Part check up, part support group, the Centering Pregnancy program at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Downtown Health Plaza is helping to reduce the county’s staggering premature birth rate and improve the experience of pregnant women.
A national program offered at more than 700 sites across the nation, the program regularly brings together a group of young expectant mothers, usually eight to 10, who are due to deliver at roughly the same time.
The women build camaraderie at the gatherings by checking one another’s blood pressure and vital signs. They weigh themselves. A health care professional also gives the women physical exams. Meetings also include a group discussion led by a facilitator who guides the women in chats about nutrition, healthy living, newborn care and other pregnancy-related issues.
Mary Fitzmaurice, a certified nurse-midwife and coordinator of Centering Pregnancy at the Downtown Health Plaza, facilitated a session last Thursday morning. The Health Plaza, located on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, welcomes low income, uninsured and underinsured patients who pay for services on a sliding scale. The 1,300 pregnant women seen at the facility each year are extended an invitation to take part in Centering Pregnancy when they are 10-16 weeks along.
Fitzmaurice, who currently leads 10 of the Health Plaza’s Centering Pregnancy groups, said one of the goals of the program, which is funded with a March of Dimes grant, is to reduce premature births, which occur when mothers deliver before the 37th week. Premature births, which can be triggered by stress, smoking, drinking alcohol and/or infections, can result in a multitude of long and short term health complications for the infant. It is also a key cause of infant mortality.
“We want babies to grow up and have healthy long lives,” Fitzmaurice said. “If they’re born on time, when they’re supposed to be, they have a better shot at having that.”
November is Prematurity Awareness Month. Nearly a quarter of the infant mortality deaths in North Carolina last year were due to prematurity and low birth weight, according to a report by the Forsyth County Infant Mortality Reduction Coalition. While the infant mortality rate varies from year to year, Forsyth County has the highest overall infant mortality rate among the five most populous counties in the state. According to the report, the state had a 11.5 percent premature birth rate last year, while Forsyth county’s rate stood at 12.9 percent; the local infant mortality rate for African Americans is more than twice the rate for white infants.
Fitzmaurice said the premature rate for the more than 300 women who’ve taken part in Centering Pregnancy sessions is six percent. According to Fitzmaurice, the groups, which may include both first-time moms-to-be and those who’ve given birth before, encourages women to make healthy choices and helps them relieve some of the anxiety and stress associated with pregnancy by sharing their experiences. During last Thursday’s session, the group discussed some of the things they may experience during labor.
“A lot of women have a lot of fear of what might happen to their body when they go in to have a baby,” said Fitzmaurice, “and that fear, that lack of understanding, it kind of makes it scarier. By understanding what’s normal to happen in your body and what the process is, you don’t have to fear it and there’s a certain pattern it follows and it is going to end and you can have a baby.”
Victoria Hayes, who is set to deliver her thirdchild, said she’s experienced reassurance through Centering Pregnancy sessions. There are some aspects of motherhood, such as breastfeeding, that Hayes has yet to experience, so the sessions have allowed her to talk to others who’ve had such experiences.
“I felt like I was kind of doing it on my own, and now I feel like there are other girls who are doing basically the same thing as me,” she said. “It’s a little more comforting.”
Sisters Angelica Nunez and Inez Nunez, both scheduled to deliver their second child, have due dates only two days apart. Angelica Nunez took the class during her first pregnancy and found it so beneficial that she recommended it to her sister.
“I was pretty scared because I don’t know about anything,” she said of her first pregnancy. “So when I would come to class, it would help me understand what I’m feeling and how I’m feeling and how to handle it.”
Inez Nunez said this pregnancy has been less stressful, thanks to the sessions, which have empowered her to ask informed questions of her doctor more freely.
“With the information that I get, I take it in and I start questioning certain things that happened during my first pregnancy,” she said. “Now I do ask more questions and comment on a lot of things.”