Picture this: You arrive at your obstetrician's office, bypass the waiting room, enter an open space, greet other expectant women, check in with your healthcare provider, and begin your appointment. Instead of trying to pack all of your questions into ten rushed minutes, the two-hour session offers in-depth advice about pregnancy, delivery, and newborn care, in addition to a support group of women who are in the same stage of pregnancy as you. Sound ideal? Thanks to the Centering Pregnancy model, pioneered by certified nurse-midwife Sharon Schindler Rising, of Cheshire, Connecticut, it's real and available now.
Rather than one-on-one exams behind closed doors, this model brings women together for ten sessions starting around week 14 of pregnancy and ending in the ninth month. During the first group meeting, women learn to "own" everything about their pregnancies: how to take their blood pressure, weigh themselves, and fill out self-assessment sheets. During the subsequent meetings, while the women check their vitals, a healthcare provider takes turns seeing one patient at a time. Then the group discussions begin.
Each session covers a trimester-related theme such as nutrition, breastfeeding, or labor and delivery. It's a win-win situation, according to Rising. "Patients learn they're not alone and develop a support network that lasts into the child-rearing years," she says. "And healthcare practitioners can reduce their loads by answering everyone's questions at once."
A newcomer to North Yarmouth, Maine, Lori Gerencer opted for groups in order to meet new moms. Once she got there, she realized Centering Pregnancy was about more than making friends. "It was very educational and empowering," says Gerencer. "Someone would bring up a topic, which would trigger another person to discuss a related idea." One small study shows that the Centering model may make for healthier babies: Women participating in group prenatal care stayed pregnant an average of two weeks longer and delivered babies that were one pound heavier than those in traditional care. A larger study is underway to compare the different approaches.
There are currently more than 60 Centering Pregnancy sites across the country -- meeting in community health centers, hospitals, public health clinics, and private offices. To see if there's a program in your area, visit the organization's website at and click on "Program in Action."