Creating a Circle of Support for Moms-to-Be

By Jorge Gomez

IACH Public Affairs Office

This story is the first in a series that chronicles the experience of an IACH patient as she prepares for delivery.

Amanda Shumaker is 700 miles away from the nearest family member. Yet the mom-to-be said, “I still don’t feel like I’m doing this alone.”

As part of Group Prenatal Care at Irwin Army Community Hospital, Shumaker meets monthly with other women who are at the same stage of pregnancy. Instead of an individual prenatal appointment, she sits in a circle with others who share the same mix of happiness and worry.

At the start of the two-hour meeting moms-to-be take turns going behind a curtain for “tummy time.” After bellies get measured and fetal heart rates checked a discussion begins.

It’s not a class. It’s a group of pregnant women together on a journey with providers investing in their well-being and the health of their babies.

“The concept of Group Prenatal Care is to provide education primarily to first time parents,” said Mandy DeDonder, an IACH registered nurse and Group facilitator. “Group allows them the opportunity to meet other couples who will be delivering during the same timeframe.”

Shumaker said she likes the freedom of asking anything no matter how weird it might sound.

“Your body just goes through weird stuff and you get to talk about it with others. Someone always says, ‘I’ve had that happen,’” said Shumaker.

They learn from the questions others ask such as whether it’s safe to travel, go swimming or see a chiropractor. The women spend so much time hearing each other they build enough trust to tackle subjects providers can’t easily address in an office visit, said DeDonder.

Nor can they abbreviate an interactive education of 1,440 Group minutes into 200 minutes of individual appointments. The cumulative time spent in Group towers over individual appointments.

“Regardless of the format all patients have their questions answered, but Group has the advantage of learning things you wouldn’t think to ask,” said DeDonder. “They form friendships, a meaningful circle of support, and many times these relationships carry on beyond Group.”

Shumaker said moving around in the Army has taken her far from home but in Group she has met many in the same situation.

“I love the camaraderie, it’s a really neat community and being with people who know your story makes you feel at home,” Shumaker said.

During February’s meeting, the Group learned exercises to strengthen their core muscles as alternatives to sit-ups.

“I just have to lift my knee and hold it for 10 seconds a few times. It’s so easy that you can do it anywhere like when you’re watching TV,” said Shumaker.

Unlike an exam room, Group uses a large space where facilitators and patients can perform stretches and exercises. Even a physical therapist is invited to thoroughly engage them on topics specific to pregnant women.

Group Prenatal Care is encouraged for all first time moms but it may not work for everyone. Some women prefer privacy or just can’t carve out two hours for an office visit. For those open to the format, Group offers an intimate and in-depth education, said DeDonder.

That education is having positive results. DeDonder tracks outcomes with all patients who go through Group.

“The statistics show less preterm labor, less inductions and higher rates of successful breastfeeding,” said DeDonder.

For Shumaker making a home away from home also counts as Group success.

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