Women's Health

Centering Program Brings Pregnant Women Together to Learn Self-Care

Over the course of an average pregnancy, a woman will attend between 10 and 15 doctor appointments. Women age 35 or older, or those with pre-existing health problems, often go through even more. And that’s not to mention the childbirth classes that many women choose to take.

The OBGYN Center at Bethesda North Hospital is offering its new Centering program as an alternative to the traditional routine of prenatal check-ups and classes. Designed to get women out of waiting rooms and into a comfortable learning space, Centering brings mothers together and puts them in greater control of the education they receive about their bodies and babies.

“We take all the time that [expectant mothers] wait in the waiting room and in the office, and fill it up with education,” said Liz Geiger, a certified nurse practitioner with TriHealth. “They really connect with other women that are going to deliver their babies at the same time.”

A New Take on Traditional Prenatal Care

The Centering program is built around groups of mothers who are on similar timelines in their pregnancies. Together, they learn self-care techniques such as checking vitals. As with traditional prenatal care models, time is provided at each session for belly checks and other benchmarks. Most of these exams are conducted individually, and the mothers are also given the opportunity to hold private conversations with providers.

Centering offers more than just a different way of approaching prenatal care, Geiger says, noting that women involved in Centering programs statistically have babies with higher birth weights. Additionally, women in these programs report lower rates of pre-term delivery and better satisfaction with pregnancy and delivery overall.

“I was going to the regular visit and [my providers] were telling me about it and just asked if we wanted to join and see how it was,” said Alexia Saunders, a participant in the Centering program at the OBGYN Center at Bethesda North.

“It was nice, I liked it,” Saunders said, explaining that the experience provided a wealth of input from other mothers – something she had missed during her first pregnancy.

That assessment wouldn’t surprise Geiger, who says that women seem to “enjoy the support and camaraderie” they share with one another in the Centering group.

Breaking The Teacher-Student Mold

Bethesda North’s Centering program currently has 14 mothers enrolled, each of whom are allowed to bring along a support person, whether a spouse, partner, friend or relative. Unlike traditional prenatal check-ups and classes, Centering aims to avoid didactic exchange between students and teachers. Instead, Geiger says, the mothers are free to lead the conversation — even if it’s away from the day’s topic — while health care providers share their knowledge in a compassionate, judgement-free manner.

“We sit in a circle and everyone is equal,” Geiger said. “This is their child and this is their prenatal care.”

A Model for Motherhood and More

The Centering model has been used in other health care systems around the country to educate about topics including diabetes, narcotics addiction and parenting. While other systems in the area may provide Centering pregnancy classes, Geiger says that TriHealth is unique in offering a Spanish-speaking pregnancy group that is set to launch in June.

Geiger says Centering is spreading slowly throughout the country, but the biggest factor impacting its widespread adoption is a lack of understanding around its purpose.

“I think it’s kind of getting over the hurdle that [mothers] think of it as extra education,” she said. “We’re helping them see that this is just better health care.”

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Last Updated: March 10, 2016