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Group Prenatal Care
What's your typical image of prenatal care—a series of one-on-one appointments with your healthcare provider? An alternate model is showing up in many centers around the country.

CenteringPregnancy, developed by a midwife named Sharon Rising, is a form of prenatal care that replaces most individual prenatal visits with group sessions. After a pregnant woman's initial intake into obstetric care—in the traditional manner, with a history and physical examination in an office or clinic—she meets in a group setting. At 12 to 16 weeks of gestation, women with similar due dates are placed into groups of eight to 12.

The groups are usually facilitated by a midwife and emphasize personal responsibility, health education and mutual support. Sessions last between an hour and a half and two hours and occur at the same frequency as regularly scheduled prenatal visits.

If you like taking an active role in your own health care, CenteringPregnancy might be for you. With the help of a midwife, expectant moms weigh themselves, measure their blood pressure, learn how to monitor the growth of their babies and listen for fetal heart tones. They record these assessments in their own health record and make note of changes since their last visit. In this way, they become active participants in their own care.

Another feature of CenteringPregnancy is that expectant moms have a chance to bond with other women and socialize during visits. Group sessions provide a chance for each woman to share her experience and an opportunity to learn from others. Many participants exchange phone numbers and provide support for each other before and after their deliveries. Groups are often conducted in native languages to honor cultural differences. Many groups encourage attendance of friends and family, including husbands, partners, mothers and sisters. Some group programs include access to nutritionists, physical therapists, financial counselors and social workers.

Researchers are finding that group prenatal care is well-received by new moms and can be very effective. Participants have substantially more contact with healthcare providers in a group setting than they receive with standard one-on-one care. Women learn more about pregnancy and feel more prepared for labor and delivery than their traditional counterparts. Studies show that women in group prenatal care also have fewer visits to the emergency room than women in individual care, and, on average, give birth to infants of higher birth weight. The benefits may extend beyond pregnancy as well: one study showed higher rates of breastfeeding in group members.

If you'd like more information about this expanding model of healthcare, visit http://www.centeringpregnancy.com/ or ask your health care provider for a referral.

Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist