Baby Care

Experiencing Pregnancy Together

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. — Prenatal care is considered by health experts to be one of the strongest guarantees of increasing the likelihood of birthing healthy babies and positive birth outcomes in America.

The Center for American Progress describes prenatal care as the most widely recognized form of “care, pregnancy education, and support” for expectant parents.

What You Need To Know

  • CenteringPregnancy is an alternative to traditional means of prenatal education
  • Group settings offer open discussion alongside other pregnant people with similar due dates
  • Bailey and Martin Labra chose the class as a way to learn more about their pregnancy as other couples learn more about theirs

While traditional models for receiving medical advice during pregnancy use one-on-one visits with an OBGYN, others design the process of learning about pregnancies in an open-group setting.

The latter is the route Bailey and Martin Labra chose when they found out a baby boy was on the way this February. When Bailey Labra, 30, explored her options, she said the mainstream style of sit-down, closed-room appointments with a provider didn’t appeal to her and husband. She said it was by happenstance she heard of UNC Health classes with other prospective moms and dads like them called CenteringPregnancy.

“(They) are going through the same thing at the same time and having somebody to ask questions. Whether you can think of all your questions, you’ve got other people that will have a question or two, as well,” Bailey Labra said.

Martin Labra said being an involved father, not only being present on the day of birth, is of great importance to him.

“I don’t just wanna show up,” he said.

According to the Centering Health Institute, North Carolina has 24 CenteringPregnancy centers and nearly 500 centers nationwide. 

The UNC CenteringPregnancy blueprint allows a midwife to be the facilitator of parental education through an interactive lens for expecting parents, like the Labras, who can undergo health screenings as they prepare for their baby with others doing the same.  

The Labras said love can be a funny thing, especially when you are starting a family.

“I guess it’s something that, you know, like, I’ve… I don’t know what to expect,” Martin Labra said. “For real, like, I have no idea.” 

The couple said they often talk during long walks about expectations of the future, what to name their baby and how to decorate the child’s room.

“I’m not really scared, I’m nervous,” Martin Labra said. “I’m going to mess something up or I am not going to do something I should, the way I should.” 

On the other hand, Bailey Labra bounces with excitement at the thought of becoming a mom.

“It’s what I’ve always, always wanted to do,” she said.

The opportunity to embrace her enthusiasm is at least one reason why Bailey Labra said joined the CenteringPregnancy program led by Shannon Maaske.

Maaske is a certified nurse midwife who runs the monthly and later biweekly two-hour pregnancy workshop where women build comfort through empathy.

During any given session, you will hear soon-to-be parents sharing questions.

“They get to know people who are going through what they are going through at the same time they are going through it. So you don’t have to feel alone,” Maaske said.

That shared experience is at the core of the course. 

The classes typically run two hours, each covering basics like belly checks and blood pressure testing and featuring visits from specialists, like a doula.

Maaske said it’s amazing how much couples begin trusting what to do because of the free-flowing format of the group settings.

“You feel more capable and stronger with what you can do when you’ve got other people around you who are empathizing with you, going through it with you and supporting you,” Maaske said.

An in-depth review of multiple studies by a committee with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists shows preterm birth rates — when a child is born before a due date — were up to a third lower for women in group prenatal care vs. individual prenatal care.

“Just as human beings we are looking for connection. So to bring connection seems to bring a sense of safety,” Maaske said.

The certified nurse midwife said they can also pick up ideas with their partner, which often deepens a level of understanding. Bailey Labra agrees.

“It’s definitely helpful because they are learning alongside of you, seeing things more from your point of view because they’re not the pregnant one,” Bailey Labra said.

Sree Pattabiraman, 32, is a mother who graduated from the program and had a child within the last year. When Pattabiraman returned to her work as a lead technical writer for a cloud-based networking devices company, she said she felt comfortable knowing what to do away from home.

“I feel overall it gives the wholesome experience of compartmentalizing things and taking each day as it comes… but when things get overwhelming it is OK to reassure myself that it is OK to feel that way and to power through it,” Pattabiraman said.

Pattabiraman said after she learned she was pregnant, she and her husband, Sri Ram Pattabiraman, explored their options. Sree Pattabiraman was intrigued by the midwifery program, so she talked to a midwife.

She said having a supportive and understanding partner who is willing to take the initiative when a mom’s mental load becomes too much can make a world of difference. 

“I was so convinced after that because it was exactly what I was looking for and it worked out perfectly,” she said. “As a first-time mom, I wanted a very empowering birth experience. I wanted my partner to be an active part of it, which CenteringPregnancy was about because they make sure to involve your partner in things.”

“They are getting educated with you, so you make a great team for when the baby is ready to make their entry,” Pattabiraman said.

From a mother whose child is already born to an expectant mother who is waiting for her baby to be born, there is much to be excited about.

“I guess I’m excited to see a little creature that’s half him and half me, hopefully has the good parts of me and the good parts of him,” Bailey Labra said.

Martin could not help but smile. “I second that,” he said.

The University of North Carolina Health midwives group will be celebrating its 100th CenteringPregnancy class at the end of November. The certified nurse midwife said the services should be covered by insurance the same as more traditional prenatal care. Other health networks, like the Duke Medical System, offer similar pregnancy health care options.

Couples usually start participating between 12 and 16 weeks with less time in between sessions the further along a woman gets into pregnancy.

“It gives them tips and tricks of things that they can do to help support their partners,” Maaske said. 

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