BETHESDA, Md. — Military hospital maternity wards are getting face lifts and upgraded equipment through a program Defense Department health officials say not only will help families adapt to their newest additions, but make them happier overall and possibly stick with the military for long-term careers.

Some of the initiatives of the Family Centered Care Program include private recovery rooms after childbirth, the offering of sonograms during a woman’s second trimester, 24-hour lactation support programs, and family counseling for both parents touching on topics from postpartum depression to how to change a diaper, officials said.

“By creating the family centered care initiative, the military services combined their considerable expertise to offer patients a world-class standardized [obstetrics] benefits,” said William Winkenwerder, the assistant secretary for Health Affairs.

Overseas hospitals in particular are getting focused attention because patients have fewer alternatives for outside health care than stateside members, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Farmer Jr., the Army’s deputy surgeon general, said Wednesday during a health conference at the National Naval Medical Center.

The hospital in Vicenza, Italy, for example, is slated for several new improvements, though Farmer did not provide more details. But Armywide, the service has spent $35 million over the past two years to improve labor and delivery rooms and buying state-of-the-art equipment, he said.

Roughly 50,000 children a year are born in military treatment facilities.

As a result of improvements, both the Air Force and the Army have seen increases in the recent number of childbirths at military hospitals. The main reason is because servicemembers and their families are using military hospitals instead of civilian hospitals, said Air Force Maj. Gen. James Roudebush, deputy surgeon general.

The family care improvements will go a long way toward retaining servicemembers, said David Chu, the undersecretary for personnel and readiness. “There’s an old military saying that says retention decisions are made around the dinner table,” he said.

The military’s antiquated maternity care caters to a military that no longer exists, said Vice Adm. Michael Cowan, the Navy’s surgeon general.

For example, during the Vietnam era, the force was made up mostly of single males whose longest long-term plans focused on what to do on a Friday night. Today, a majority of the force is married, with an average of 1.3 children with long-term plans of military careers or planning for their children’s college education, he said.

“The demographics are entirely different people,” Cowan said.

Improved pre- and postnatal care also will allow doctors to broach other health topics with families, he said. “It’s a chance to talk to them about changing health habits … other than having a baby,” Cowan said, citing examples such as smoking and exercise.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now