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What is Centering Pregnancy?

With her first pregnancy, mom of two Kira Mudd felt like she didn’t have much time to discuss questions and concerns with her OB / GYN during her prenatal visits. "The doctor would come in for five minutes and have to move on to the next patient," Mudd says.

So when she learned she was pregnant with her second child (who was born in January 2020), Mudd decided to try a different type of prenatal care called centering pregnancy.

Aimed at providing a more supportive experience for moms-to-be, centering pregnancy is a prenatal care approach that uses small group sessions instead of one-on-one doctor appointments. And in recent years, it's become increasingly popular in the U.S.

What’s more, research shows that the centering pregnancy approach can offer benefits for women as well as their partners. Here’s a closer look at what it is and how it works, plus how to tell if it's the right prenatal care option for you.

What is centering pregnancy?

Centering pregnancy is a group-based model of prenatal care. Think of it like standard prenatal care combined with a really thorough pregnancy and childbirth class.

Instead of seeing a doctor or midwife individually, women participating in centering pregnancy care attend regular, provider-led group meetings. The meetings are designed to address all aspects of wellness during pregnancy, not just your physical health.

Centering pregnancy groups usually consist of eight to 12 moms-to-be with similar due dates, as well as their support partners. Starting around month 3 of pregnancy, the groups meet every two to four weeks for sessions lasting 90 to 120 minutes.

During each session, you'll spend a few minutes checking in individually with your provider. She'll review your blood pressure, weight and other health data and take a look at your growing belly. You can also talk about any individual concerns you might be having.

After that, the focus shifts to talking as a group about the topics that can help you feel your best during pregnancy, and prepare for labor and the postpartum period.

Over the course of a pregnancy, centering pregnancy groups cover topics like:

  • Dealing with pregnancy side effects and discomforts
  • Preparing for giving birth
  • Eating well and exercising for pregnancy
  • Stress management
  • Breastfeeding
  • Postpartum contraception

What are the benefits of the centering pregnancy program?

Pregnancy, childbirth and caring for a newborn all come with seemingly endless questions about what’s normal or healthy and what you should or shouldn’t do. It's also incredibly emotional, and dealing with all of those feelings can sometimes be overwhelming.

Centering pregnancy is intended to help moms-to-be feel more supported and empowered during their pregnancies. Even though you're part of a group, you end up getting more time with your provider overall. And the group setting offers opportunities to share your thoughts and concerns with women who are likely going through the same things you are.

“I was able to build a relationship with my provider, and every single worry I had was addressed,” says Mudd, who notes that her midwife would end each session dispelling pregnancy and labor myths that group members were wondering about. "Instead of Google, I was able to get medical feedback and information face-to-face with a medical professional," she says.

It's also a chance to form lasting relationships that can bolster you well past your pregnancy. Having fellow new moms to text (even at 3 a.m.!) Or meet up with for stroller walks can go a long way towards helping you feel a little more normal during the hazy postpartum period. Forming those bonds can also help you navigate challenges as your baby grows - from something to sleep regression to toddler tantrums.

Health-wise, both moms and babies benefit from centering pregnancy, too. Research shows that the care model is associated with:

  • Higher birth weights
  • Higher breastfeeding rates
  • Less chance of preterm birth
  • Better management of pregnancy-related conditions, such as gestational diabetes

What should you know before joining a centering pregnancy program?

Some experts say that centering pregnancy can be a great option for women who are looking to be more active participants in their pregnancy, have access to more information and boost their social support networks.

And it can be effective for low- or high-risk pregnancies, although if you're dealing with high risk factors or a complication, your provider will decide whether extra care is needed to manage those problems. “I was considered high risk because of my age and because we used IVF, and I also have a history of fibroids. So my OB monitored me closely, ”says Margo Starrico, who gave birth in January 2020.

Depending on the situation, your OB / GYN might also recommend additional one-on-one appointments with a specialist, like a maternal-fetal medicine doctor.

Health status aside, there are other things worth considering before you decide to go the centering pregnancy route. For one, there's some loss of privacy, and you need to feel comfortable listening and speaking in a group setting. If you're the type of person who prefers not to talk in front of people you don't know very well, especially about your health or body, centering pregnancy may not be right for you.

Other factors to keep in mind: Appointments are set for the group at regular times (say, Tuesdays at 5:00 p.m.). So, it's important to make sure you don't have scheduling conflicts that could prevent you from missing a session.

You'll also need to have child care lined up if you have another child already. Because of the length of the group visits, it's often impractical to bring along other young children.

If you need help weighing your options or have other questions, talk to your current gynecologist. She'll help you consider the pros and cons and may also be able to point you towards specific centering pregnancy care groups in your area.

How to find a centering pregnancy program near you

Centering Pregnancy care is currently offered in 44 states, in more than 600 care facilities nationwide. Start your search for a local program by visiting the Centering Healthcare Institute’s (CHI) map, which lists centering pregnancy locations in each state where it’s offered.

If you think you’d like to give centering pregnancy a try, start by talking with your practitioner. There's a good chance she’s up-to-date on where group care is offered in your area. You can also research the types of prenatal care offered at local hospitals or large group practices.

From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You're Expecting. Health information on this site is based on peer-reviewed medical journals and highly respected health organizations and institutions including ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), as well as the What to Expect books by Heidi Murkoff.

  • What to expect when you're expecting, 5th Edition, Heidi Murkoff.
  • WhatToExpect.com, Your Guide to Childbirth Education Classes, November 2018.
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Group Prenatal Care, March 2018.
  • National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Group Based Prenatal Care in a Low-and High Risk Population in the Netherlands: A Study Protocol for a Stepped Wedge Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial, November 2016.
  • National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Improved Outcomes for Hispanic Women with Gestational Diabetes Using the Centering Pregnancy © Group Prenatal Care Model, February 2017.
  • National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, A Systematic Overview of the Literature Regarding Group Prenatal Care for High-Risk Pregnant Women, September 2017.
  • Andrei Rebarber, M.D., Obstetrician-Gynecologist, Maternal Fetal Medicine Associates, New York, NY, and member of the What to Expect Medical Review Board.
  • Vandana Devgan, Director of Engagement, Centering Healthcare Institute, Boston, MA.
  • Kira Mudd, Corvallis, OR.
  • Margo Starrico, Philadelphia, PA.
  • Centering Healthcare Institute, Locate Centering Sites, 2020.