula bill, which will make doula support a covered TRICARE benefit for service members and dependents,” said Debra L. Ness, President of the National Partnership for Women & Families. “Our research has consistently shown that doula support offers important benefits and that more families would select doula support if it were within reach.”

“The Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs thanks Senators Blumenthal and Gillibrand for introducing legislation recognizing the important need to better support servicemembers and their partners during pregnancy and the postpartum period,” said Jonathan Webb, CEO of the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs. “Key to achieving better maternal health outcomes is ensuring that the care and support services provided are woman-centered.  Offering greater access to doula support and better identifying the mental health needs of this specific population moves us in the right direction and will ultimately save women’s lives.”

This legislation would expand TRICARE coverage to include doula support, which offers continuous non-clinical one-to-one emotional, physical, and informational support before, during, and after birth. Studies have shown that doula support can improve maternal and infant outcomes while reducing costs of maternity care. The bill also requires the Secretary of Defense to collect data on how many members of the Armed Forces or military spouses gave birth while their spouse or birthing partner was unable to be present and on the number of births at each military medical treatment facility and under purchased care via TRICARE. This information will allow Congress and relevant Department of Defense agencies to track trends in childbirth across the services and ensure that necessary resources are fully available for expectant mothers and military families.

The TRICARE Coverage for Doula Support Act is one of a comprehensive set of policies Blumenthal has proposed to support the partners, children, and close relatives of servicemembers. Military families make immense sacrifices and confront unique challenges, including frequent moves, the stress of deployments, and the difficulty of caring for a loved one who has been injured. Family members provide servicemembers with an invaluable support system, and their well-being is essential to overall military readiness and our national security.