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Group care on horizon for moms-to-be

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A new kind of prenatal care is on the horizon: A small group of expectant moms, due within weeks of one another, experience the thrills and chills, the checkups and tests, of pregnancy - together.

The aim of many prenatal-care groups is to have fewer but longer office visits (about 10 90-minute sessions vs. at least 16 20-minute sessions) and an environment in which pregnant women can develop supportive relationships with others who are expecting.Most sessions start during the women's second trimester. Meetings are every three to six weeks until Week 35, when they increase to weekly. The first half-hour is spent on routine health housekeeping - a doctor, nurse or midwife weighs each woman, checks her blood pressure, listens to the fetal heartbeat and tests a urine sample. (Some group-care programs limit members to those with low-risk pregnancies.)

The last hour focuses on education, with topics ranging from nutrition to self-esteem. Ginger Breedlove, director of Nurse Midwife Associates of Saint Luke's Hospital, in Kansas City, Mo., says this component is the key to group care's success. "The amount of information that can be presented in 90 minutes," she says, "is much greater than what can be covered during a regular visit to the ob-ste-trician."

"Pregnant women benefit from being with other pregnant women," says Sharon Schindler Rising, a nurse-midwife at StayWell Health Center, in Waterbury, Conn., who in 1993 pioneered the first Centering Pregnancy program (a prenatal-care group), which now has several affiliates around the country. "A common problem, such as round ligament pain - aches in the ligaments holding up the uterus - is less worrisome when other women are in the same boat," she says. First-time moms also benefit from the advice of group members expecting subsequent babies.

According to Centering Pregnancy, 96 percent of participating women say they prefer group over individual prenatal care. "The group helps me feel strong and in control. Those are feelings mothers can't do without," says Tricia Miller, 27, of Overland Park, Kan., who's expecting her third child.

For more information, write to Centering Pregnancy, 50 Mountain Rd., Chesire, CT 06410, or speak with your doctor or midwife.

Dist. by United Feature Syndicate Inc.