It’s Tuesday evening, and a group of pregnant people, many with their partners, is gathered around a table at the OHSU Center for Women’s Health. Certified nurse-midwife Erica Coppola, D.N.P., C.N.M., is leading a group discussion about the fears people have of labor and delivery. After all, most of the group members are going through this for the first time, and much of their experience with labor and delivery is the intense, dramatic scenes you see in the movies.
“It’s almost never like that,” Coppola says. “Most of the time, birth is a very normal process that unfolds naturally.”
This is session two of seven in the group prenatal care program offered by OHSU’s nurse-midwives. The two-hour sessions happen monthly, then biweekly, from about 20 weeks gestation through 36 weeks. Group members spend an hour together focused on education and discussion, then get one-on-one time with the midwife during the second hour.
Why share the experience of prenatal care? We asked Coppola and heard five great benefits of the program.
- You’ll spend much more time with a midwife.
An individual prenatal care visit lasts 20 minutes, but a group prenatal care visit lasts two hours. “For many people, it feels like a better use of their time,” says Coppola. After all, getting to OHSU can be time-consuming, so spending more time at the clinic once you arrive and getting all your questions answered is a real benefit.
- It’s still a medical visit.
While education and discussion are an important part of the program, one-on-one time with the midwife is too. “We still get vital signs, measurements, listen to the baby’s heart, and answer any questions you don’t want to ask in front of the group,” says Coppola. If there are problems – like high blood pressure or pre-term contractions – those are dealt with right away, just like a regular medical visit.
- Empowerment through community.
Maybe you’re new to Portland or maybe you just don’t have many friends who are building their families right now. Through group prenatal care, you’ll meet people who are going through the same thing at the same time. “Group members share stories, share resources, and help each other through the journey,” says Coppola. “Sometimes they really bond and end up getting together after their babies are born.”
- You’ll get more information, including what you didn’t think to ask about.
Each of the seven sessions has a topic, and there’s plenty of time to dive deep on each one. For example, a session is devoted to each stage of labor, and sessions are devoted to breastfeeding and post-partum healing and expectations. “You might not get all this from Individual prenatal care where there isn’t time for specifics and discussion beyond the basics is driven by what you think to ask,” says Coppola.
- It works. Group prenatal care participants have better birth outcomes.
The OHSU nurse-midwives have studied the group approach and seen the difference it makes. “We know that people who choose our group care are more dilated when they arrive at the hospital in labor than those who chose one-on-one care. They spend less time in the hospital,” Coppola says. “They also have higher vaginal birth rates, lower C-section rates, fewer emergency room visits during pregnancy, and lower rates of birth interventions.”
In addition to these five benefits, group prenatal care participants love the experience – and so do the midwives, like Coppola, who lead it. “I really love seeing how community helps people grow stronger,” says Coppola. “When we talk about pregnancy and birth, it feels more normal. Each pregnancy and birth story will be different, but we’re still a community going through this life-changing process together.”