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Centering Yourself for a Healthy Pregnancy

Frustrated by short prenatal visits that leave you with more questions than answers? You might be a candidate for the latest trend in prenatal care.

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"If there is any indication of a serious problem, [the patient] is seen privately for a full exam, either directly following the meeting or the next day," says Bernstein. In this respect, no benefits of private care are sacrificed.

While each mom is being checked, the others are busy taking their blood pressure and weighing in -- either on their own or with the help of a nurse -- and then writing the results in their own charts.

"We encourage them to participate in their care as much as possible, even down to keeping their own charts. They take charge of their pregnancy, they own that chart, and it's a very empowering feeling," says Rising.

The next step: The women form their chairs in a warming circle of life, where in a comforting and safe environment, each patient is encouraged to share her personal pregnancy concerns. Providers and group members give advice and provide caring together.

"It is like nothing I've ever experienced as a doctor; the compassion and the nurturing that emerges is phenomenal," says Bernstein. Other doctors have witnessed similar results.

"I think the whole group concept really engages women in their care in a way that might be otherwise difficult with provider influence alone," says Urania Magriples, MD, a Yale professor of obstetrics who was the first in the nation to train other doctors in the centering care philosophy.

While the women frequently quiet each others pregnancy fears -- exploring symptoms and solutions together -- still, that's only a small part of what each group tackles.

"I've had group talks about mother-in-laws, about sex, about fears of raising a baby, fears of giving birth -- you name it, we've discussed it, which is something I probably would never get to do with a patient in a private setting," says Bernstein.

Magriples says the sense of entitlement that follows carries these women clear into labor and delivery.

"Even the nurses comment that they can always tell the patients who have gone through group; they are calmer, more prepared, have all the answers instead of asking all the questions, and they just seem to come through the experience with a lot more confidence," Magriples tells WebMD.

Additionally Rising says the groups are also instrumental in helping the women change important health habits, the benefits of which can carry far beyond pregnancy.

"They find themselves exchanging junk food for a healthy diet, quitting smoking, stopping drinking, and in some instances turning away from substance abuse -- something that is very difficult to accomplish with provider influence alone," says Rising.

In the first study of Centering Pregnancy -- published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2003 -- researchers found that the group model resulted in delivery of infants with higher birth weight, especially infants born prematurely.

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