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Maternity care at the Milwaukee VA: 'We put a spotlight on our moms.'

Expectant moms check out baby clothes
Expectant Veterans check out the many items available to them during the Milwaukee VA's most recent baby shower. The showers take place twice a year and provide a variety of baby needs.

When asked what she likes about maternity care at the Milwaukee VA, U.S. Navy Veteran Shyanne Erdmann had a very succinct answer: “Everything,” she said.

U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Desiree Keyes agreed.

“The care coordinators are fantastic,” she said. “They’re always checking in, making sure you have everything you need throughout your pregnancy. I really appreciate having that extra person so that if something isn't right, there's someone to talk to,” she said.

Many Veterans may not be aware of the extent of the maternity care coverage VA provides, including specialty supplies and services.

While the Milwaukee VA Medical Center does not have birthing facilities, it does just about everything before — and after — a Veteran gives birth to support her and her family’s continued good health.

VA coverage includes:

  • Regular prenatal care including ultrasounds
  • Dedicated maternity care coordinators
  • Full physical exams and lab tests
  • Prenatal education and screening
  • Obstetrical ultrasounds
  • Genetic tests and specialty consults, when necessary
  • Prescription drugs and prenatal vitamins
  • Lactation support
  • Support and services in case of miscarriage or stillbirth
  • Social work and mental health services

But the attention goes beyond health care to include maternity supplies and necessities, such as:

  • Nursing bras
  • Nursing pads
  • Breast/chest pumps
  • Pregnancy and postpartum support belts
  • Nipple cream
  • Milk storage bags

“Maternity care at the VA is unique and comprehensive,” said Katie Wisniewski, Women’s Health Care Coordinator at the Milwaukee VA.

“We know that being newly pregnant can be exciting and stressful, and we want to prevent the barriers and frustration that can occur when trying to navigate the health care system.”

And twice a year, the Milwaukee VA does even more, by treating expectant Veterans to a baby shower, where they receive nearly $1,000 worth of baby needs, from strollers and playpens to diapers, clothes, hand-crocheted blankets and travel kits.

All those supplies are provided thanks to generous donations from the community and VA partners.

“It just blows my mind,” Keyes said. “I can’t believe how much they put together.”

The most recent baby shower, in March, served about a dozen Veteran moms and their families. It featured a smorgasbord of food, raffles, games, a gift exchange and tables laden with baby items, including handmade onesies, blankets and beanies.

“This is fantastic,” Erdmann said.

Keyes and Erdmann lauded all the support, with Erdmann singling out Santos Olmo, a licensed practical nurse and clinical navigator with the Women’s Health Clinic at the Milwaukee VA.

“He’s awesome,” she said. “He calls me and keeps me up to date on everything.”

Olmo said one of his favorite things is telling the Veterans everything the Milwaukee VA will do for them regarding maternity care.

“When they see everything that we do, they’re like, ‘Holy cow!’” he said. “They’re very happy.”

The team at the Milwaukee VA works with moms-to-be before they give birth and then for up to two years afterward, Olmo said. That includes check-in phone calls about every four weeks during the pregnancy.

And these calls help forge personal connections, Olmo said, going beyond billing questions and routine health care.

“We get to know how they’re doing emotionally,” he said, noting the Veterans know they can call with any concerns or questions at any time. “It’s the personal aspect. We’re very accessible to them.”

Wisniewski agreed, saying the maternity care coordinators help with everything from social, financial and housing assistance to mental health and medication management. There are also parenting and lactation support groups and educational classes.

“It is important for patients to know that we are committed to providing them with comprehensive services and personalized support to help them achieve a successful and happy pregnancy,” she said.

“We put a spotlight on our moms,” Olmo said. “I think they respect that the VA is taking an interest in them and making the extra effort. I think they respect that, and it makes them feel good. It’s nice.”

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