Because of the positive results, the March of Dimes has given over $1 million in grants to fund programs around the U.S. that focus on group prenatal visits. The Centering Pregnancy programs incorporate family members, peer support and education for expecting moms.
The March of Dimes "helps by partnering with community health organizations to reduce preterm birth," says Scott Berns, MDMPH, senior vice president, chapter programs at the March of Dimes. "We look for things that have been shown to have an impact, for example, smoking cessation. Centering Pregnancy has been shown to decrease preterm births significantly."
Over 540,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the U.S., according to Berns. Preterm babies are at risk of long-term health problems and disabilities, which can result in prolonged hospitalization and high medical costs
African-American women have a higher risk of having preterm births, although white women actually have more premature babies when you look at the actual number of premature births, says Berns. A study conducted in 2007 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that young, predominantly African-American women who participated in group prenatal visits had fewer premature babies compared to those who received additional individual prenatal care.
The study documented a 33% reduction in the odds of a preterm birth. Mothers who attended group visits were less likely to have premature births (9.8%) than those who had individual care (13.8%). Participants in the study also were more prepared for labor and delivery and were more likely to initiate breastfeeding.
Since the study, more health-care providers have implemented Centering Pregnancy programs. Women who participate do so voluntarily, and seem to enjoy the social aspect. They are usually grouped with other moms expected to deliver the same month. Not only can they get their weight, blood pressure and growth of their baby checked, but they can exchange tips with other women on getting through a pregnancy, nutrition and child care. They also may watch videos about the stages of childbirth.
"I think that in terms of engaging women it is a powerful model. The key from my perspective is really empowerment in that group setting, and I think that's why we're seeing these women have these positive outcomes," says Berns.
While most of the programs currently underway seem to focus on low-income mothers, women from other socio-economic levels could possibly see some benefit from group visits, although more study is needed. After all, many people have seen positive results from attending support groups for things such as losing weight, quitting smoking, getting divorced and dealing with the death of a loved one. Also, meeting in a group can allow some women who would otherwise feel isolated during a pregnancy to have other women to talk with about how they are coping.
What do you think? Would you be willing to participate in group prenatal visits?