WOMEN'S HEALTH
December 30, 2015

Pregnant? Join The Group

It's important to see a doctor when you are pregnant, but it may be even better to do it with other mothers-to-be.

Mothers-to-be are usually interested in doing what’s best for their babies-to-be, and that generally includes regular prenatal visits with their obstetrician. But this may not always be the best approach for pregnant women or their doctors, a new study finds.

When prenatal visits are done in a group with other expectant moms, rather than alone, it’s not only better for the mother’s health, it’s also better for the baby’s.

The women in group care had much better birth outcomes than women in individual care.

The study looked at 1000 healthy pregnant women in New York City, who were receiving prenatal care at one of 14 area hospitals. The women were between the ages of 14 and 21, and from disadvantaged backgrounds. The researchers, from the Yale School of Public Health, wanted to see what effect being part of a prenatal group with other expectant moms would have, as compared to individual prenatal care.

They found that the more group visits a woman attended, the higher the rates of healthy birth outcomes.

The women took part in group meetings that were part of a program called CenteringPregnancy Plus which groups together about eight to 12 women who are at about the same point in their pregnancies. Women in the groups meet with both a doctor and a medical assistant, and are taught strategies for having a healthy pregnancy. They are also able to share their own experiences with one another, which may help boost emotional health.

The women in group care had much better birth outcomes than women in individual care. For instance, their babies were more likely to be delivered at term vs. prematurely, and they had healthier birth weights — they were a third less likely to be small for their gestational age.

Mothers in this group were also less likely to become pregnant again quickly after giving birth. Having a longer period in between pregnancies reduces the likelihood of the next baby to be delivered prematurely.

“Few clinical interventions have had an impact on birth outcomes,” study author, Jeannette R. Ickovics, said in a statement. “Group prenatal care is related to improved health outcomes for mothers and babies, without adding risk. If scaled nationally, group prenatal care could lead to significant improvements in birth outcomes, health disparities, and healthcare costs.”

In other words, group prenatal care is good for both mothers-to-be and their doctors: Pregnant women get more time with their doctors, so they can get more feedback and information than they would with individual appointments. And doctors can see more patients. The researchers are next looking into the potential cost-savings of programs like these.

We now know that what we do during pregnancy, and even before pregnancy, matters enormously for our kids’ health.

Additional studies are needed to see how a group dynamic works in other populations of women, but the preliminary research looks promising. If your hospital or doctor offers group prenatal care, you might want to give it a try. If nothing else, the emotional support you get from connecting with other expecting moms may go a long way, not just for your baby’s health, but for your own as well.

The study is published in The American Journal of Public Health.

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