DICKINSON, N.D. - CHI St. Alexius Health-Dickinson is offering a new approach to prenatal care that may change a woman's routine doctor's visit into a fun bonding experience with other pregnant women.
In CenteringPregnancy, pregnant women with similar due dates meet with their health care provider as a group. They receive all the components of prenatal care, including health assessments, interactive learning and community building.
The program is the only one of its kind in North Dakota, said Dr. Tom Arnold, an OB-GYN at CHI St. Alexius in Dickinson.
Centering is not a class, but prenatal care in group form. Women still have ultrasounds and other forms of prenatal care, but as group. Things like ultrasounds will be in a private area of the room for privacy. Centering includes a facilitated discussion of pregnancy, birth and newborn care, as well as overall health, stress management, etc. Significant others are also invited to attend with their loved one if the group feels comfortable.
Arnold said the first session was on June 19 and the hospital has had more sessions since then, with three providers hosting groups. There's already a high level of participation from patients, he said.
"I think the women have been very receptive to it," he said. "After we have our little sessions and we're cleaning up and rearranging the room that we do it in, a lot of the participants will stick around after to chit-chat and talk with one another. You can tell that they're building relationships with one another, which I think is a very strong component of this whole thing."
Mary Jo Wicks helps facilitate groups if Arnold or one of the other doctors is unavailable. She said the women, and significant others who attend the group, learn from one another and also seem be more involved with their health care. The women learn how to take care their own height, weight and blood pressure, and then write it down in a book.
"It helps them to know what's normal in pregnancy, so they don't worry over things that they know might be a normal thing to experience through all the education they get," she said.
Chelsea Christensen, a patient in the program, said Centering has been enjoyable and helpful for her, even as she is going through her fourth pregnancy. The program helps her relate to other pregnant women and families who may be going through similar things because women in each group are about the same gestational age.
"I think just knowing that you can build friendships is great," she said. "I really look forward to going to the next meeting to see how everybody is doing. Some don't have family that are around. So you just get excited to see how they're progressing and seeing their little baby bumps."
While the doctors may have certain topics they want to discuss, Christensen said the women are the ones who get to drive the discussion and talk about what's important to them.
"I think you get to spend more time with your OB doctor and staff," Christensen said. "It's two hours a month that you really get that individual time," she said. "It's not really individual since it's in a group setting, but it feels like you're having one-on-one when you're there."
Arnold said research shows the program decreases the preterm birth rate and decreases the postpartum depression rate. He said many women like spending more time with their provider, noting that typical visits can sometimes last just 10 minutes when outside of Centering.
"I think part of it is because moms are empowered, prenatal patients are empowered," he said. "They're given the information through the facilitated discussions that we have at these sessions to make pregnancy decisions, to determine what's important, what's good and what's bad, and to make decisions about labor and delivery and such. ... I think that's a key feature of the program."