Expectant moms who participate in group prenatal care rather than individual care appear to reap significant health benefits for both themselves and their babies, according to a new study led by the Yale School of Public Health.
The findings show that young women who received group prenatal care were 33 percent less likely to have babies who were small for gestational age. Furthermore, group-care moms had a lower risk for preterm delivery and low birthweight. Their infants also spent fewer days in the neonatal intensive care unit.
In addition, moms who attended more group prenatal care classes were less likely to become pregnant again soon after giving birth, an important outcome known as “birth spacing” that lowers the chances of having another baby at risk for preterm delivery.
“Few clinical interventions have had an impact on birth outcomes,” said lead author Dr. Jeannette R. Ickovics. “Group prenatal care is related to improved health outcomes for mothers and babies, without adding risk. If scaled nationally, group prenatal care could lead to significant improvements in birth outcomes, health disparities, and healthcare costs.”
For the study, the researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial in 14 health centers in New York City. They compared the birth outcomes of women who received CenteringPregnancy Plus group prenatal care to those who received traditional individual care.
More than 1,000 study participants were placed in groups of eight to 12 women at the same gestational point in their pregnancy, and were cared for by a clinician and a medical assistant. The more often the moms attended the group visits, the lower the rates of adverse birth outcomes.
CenteringPregnancy group prenatal care covers the same topics as individual visits, but all care (with the exception of private matters) takes place in a group setting. Participating in a group setting allows moms to receive additional time for education, skill building, and the opportunity to discuss and learn from the experience of peers, as well as more face-time with caregivers, say the researchers.
Despite the opportunity for frequent visits, many at-risk mothers, such as adolescents or those from low-income areas, still experience a high rate of negative birth outcomes. Because of this, the researchers focused on very young moms, ages 14 to 21, in disadvantaged areas, with no other known health risks to their pregnancies.
In future studies, the researchers hope to identify exactly why group sessions result in better outcomes, whether it is the additional time for education, the built-in social support, or other factors.
Additional research is also needed to understand what influences expectant moms to stick to group care session schedules, and to analyze cost-effectiveness, the researchers said.
The findings are published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Source: Yale University