Centering Pregnancy is a Method That Puts Mom Front and Center in Childbirth: Here's Why We Need it Everywhere
Before becoming pregnant, Theresa Blackinton started exploring her birthing options and attended an information session with her husband at their local hospital, Duke Regional in Durham, North Carolina. That's when she learned about Centering Pregnancy and felt the program, which joins people going through pregnancy at the same time, would be right for her. She enrolled during her first pregnancy and says it made all the difference in her journey to motherhood.
"It was a positive, empowering experience for me. I felt like a partner in my own care throughout my entire pregnancy," she says. "There was so much time and space to explore the many aspects of pregnancy: from health to nutrition to emotional and mental health, to breastfeeding or bottle feeding, to new baby care and the postpartum experience."
Blackinton also opted for Centering Pregnancy while pregnant with her second child. She didn't want to take a passive role in her health care, she says. She's just one of about 70,000 pregnant patients who join each year.
What Is Centering Pregnancy?
In an effort to build prenatal support, the Centering Pregnancy program brings together a small group (usually between 8 to 10) of pregnant people of all social and economic backgrounds with close due dates. It brings them out of the isolation of tiny exam rooms, into a supportive environment where they can bond, ask questions, and gain encouragement from others going through pregnancy, as well as from health care professionals.
Nurse-midwife Sharon Schindler Rising, MSN, started the program in the early 1990s after organizing groups in a hospital clinic, a community health center, and a private office in Waterbury, Connecticut. Today, Centering Pregnancy has spread to almost all of the 50 states and even some foreign countries.
Throughout their pregnancy, patients typically get about 10 meetings consisting of a regular health assessment in private, followed by their group meeting with other pregnant people and their support if desired. Each appointment feels more like a visit over coffee with friends and lasts anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours.
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"I enjoyed the one on one with the midwives and I felt like we had a personal relationship. I trusted they would guide my baby into the world safely," says Brandi Cook, a Centering Pregnancy participant from Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center in Fort Hood, Texas. But even more? "The biggest gain I had were the lifelong friendships and learning how everyone's births went."
Benefits of Centering Pregnancy
There are positive health outcomes for those in Centering Pregnancy, including decreased rate of preterm and low-weight babies, better pregnancy spacing, and increased breastfeeding rates.
Melisa Scott, a certified nurse midwife employed by the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, believes this comes down to the time and awareness patients gain. "Patients have time to discuss risks, benefits, to dispel myths, and to build confidence. In traditional care, we ask, 'Are you going to breastfeed or formula feed?' and 'What kind of birth control are you planning to use?' With Centering Pregnancy, it's a two-hour conversation—a much deeper dive," says Scott.
Centering Pregnancy has also proven to help minimize the number of pregnancy-related deaths, which affects about 700 women in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A study found it reduced maternal mortality for a group of pregnant women in Nigeria, a country with a high rate of infant and maternal mortality.
The benefits don't stop with the babies and their mothers, either. Studies show Centering Pregnancy can also reduce costly neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) admissions since these newborns are less likely to enter the NICU.
Centering Pregnancy programs across the country are importantly narrowing the disparities among people of color, which is crucial. Black and Latina mothers are less likely than white moms to get prenatal care during their first trimester, according to the 2018 Perinatal Health and Infant Mortality Report. "Delayed prenatal care is associated with poorer health outcomes for both mothers and infants, including preterm birth, low birth weight, and infant mortality," the report says.
And black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unfortunately, this inequality has been the same for six decades.
"With Centering Pregnancy, all women do well," says Scott. "When you look at the data, you can't tell who is rich, poor, black, or white."
How to Join a Centering Pregnancy Program
Anyone can qualify to join Centering Pregnancy, says Scott. To find accredited Centering Pregnancy programs, you can locate them online at the official website. Keep in mind, many practices have started within the last few years and are on the road to accreditation. Therefore, they may not be listed, but those interested can ask about programming at their local hospital.
And here's a good thing to take note of in terms of health insurance: "The health outcomes are so much better that in some states there is enhanced Medicaid reimbursement for moms participating in Centering Pregnancy, like South Carolina," says Scott.