Pregnancy and early parenting do not need to be solitary experiences – or even ones shared only with partners and family. NorthShore Health Centers is introducing a pair of programs called Centering Pregnancy and Centering Parenting aimed at helping mothers form bonds with other moms and their prenatal and family care providers.
“This is a system that’s been proven to help a lot with pregnancy outcomes,” said Samantha Merritt, a women’s health nurse practitioner with NorthShore. “There’s a decrease in lower birth-weight babies, an increase in breastfeeding, and it just keeps moms more involved.”
The way the programs work is by replacing most examination room visits with bringing a group of women together in one room for their care. Things start with the moms taking a more active role in their own care by measuring their own weight and blood pressure (with provider supervision), monitoring their own data, and having a quick private check-in with their provider.
“Moms get to have a say in their own healthcare,” Merritt said. “Centering makes the process so much more than sitting in a chair while your doctor tells you what to do. Having that level of autonomy in your health is such a huge improvement; you have a role to play in your health, your pregnancy, and the health of your child.”
After the check-ups, the group settles in for discussion and activities designed to help mothers learn about topics essential for their – and their babies’ – health.
“I love that it allows for longer patient visits,” Merritt said. “Instead of the 15 minutes I usually have with a patient, I have two hours with Centering Pregnancy. We can talk about educational topics, which I absolutely love.”
Some of the topics covered include nutrition, labor and delivery, common discomforts, stress management, and infant care.
“So much of what we talk about is helping moms understand what to expect through every stage of pregnancy,” Merritt said. “There’s a lot of fun group discussion and activities and free snacks!”
Merritt stressed the benefits of building relationships with other expecting mothers.
“It’s such a supportive dynamic,” she said. “It’s so important to have mom friends. Pregnancy is wonderful, but it’s also very scary and anxiety-ridden. Having that group there to support you, who are all going through a similar thing, is a big deal. You can make friendships that are lifelong.”
After the moms give birth, they can move on to the Centering Parenting program if they have enjoyed the experience. The fundamentals are the same, but with moms bringing along their baby.
“It’s not easy, especially for first-timers, to become a parent,” Merritt said. “Having that support network, that longer time with your provider, makes such a difference. It lets parents ask questions: ‘Is this normal? What do I need to look for? What are the milestones?’ It’s great that we’re not only able to offer Centering Pregnancy but immediately can transition into Centering Parenting.”
Centering groups are set to be hosted at NorthShore’s Lake Station and Hammond clinics. The program is available for low-risk pregnancies – ask your healthcare provider about the option, and they will bring in a prenatal care coordinator to discuss your options in further detail, and help you decide if centering is the right fit for you and your baby.
For more information about NorthShore Health Centers, visit northshorehealth.org.