Research News

Pregnant women less likely to gain excessive weight when prenatal care is communal

Women with access to group prenatal care may have the edge on maintaining a healthy weight during pregnancy, compared to those who receive traditional prenatal care, according to the results of an innovative new Vanderbilt study.

Researchers found that women who participated in prenatal care delivered in a group setting as opposed to the traditional approach—which typically involves a series of regular one-on-one visits with a healthcare provider—saw a 22 percentage point reduction in the risk of excessive gestational weight gain.

The beneficial effect of group prenatal care was even more pronounced for women who were overweight prior to pregnancy, who saw a 28 percentage points reduction in the risk of excessive gestational weight gain.

The group prenatal care sessions were based on the CenterPregnancy® model that integrates health assessment, education and support in groups of 8-12 women of similar gestational ages who typically meet 10 times over the course of their pregnancies.

Emily Tanner Smith
Emily Tanner-Smith (Steve Green/Vanderbilt University)

The study, which included 393 women receiving prenatal care at an independent faith-based community health center in Tennessee, was led by Emily E. Tanner-Smith, research assistant professor of human and organizational development at Vanderbilt Peabody College for education and human development. These results build on Tanner-Smith’s previous studies, which showed additional positive outcomes associated with receiving group prenatal care versus traditional individually delivered care.

“Group prenatal care yields many positive outcomes, and we were interested to find that one of them was more successful weight management for the participants,” Tanner-Smith said. “The group setting seemed to foster a sense of community that helped the women feel empowered to face the challenges of pregnancy. They had access to shared knowledge, and over time developed a powerful support network they might not have had otherwise.”

Tanner-Smith, who conducts her research at the Peabody Research Institute, conducted a related study of 6,155 women who received prenatal care at five sites in Tennessee. In that study she found group prenatal care reduced the risk of very low birth weight and fetal demise. Another prior study by Tanner-Smith showed that group care improved the odds of women breastfeeding their babies at the time of discharge from the hospital.

The complete results of the current study were recently published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal. Co-authors of the paper were Katarzyna T. Steinka-Fry, research specialist at the Peabody Research Institute, and Sabina B. Gesell, professor of social sciences and health policy at Wake Forest School of Medicine. The study was supported by the Tennessee Governor’s Office of Children’s Care Coordination, the Tennessee Department of Health, and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.