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Yellowknife prenatal program offers support in numbers

Some expectant parents in Yellowknife are taking part in the Centering Pregnancy Program, a pilot project that could lead to healthier outcomes for mothers and babies.

Centering Pregnancy Program brings expectant parents together, improves outcomes

Physician Katie Kohle guides a Centering Pregnancy Program session in Yellowknife. Participants in the program are all at a similar stage of their pregnancy. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

A pilot prenatal program in Yellowknife is delivering new support for expecting parents, and could lead to healthier outcomes for mothers and babies.

Unlike most prenatal appointments — usually short, one-on-one consultations — Yellowknife's Centering Pregnancy Program involve groups of expecting parents (all due around the same time) meeting together with health care practitioners.

"Oh my word," was Vanessa Frers initial reaction during her first such prenatal class in December. "We are sitting in a group, awkwardly."

Some research suggests the program could reduce the number of pre-term births, and reduce rates of postpartum depression. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

But Frers' reservations, and the awkwardness, didn't last long. She's now 25 weeks into her pregnancy and enjoying the program.

"It's been really neat to learn all the different parts of pregnancy with these other women. You kind of walk out less scared of what to expect."

The program's patient-centred model was developed in the United States by the Centering Health Institute. There are now more than 400 Centering Pregnancy Programs being offered in the U.S., with a "healthy handful" of them in Canada, according to the Institute.

Extra time and support

The program prides itself on offering women space for discussion and peer support. Participants are expected to help set the agenda. 

"Normal symptoms for the stage in pregnancy, signs of pre-term labour, breastfeeding, supports during labour — all those sorts of things," said Yellowknife family physician Katie Kohle. 

Yellowknife family physician Katie Kohle, left, with the Centering Pregnancy co-ordinator Teresa Patzer, right. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

"But within the sessions it is the women themselves who set the priorities for how in-depth they want to get."

During the two-hour monthly meetings (bi-weekly, later in pregnancy), women take their care into their own hands by recording their weight and blood pressure. There's also private time with a nurse or doctor for belly checks and listening to the baby's heart beat.

The Centering Health Institute says under the program, mothers get "10 times" more time with their healthcare provider. According to Kohle, there's greater opportunity for connection.

"I have gotten to know the patients that I am helping to care for a little bit better than I do in usual care," she said.

Some research has suggested that such extra time and support has measurable impact — a Yale University clinical trial found the program reduced the risk of pre-term birth by 33 per cent. Other research shows reduced rates of postpartum depression, and increased breastfeeding. Such results save the U.S. health care system millions of dollars, according to the Centering Healthcare Institute.

In total, there are 18 participants in the Yellowknife pilot, with six more starting a new group this month. The goal is to continue to enroll 10 to 12 women and their partners or support people, each month.

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