Pregnancy can bring on all kinds of feelings in an expectant mother. It’s at once the calm before the storm, but also a time when mothers think through everything from prenatal care to finances to what might change once the baby arrives. Having support is important during this time, but standard prenatal care mostly covers just the health of the mother and baby. A newer model of care is helping expectant moms to prepare for motherhood with an approach that provides a built-in network of peers while also providing the necessary prenatal care they need.

CenteringPregnancy is a model of care that includes a traditional check-ups with additional time and attention, provided in a group setting. The program provides the usual prenatal care, like checking the expectant mother’s weight and blood pressure along with measuring the mom-to-be’s belly and listening to the baby’s heartbeat. In addition to checking those health essentials, where the CenteringPregnancy program differs from traditional check-ups is that it’s done in a supportive group setting.

centeringpregnancy meeting
Kaiser Permanente’s CenteringPregnancy program differs from traditional check-ups because the program is done in a supportive group setting. Photo courtesy: Kaiser Permanente

“I call standard clinic visits ‘lonely visits’,” says Susan Hodgson, a certified nurse midwife and centering lead with Kaiser Permanente. “CenteringPregnancy meetings are with up to a dozen other expecting families.”

During what Susan says are the more standard clinic check-ups, clinicians typically get to spend 10 to 15 minutes with a patient whereas the CenteringPregnancy model allows for approximately two hours of interaction. This model also builds a network of support over a series of 10 sessions, which are held in the early evening. The visits occur in a group setting with anywhere between 8 to 12 women, as well as their partners, in attendance.

During these group sessions, women get their questions answered, they get a chance to interact with other expectant mothers and they get time with a midwife as well as other healthcare providers.

The CenteringPregnancy program at Kaiser Permanente has been in effect for about five years and is modeled after the Centering Health Institute program for providing care within a group setting. The model creates a sense of community and most within the group form new friendships. Many of the women in the centering groups encourage each other and most stay in touch after their babies are born.

Susan says many families who take part in the program for one pregnancy elect to join again for their next pregnancy. And research has shown that women who participate in the centering model of care have fewer preterm and low birth weight babies. Kaiser Permanente also reports that satisfaction rates for this program are high.

Kaiser Permanente CenteringPregnancy
Many families who take part in the program for one pregnancy elect to join again for their next pregnancy. Photo courtesy: Kaiser Permanente

So what makes the program such a success? Besides helping expectant moms form relationships with other women of a similar gestational period and get their essential prenatal care, this all-encompassing approach prepares patients for every step of the journey from pregnancy and transitioning into parenthood.

“We want parents to build their skills,” Susan says. “It makes a difference to come into parenthood a bit more prepared.”

The CenteringPregnancy model helps expectant parents do that in a few ways. Some of the subjects that groups delve into during group sessions include managing stress, breastfeeding, newborn health, family dynamics and postpartum depression. They also touch on areas like preventing abuse and neglect as well as things like challenges associated with having a lack of social support and aspects of infant health such as immunizations and circumcision.

According to Susan, the centering model is the reason that these types of conversations are possible. There’s a group dynamic that forms because it’s the same people at each meeting, and there’s trust and relationships that build over the course of the 10 sessions.

Another benefit of the group setting is learning and growing through shared knowledge. Even if someone doesn’t think a topic necessarily applies to their situation, everyone in the group benefits from the breadth of topics covered.

Many of the women in the centering groups encourage each other and most stay in touch after their babies are born. Photo courtesy: Kaiser Permanente

The program existed since 2014, and Susan wrote the original grant that started the CenteringPregnancy service at Kaiser Permanente after she heard about it from some of the other midwives she works with.

“I decided to write the grant for the program because I wanted us to be on the leading edge of prenatal and patient care offered,” she recalls.

While it might seem a bit unconventional to think about approaching medical care in a group setting, if a family isn’t sure the centering model is right for them, Susan advises that people just give it a try. She says one of the biggest barriers she finds is that people are unsure about the program because they’re reluctant to join a group, especially if someone is shy or more reserved.

“It’s not necessary for someone to be a really forward person in order to benefit,” she says of the program. “We only have people participate to the extent they’re willing.”

CenteringPregnancy services are offered at the Tacoma Medical Center, located at 209 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. To learn more about CenteringPregnancy and midwifery, visit Kaiser Permanente’s website.


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