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New Moms Together



As Jennifer Bannwarth walked into the meeting room where her first CenteringPregnancy appointment was going to be held, she wasn’t sure what to expect.

During her first prenatal visit, Jennifer’s obstetrician had suggested that she consider taking part in the new program that allows women with similar due dates to get education and support for their pregnancy in a group setting.

Although she liked the idea, she was a little nervous entering the room with a dozen women she had never met before. However, as soon as the women started talking, the first-time pregnant mom knew she had made the right choice.

“Right away at our first meeting, people were asking questions that I hadn’t even thought of yet,” said Jennifer, as she gently rocked seven-month-old Connor in her arms. “I knew immediately that this would work perfectly for me.”

A Community Approach

CenteringPregnancy, the first program of it’s kind in South Dakota, is designed to let women both learn and develop relationships with others during their pre-natal care.

During her pregnancy, Jennifer took part in ten two-hour CenteringPregnancy sessions. The appointment would begin like a standard pre-natal doctor visit, charting weight and blood pressure and tracking the pregnancy. Each of the moms had one-on-one time with the doctor to privately discuss any concerns and review their progress.

The women then met together to have education programs on labor and delivery, nutrition, breastfeeding and parenting. They discussed their experiences and shared questions, supporting each other. Each woman and any partners that attended the meeetings signed a confidentiality agreement, to ensure that “what happens in the room, stays in the room,” she said.

What started out as a room of strangers became a support system, a group of people who were often experiencing the same kind of joys and problems that come with pregnancy, she said.

“As we went from month to month, we got to know each other,” Jennifer said. “I’d look forward to being able to discuss things with them, to know that something is normal and I’m not just being crabby or crazy.”

Sharing Stories and Support

Those differing backgrounds and experiences allowed the women to both connect and learn from each other, she said. Jennifer’s experiences with family members and close friends had labors and deliveries with complications.

“I went into this knowing a lot about having a c-section or what it was like to have a baby in the intensive care unit, but I knew nothing about having a natural birth,” Jennifer said. “I was the one asking, ‘now how does that work?’”

The new mom, who works as a microbiologist, said she was concerned at first that she wouldn’t get enough attention from her doctor, but discovered that the sessions gave them far more time than they ever would in a standard appointment.

“This time is dedicated to you,” Jennifer said. “There’s no pager, no phones, no other patients.”

Those mothers who have complicated or more high-risk pregnancies are able to participate. They simply add more traditional appointments with their physician in addition to the CenteringPregnancy meetings.

A Better Experience

The centering pregnancy approach has been shown to improve outcomes for both babies and mothers, said Dr. Allison Wierda Suttle, obstetrician/gynecologist with Sanford Women’s Health. Studies have shown that women who are involved in group pre-natal care are more likely to carry their babies to term, breastfeed longer and to have less post-partum depression.

“In a group, you get a certain dynamic where things happen that can’t happen one-on-one,” Dr. Wierda Suttle said. “It’s fun to see how they not only ask more questions, but they can give each other advice too.”

The physician said she truly enjoys getting to know her patients like Jennifer on a more personal basis. The women seem to appreciate their time together too, she said.

“I’ve been surprised by the people who have done it and loved it – second-time or third-time moms,” Dr. Wierda Suttle said. “I’ve had first-time moms who have said they can’t wait to do centering pregnancy with their next baby.”

After the women had their babies, they had a reunion visit and got to share their birth stories. Jennifer has kept in contact with one of the mothers who became a friend during the sessions. While she’s too busy to chat very often, it’s nice to have those connections, she said.

As she holds up Connor, placing his cheek next to hers, Jennifer said that she thinks her experiences with CenteringPregnancy have made her a happy and laid back new mother. When Jennifer and her husband left the hospital with their newborn son, she felt confident and prepared.

“I had no fear. I wasn’t even nervous,” she says, as they gently nose to nose. “Everyone was kind of surprised at how relaxed I was, but I knew I was ready to be his mom.”

Posted Date: June 2011

New Moms Together

As Jennifer Bannwarth was preparing for the birth of her first baby, sharing that experience with a group of women was a way to learn at Sanford’s CenteringPregnancy program.