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Due Date

Moms-to-be in Syracuse now have the opportunity to take part in a new prenatal care trend. Headed by nurse educator and facilitator Genie Rotundo, Syracuse’s Dr. Cathy J. Berry and Associates offers expectant mothers the opportunity to receive traditional individualized prenatal care as well the chance to participate in a “centering” pregnancy group.

Still a relatively new approach to prenatal care, the local centering group patterns its practice after a model created by certified nurse midwife Sharon Schindler Rising more than a decade ago. Gathering women with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, Rising organized the first such group as an innovative alternative to traditional prenatal health check-ups. 

Now offered at 84 practices in North America, centering pregnancy groups focus on caring for and nurturing the total expectant mother and not just her swelling abdomen. 

Around the 16th week of pregnancy, the group connects mothers whose due dates fall within a few weeks of each other. Members discuss topics such as introducing siblings to a new baby, infant massage, the role of doulas or infant child-care options. 

Centering pregnancy groups also give thousands of women a sense of empowerment by teaching them how to take their blood pressure, weigh themselves and fill out self-assessment sheets. 

Rotundo and nurse practitioner Mary Ellen Woiler stress that women who take part in a centering pregnancy group receive exactly the same level of care and medical expertise as those who opt for individual care. “The difference is the group atmosphere,” notes Rotundo. “Women can talk about their weight, cravings and fears with each other before and after their private examination.”

That’s the whole idea, says Rising. “Group prenatal care provides a structural innovation, permitting more time for provider-patient interaction and therefore the opportunity to address clinical as well as psychological, social, and behavioral factors to promote healthy pregnancy,” Rising says.

“Everybody is an expert,” Rising says. 

Changing the way women receive prenatal care, centering pregnancy groups such as those conducted locally also eliminate the need for women to disappear alone behind an examination room door or jam a list of questions into a brief five- or 10-minute session. 

“I couldn’t remember everything I wanted to ask the doctor during my check-ups,” confides Diana Crabb of Syracuse. “I would start chatting with the nurse or be weighed and forget what I needed an answer to.” 

Gathering women who are all in relatively the same stage of their pregnancies, centering pregnancy groups are comprised of first-time expectant parents as well as seasoned parental veterans. Although expectant adolescents, first time moms-to-be, and women without a strong personal support system are most likely to find Rising’s technique valuable, knowing there is a group of professionals and peers supporting you is extremely beneficial for all expectant mothers.

When she was expecting her fourth child, Crabb happily drove more than 30 miles from her job in Utica to take part in a centering group.  Looking forward to imparting her wisdom and experiences, as well as being encouraged by her group’s members, Crabb is quick to rebuff the notion that centering pregnancy groups are a glorified coffee klatch. “We all truly benefited from giving or receiving advice,” she explains.

“Connecting with other women who are in the same situation justifies what you’re feeling and gives expectant mothers reassurance. Sometimes we would extend the group discussions past the office and go for walks or lunch,” says Crabb explaining just a few of the differences between centering groups and traditional office visits. 

And while most moms-to-be accept waiting in the doctor’s office as an inevitable rite of passage akin to morning sickness, women in centering groups find that their time is spent more efficiently. Participants spend the same amount of time at their doctor’s office; however, the manner in which they spend their time is significantly different. 

“Groups begin on time, every time,” says Woiler. The whole experience lasts up to two hours, although the entire time group members are at the office, they’re participating in a session which includes receiving health care or learning about their health, pregnancy or parenting. 

In addition, encouraging partners, family members or friends to accompany moms-to-be to a session, centering pregnancy group care strengthens the support of a woman’s personal network.  “Children born to parents who’ve been part of a group tend to benefit from the calmer more confident demeanor of their parents,” notes Rising.

A study Rising and some of her colleagues published in the November 2003 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology detailed how centering pregnancy groups provide members more than the chance to connect with peers. Rising’s team found that full and preterm babies born to centering pregnancy group mothers have higher birth weights than those of individual-care patients.  “The birth weight was greater for infants of women in group versus individual prenatal care,” Rising stated in her study.
One North Syracuse first-time mom-to-be says, “The empowering atmosphere gives me the confidence to tolerate giving birth and bringing home a new baby.” Another recent group member shares, “I look forward to attending my group because it is my time away from work, home, my other children- everything.”

Crediting the group portion of the monthly sessions for giving them insightful and realistic encouragement that a loving husband or family member isn’t able to, most of the mother’s who participate in Partners’ centering pregnancy group are confident they’ll fare better in the delivery room and in the first weeks of adjusting to parenting thanks to the sage advice and comfort they’ve received in their group.

“They have a better understanding of what to expect, what to look for and what questions to ask. Many mothers would have never have been exposed to some of this information if their check-ups were limited to seeing only their doctor,” Woiler says. 

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York