Surprising benefits of prenatal care groups

Focusing holistically on the health and wellness of the mother and her whole family in a group setting, innovative CenteringPregnancy programs are changing the way we think about prenatal care and delivering healthy outcomes for moms and babies. This is especially critical in the U.S., where CDC data shows that we lag behind other developed nations in infant health.  

Why CenteringPregnancy

The CenteringPregnancy programs at the Capitol Hill, Bellevue and Tacoma Kaiser Permanente locations in Washington state, involves 8–12 pregnant women at a similar stage of pregnancy participating in facilitated discussions and training starting at approximately 12–16 weeks into their pregnancies. Each group visit takes the place of a regular one-on-one office visit, although high-risk patients can see their doctor for individual visits if needed.

A Centering Healthcare Institute publication quotes one CenteringPregnancy mom who explains why she found the program so helpful:

“My doctor and nurse would lead the group on various topics, but it wasn’t like a class: it was a discussion, a group of pregnant women together on a journey with health care providers investing in our well-being, our health, the health of our babies, and most importantly giving us a safe environment to learn the facts that would get us to our goals.”

In CenteringPregnancy, the three major components of prenatal care are offered in a group setting:

  1. Health checks: Moms engage in their care by taking their own weight and blood pressure and recording their own health data. They also get private time with their provider for a belly check.
  2. Support: The provider and support staff lead discussions and interactive activities designed to address important and timely health topics, while leaving time to discuss what’s important to group members. The mother’s spouse, partner, or another support person is encouraged to attend the classes with the pregnant woman. They learn about the physical changes the women are going through, feel more involved in the pregnancy process, and are better prepared to advocate for the mother during labor and birth.
  3. Education: CenteringPregnancy is based on the principle that when people are actively engaged and involved in a discussion with their peers, rather than being lectured to or given a pamphlet, they learn more and are more likely to change their behavior.

(Component descriptions use language in-part from Centering Healthcare Institute documentation.)

This model provides content focused on care of the pregnant mother and preparing for labor, birth, and welcoming a new baby into the family.

“We understand that prenatal care is not just about doing tests like documenting vital signs and fetal heart rates,” says John Craine, regional director at Centering Healthcare Institute. “It’s also about focusing on the process of getting or staying healthy throughout pregnancy, and preparing in advance not only for the birth process, but the expansion of the family with a new member.”

Healthier moms and babies

Kaiser Permanente Washington has found that expecting mothers who participate in this program are more engaged, better informed, and ask their providers more in-depth questions about their pregnancy. As one father said, “Others asked questions I didn’t think to ask about, but I really wanted to know.”

In addition, women feel less isolated and overwhelmed and are relieved to know that other mothers are having experiences similar to theirs.

Helping women trust that their bodies are designed for pregnancy and birth, understand the signs of pre-term labor, and plan for breastfeeding their infant has been shown to lead to happier families. Research indicates that the benefits of CenteringPregnancy include:

  • Increased birth weights
  • Increased rates of breastfeeding
  • Reduced risk of pre-term pregnancies
  • Reduced risk of gestational diabetes

Finding empowerment and community in prenatal care

A recent survey of CenteringPregnancy mothers showed that 96 percent of participants preferred receiving prenatal care in a group rather than in one-on-one appointments. “Sometimes sharing your pregnancy with other women who know exactly what you’re going through is the best way to learn and feel confident about this wonderful journey,” says Judy Michalk, staff midwife at Kaiser Permanente Washington.

Key facts about Kaiser Permanente Washington’s CenteringPregnancy program

  • Sessions are facilitated by staff, including a nurse midwife trained in CenteringPregnancy. Other clinicians (including pediatricians and social workers) provide resources during and after pregnancy.
  • Goal setting helps each woman focus on the health issues that are of particular concern to her.
  • Each pregnancy group meets for a total of 10 two-hour sessions throughout pregnancy and postpartum. These sessions are scheduled in advance to make working around jobs and childcare easier.

How to join the CenteringPregnancy program

Ask about CenteringPregnancy when you call to make your Kaiser Permanente prenatal  appointment. Or talk to your midwife or nurse when you’re in the OB clinic to find the group that best fits your baby’s due date.