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A Reunion of Friends

One year ago, a group of new moms ended their pregnancy preparation classes with a special photo.

As cameras snapped, brand-new babies were placed on the floor in a circle for a photo. One year later, it was a different story.

On the count of three, parents put squirming babies on the floor, but within moments they were crawling and toddling around.

“It’s not as easy as when they were babies,” says Laurie Landeen, MD with a delighted laugh. “They’re on the move.”

What started this all for this group of families was CenteringPregnancy®, a popular program that brings expectant mothers with similar due dates together for group prenatal support, education and health care services.

A new approach

Over the course of 10 appointments last year, they got ready for the birth of their babies, learned about breastfeeding, nutrition and childbirth. They also developed friendships that have lasted since their babies were born, the women say.

“We’ve learned so much together, but we’re also just good friends,” says Robin Wynia, whose one-year-old son Bentley gives a shy smile before picking up a toy dropped by another child. “When we get together it’s just so fun to see what all the babies are doing.”

Since Sanford began the CenteringPregnancy program, 721 families have taken part in this new approach to prenatal care. Dr. Landeen, who worked with this group of families, said she loves the way the program empowers the women.

“I’m a facilitator and I love that the women learn from each other,” says Dr. Landeen. “They actively participate. This isn’t a spectator sport.”

CenteringPregnancy brings groups of patients together for two-hour sessions with a Sanford Obstetrician/Gynecologist or Certified Nurse Midwife.

Part of the appointment is a medical assessment, where the mom-to-be actively participates, weighing herself, taking her blood pressure, determining gestational age and making chart entries. Each woman has private-one-on one time with the medical provider to review progress, listen to the baby’s heart tones and share any private concerns.

Learning from each other

Landeen says the rest of the time is spent learning and sharing experiences. Sanford brings in experts to give presentations on topics that most women want to learn more about: breastfeeding, childbirth, picking a pediatrician and life after baby.

The women also have plenty of time to interact, ask questions about their current concerns and learn from each other, the doctor said. Research has shown that women who participate in these kinds of prenatal appointments are more engaged and active in their care, and they tend to have an easier pre-term delivery and less postpartum depression.

“You get great discussion, pros and cons, and we get into things that you wouldn’t have time to talk about in a traditional appointment,” Dr. Landeen says. “People will have a chance to learn things from questions they wouldn’t have even thought to ask.”

Within seconds of getting together for this reunion event, the real-life conversations begin. Teething, shoes, sleep patterns and day care issues come up within minutes.

One mom, holding her one-year-old son, describes how she bought her oldest daughter her first car the past week. This is her fifth baby.

Another announces her second pregnancy to the group while the babies eat bites of ice cream, explore the room and occasionally make a break for the door, crawling or toddling across the carpet.

Friendships and support

The smiles and laughter come from the relationships they’ve built over the past year.

When Jody Conley was newly pregnant with her daughter Quinn, she was “on the fence” about the idea of sharing her appointments with other moms. However, a friend who had done CenteringPregnancy convinced her to give it a try.

“After a couple of meetings, we all just clicked,” said Jody. “It was fun to get to know each other and soon we had this connection.”

Jody, who was one of the later members of the group to give birth in early May, said she learned from the others that every birth experience would be different. She was excited and ready to be holding her baby by the time she went into labor.

“It did go differently than I thought it would go, but the CenteringPregnancy had been so helpful,” said Jody. “My plan going into it was to do whatever was best to bring my baby into the world.”

After all of the babies were born last spring, and the women had completed their last CenteringPregnancy session, the moms started a private Facebook group to continue the relationships they’d formed over the past few months.

New mom Katie Zimmerman loved the way that she could ask questions from more experienced moms. Most of her friends don’t have babies, so has loved having a network of women who were going through the same things as she was, step-by-step, both during the sessions and since then.

“It eases that ‘crazy mom mind,’” says Katie whose daughter Zoey turned one on April 29. “During the appointment would go with a list of questions, but before the time I would even ask it, it’s all been answered. Now I post those questions right away to Facebook.”

In the past year, their group has gone through those middle-of-the night feedings, watching their babies begin to sit up and crawl. And they’ve continued to do it together—with face-to-face meetings and Facebook messages and posts.

“You have that smartphone in your hand while you’re rocking the baby in the middle of the night, you put something out there and in minutes somebody answers,” says Katie. “We talk about clothing and babysitters and pretty much anything I’ve needed to know.”

Every Friday, each member of the group posts a picture of their baby. Robin says she looks forward to each post from these women who have become special friends.

“This became far more for all of us than any of us thought it could be,” says Robin. “It’s been such a great experience for all of us.”

Dr. Landeen, who was invited to the private Facebook group by her patients, beams at the babies as she walks around the room, asking about how life has changed since she last saw many of them. At a time when many families don’t have relatives and a support network nearby, these connections are great for both moms and babies, she says.

“You can see that these women will probably share their stories and keep networking through preschool and maybe to high school too,” Dr. Landeen says.

Posted Date: June 2013