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CHI's Centering Pregnancy offers support, community

CHI St. Alexius Health Dickinson's Centering Pregnancy Prenatal Care Program was named Outstanding Rural Health Program by the Center for Rural Health at its Dakota Conference Banquet, Wednesday - owed in part to its extensive support system. Dr....

CHI St. Alexius Health Dickinson's Centering Pregnancy Prenatal Care Program was named Outstanding Rural Health Program by the Center for Rural Health during the Dakota Conference Banquet, Wednesday. (Submitted photo)
CHI St. Alexius Health Dickinson's Centering Pregnancy Prenatal Care Program was named Outstanding Rural Health Program by the Center for Rural Health during the Dakota Conference Banquet, Wednesday. (Submitted photo)

CHI St. Alexius Health Dickinson's Centering Pregnancy Prenatal Care Program was named Outstanding Rural Health Program by the Center for Rural Health at its Dakota Conference Banquet, Wednesday - owed in part to its extensive support system.

Dr. Thomas Arnold, an obstetrician/gynecologist at CHI, initiated the program about five years ago when he heard about Centering Pregnancy at the North Dakota Society OBGYN meeting.

The program was originally designed to deal with workforce shortage.

"They had a shortage of providers relative to the number of patients that needed to be seen ... We kind of had some similar things going on out here. We had a lot more patients - that was in the middle of the oil boom," he said.

Centering Pregnancy allows patients to form bonds with other people in the area going through a common experience.

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"I thought it would be an excellent program for this area because this is a program where they come into prenatal care and the sessions that they're in, the group that they're in, is a group that has all the same delivery months, so these patients and their significant others are going through their whole pregnancy with people that are in the same boat," Arnold said.

Arnold said those connections are the most rewarding aspect of the program.

"They develop a really strong relationship with the rest of the group to the point where sometimes when they go into labor, they'll text the other people in the group. ... Kind of a magic happens. It's really good to see it," he said.

Brittany Wheeling was in the first group of women in the program. This year is her second time participating. She said she has kept in contact with people from her first group and intends to do the same with those in her current group.

The support the program provides is especially beneficial to patients who recently moved to the area.

"We had a lot of mobile patients or temporary patients or transient patients or just new patients here that did not have a lot of family here, did not know a lot of people," Arnold said.

Wheeling has come across many of these people in the program.

"Both of the times I've been in Centering, there have been numerous people who have moved into the state of North Dakota who don't know many people. It's a good support group for them to find someone that's going through the same thing that they're going through," Wheeling said.

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Patients have the same number of visits as traditional prenatal care, and they do the same number of lab tests. However, Arnold said he believes the patients in the program learn a lot more than traditional patients.

"The nice thing about it is we get to collectively spend probably 10 times more time with the patients than we do with our traditional visits, and we probably give 10 times more information to them," he said.

Wheeling agrees.

"Dr. Arnold and his staff are very knowledgeable, and you just get a lot more information in the Centering group than you do on just a traditional visit with Dr. Arnold. You get to spend a lot more time with them, learn a lot more," she said.

Pediatricians and lactation nurses even visit the session to provide information on circumcision, vaccinations, appointment schedules and lactation.

The sessions are designed so that the group has a facilitated discussion related to the stage of their pregnancy.

Early on, Arnold said the focus on gestation and discuss genetic testing, healthy lifestyle. Later on, they focus on fetal development and discuss lactation. Near the end, they talk about delivery - what to expect, what to do and how to manage pain.

By having these discussions, women who are already parents can provide their experience.

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"In the Centering sessions, we collectively talk to the whole group, and that actually stirs up and causes discussion brought on by the patients so that they can get a better understanding of it," Arnold said. "What we're finding is that patients who've had babies before ... they actually do a lot to educate the ones having their first babies. Because they are experienced, what they say is pretty much trusted by the other patients."

Wheeling said, for example, that another woman in the group might have tried a different sleeping position that worked well for her that she then shares it with the group for them to try.

She said the group is helpful for any expectant parents, no matter how many children they've had.

"This is my second one, and I feel like it's just as beneficial as the first time I went through it," she said.

Patients sign up for the program during their first prenatal visit with Arnold. During their sessions, patients check their own weight, blood pressure, gestational age determination. Then, one by one, they go into a private room to measure their belly, listen for the baby's heartbeat and answer any confidential questions. When those are all complete, they rejoin the group for facilitated discussions.

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