All branches of the U.S. military have taken steps to ensure that new moms are able to serve their country and provide their babies with the best possible nutrition. Each branch provides 12 weeks of maternity leave and has outlined in its policies the provision of time and space for returning military mothers to express breast milk.
In addition, TRICARE — the health care program for uniformed service members and their families — has covered breastfeeding supplies and breastfeeding support since December 2014.
More than 200,000 women are in the active-duty military, serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. Many of the women who serve (15%) are of child-bearing age and/or have young children.
Pediatricians for this specialized group of families should become familiar with breastfeeding policies and insurance coverage to help strengthen and normalize breastfeeding in the military.
What does TRICARE cover?
Breast pumps and breast pump supplies are covered at no cost for new mothers, including mothers who adopt an infant and plan to breastfeed. The mother must have a prescription from a TRICARE-authorized physician or health care provider that states which type of breast pump is needed: hospital-grade, manual or standard-electric breast pump. If the mother has paid out-of-pocket for a pump, a claim can be submitted for reimbursement.
Breastfeeding supplies, including two breast pump kits (per birth) for up to 36 months after the birth event, also are covered by TRICARE.
Breastfeeding counseling, which is essential for mothers to continue to maintain breastfeeding, is covered at no cost and can be provided in two ways. Mothers can receive free breastfeeding counseling during an inpatient maternity stay, a follow-up outpatient visit and/or during their child’s well-child visit. In addition, up to six separate outpatient breastfeeding counseling visits are covered when this is the only service provided. Breastfeeding counseling visits must be provided by a TRICARE-authorized provider or outpatient clinic and must be billed as a preventive service.
TRICARE insurance coverage for pumps, supplies and breastfeeding counseling continues to ensure that military mothers and their families get the support and protection that is afforded to all mothers to meet their breastfeeding goals, even after they return to an extremely demanding work environment.
Dr. Sriraman is a member of the AAP Section on Breastfeeding Executive Committee.