- CenteringPregnancy offers prenatal care in a group setting.
- Topic discussion is dictated by participants’ questions.
- The small groups can delve into content in more detail than during individual visits.
There’s the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” For some people, it also takes a village to have a child. That community-based philosophy is at the heart of CenteringPregnancy, a group prenatal care program.
“The content is richer; we’re able to cover more information than we would in our typical 20-minute individual prenatal visits,” says Megan Dunn, a certified nurse midwife at Swedish Ballard. “As midwives, we spend all day, every day answering the same questions so it’s nice to be in a group setting where others can chime in, too. It helps to have that village that we don’t have as much anymore; there’s just something about that social group support.”
CenteringPregnancy is a national organization that has been found to reduce preterm birth rates by engaging and empowering expectant parents in their care. The model is now more widespread and serves all kinds of women; Ballard has offered the program for 12 years, and it’s now available at the Swedish campus in Issaquah.
Groups are limited to 10 couples and organized by due date month. Aside from an initial visit with a midwife and any necessary lab work and ultrasounds, prenatal care takes place in the group setting. At Ballard, the eight core midwives in the practice rotate through the groups so participants can get to know the care providers.
There are nine two-hour sessions, starting around the 16th week of pregnancy. Each session begins with a belly check for each woman, in which the fundal height is measured and the midwife listens to the baby’s heartbeat. The majority of the session is then devoted to a group facilitated discussion. Content topics are mapped out in advance — such as labor, parenting and breastfeeding — but the discussion thrives on participants’ questions, which are written on a board, called the “topic container,” at the beginning of each session.
“This benefits everyone because there may be questions you wouldn’t have thought to ask or been brave enough to ask,” Dunn says. “You get to engage in discussion and everyone gets to contribute from their area of expertise. In a recent group we had a dad who was a physical therapist, and when we were talking about body mechanics and comfort while sleeping he was able to offer suggestions for different exercises or sleeping positions. It creates a rich environment where there’s not just one expert in the room or one person dictating the conversation.”
Dunn calls this a dynamic way of getting prenatal care that touches on major topics of interest in more depth and detail. For instance, one of her favorite sessions is the third one, which focuses on parenting and family relationships.
“This topic is often something couples don’t give much thought to at this stage in the pregnancy,” Dunn says. “When you’re pregnant the focus is on your pregnancy and giving birth, but that’s just one day of your life — you’re a parent for the rest of your life. We want to provide partners the opportunity to talk and reflect about what they want to bring to their family. This session has the potential to be really fruitful, especially if people are willing to be vulnerable. It gets people thinking beyond the birth and recognizing the magnitude of this undertaking. Every session has the potential to offer people more than they would have thought to ask about.”
Any patient of the midwifery service is eligible for CenteringPregnancy, including both first-time and experienced parents. “When people are having their second or third baby, they may want to do Centering because they want to meet a new group of parents or want a dedicated time to focus on the pregnancy, which can be challenging when they already have another child. Sometimes couples treat it like a mini date night.”
If a couple has their baby before the sessions end, they often bring their newborn in and share their birth story with the group. “That can be powerful,” Dunn says. “Sometimes they’ve had an unexpected or traumatic experience and it’s interesting to see how the group rallies around them and how it changes the perspectives of people who haven’t had babies yet.”
Then there’s sharing in the joy of the people you’ve gotten to know during their pregnancy and seeing them have their baby in their arms. Everyone’s really curious and asking questions: ‘What do you wish you’d known?’ That kind of insight also really normalizes the experience.”
What is special about the program is that many groups continue to meet once the official sessions are over and the babies are born, Dunn says. “They go on walks during their parental leave or have first birthdays together. A lot of the groups end up connecting on a very deep level.”
Interested in learning more about CenteringPregnancy? Find a location near you. For provider-approved pregnancy and parenting advice, download the Circle by Swedish app and visit the Parentelligence section of our blog.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.