In this article...
Why Pregnancy Support Matters
Finding the Right Pregnancy Support Group
- Pregnancy timing and due dates
- Topics and support style
- Health status and shared experience
Options for Pregnancy Group Support
- In-person or online
- Group Size
- Peer or expert-facilitated
Why Pregnancy Support Matters
While cultural traditions and community support may sometimes sound like a “nice-to-have,” research has continued to validate what birthing people and their care providers have been saying for generations - social support matters! - for clinical outcomes and for the functional and emotional well-being of families.
On a broad level, social connection boosts safety, timely care, and guidance for new parents. Historically, access to quality food, shelter from the elements, and medicinal treatment was dependent on community members’ help. Even today, disparities due to systemic racism and other social determinants of health have shown how culturally matched care, based on patient-provider shared experiences, can make impactful differences in outcomes and satisfaction. This shows just how much social dynamics matter. And as recently as 2018, ACOG identified “family and friends” as important, practical “care team members” in assisting and monitoring ongoing maternal health and infant care success.
On a more individual level, your immediate health reflects what’s happening in your brain, your organs, and your entire nervous system. Hormones and neurotransmitters like cortisol, adrenaline and oxytocin play roles in daily functions like digestion and immune response, but also in the emotional experiences of anxiety or well-being, fear or calm, and isolation or belonging. These important chemical messengers are influenced by social interaction - both positive and negative. Receiving comforting touch, encouraging words, and compassionate attention from someone you trust can literally calm your stress response and activate the regions of your brain and pathways of your central nervous system that optimize health elsewhere in your body.
Finding the Right Pregnancy Support Group
There are many ways to find social support during pregnancy - a support group is a popular choice for people who want to connect with other pregnant individuals and their families as they navigate the physical, mental and emotional changes that come with carrying, birthing, and nurturing a new addition to the family.
Choosing the right pregnancy support group might be dependent on your location, schedule, specific interests or health history. Maybe you are interested in learning a lot from more experienced parents, or you’ve experienced a health challenge that would be easier to navigate with some kind and trustworthy support. Whatever your goals, there is probably a great pregnancy support group for you! Below are some of the ways pregnancy cohorts might be organized - consider if any of these categories feel important as you explore options for your pregnant and postpartum connections.
Pregnancy timing and due dates
The gestational age or estimated due dates of a pregnancy is one of the most common ways to group a cohort of pregnant peers. This is convenient because people in the group will be at a similar stage of pregnancy or parenting at the time they meet up, or at a comparable point in their planning and prenatal care.
While every participant will have their own unique experience, they may also share a sense of excitement, sympathy and relief as the milestones of pregnancy, birth and postpartum pass, the group moving through them at approximately the same pace. On the other hand, there can be great benefits to meeting with someone who is a few months ahead of you in their journey, or in sharing your prenatal experience with a willing listener who has recently conceived.
Whether or not you share a timeline with your pregnancy support group peers, what is important is that the space is supportive and not comparative or competitive - everyone’s body, health, values and experience is different. A shared timeline is a starting place for solidarity and understanding, and the added benefit of celebrating your growing families together.
Topics and support style
What is the goal of a given pregnancy support group you are considering? Are there facilitated topics? A round table discussion? Does every individual check in at each meeting, or do they take turns opening the conversation? What about multimedia, video connection, and texting?
Pregnancy support groups come in many styles of support as well as information exchange. Some will be more formalized and structured, while others will be very casual. Topics or activities that might be included could include:
- Speakers sharing education on pregnancy health, breastfeeding, etc.
- Guided meditations, journaling activities, or other mindful exercises
- Casual conversation, open brainstorming, ice breakers
- Specific discussion or demos of skills, tools or techniques
- Birth stories, debriefs, or holding space for someone’s vulnerability
- Breakout groups, scheduled activities, “homework”, resources
Health status and shared experience
Some of the more intriguing ongoing research around social support in pregnancy is how it may support individuals facing a health challenge or other difficulty. “Centering pregnancy” care refers to medical care that groups pregnant women by gestational age but also by specific medical considerations or goals, such as:
- A goal to quit smoking tobacco
- Navigating gestational diabetes
- Recovering from substance dependency
- Carrying twins, or planning for a VBAC
Similarly, when groups of pregnant people share life experience, they may offer one another additional solidarity and empathy in vulnerable moments. Faith and culture can be powerful bonds, but particularly for marginalized groups and people who have suffered unwarranted challenges due to societal inequities, these connections can be powerful foundations for mental and emotional well being both in pregnancy and parenting.
- Veterans and other survivors of violence
- BIPOC individuals and families navigating the challenges of systemic racism
- Birthing people and families of LGBTQ+ identity or orientations
- People with disabilities
Options for Pregnancy Group Support
You deserve options for pregnancy support that address your unique needs, goals and preferences. The process of perinatal care, birth planning, and simply being pregnant can be more fun, fulfilling and free of concern when you have familiar faces - and ears - you can trust, vent to, commiserate with and congratulate! Want to know what that might look like for you? Read on for some of the choices you have in choosing pregnancy support.
In-person or online
Meeting up with a friend for a walk is different from calling them on the phone, but both activities strengthen the bond of your friendship and help you to feel the care and support that you both receive from your connection. Similarly, pregnancy support groups can be accessed in a few ways.
Meeting up in person can be lots of fun and will of course require that you share a geographic location and mobility to a shared destination. Unfortunately, many of these options are currently limited due to public health measures in response to COVID-19 but outside and small group options may still be available. Groups that meet up face-to-face tend to be either for formal education (like a workshop), physical labor practice (like practicing comfort measures), or for an activity like brunch or light hiking.
The logistics of such activities may present obstacles to the number of participants or frequency of meeting, but whether it’s in a formal support group or among some pregnant friends, live interaction certainly comes with the social benefits of eye contact, friendly physical contact and any exercise or movement that comes with the event.
Online pregnancy support groups are incredibly popular for their convenience, flexibility, and ease of sharing resources. They are also considered a safe option for people regardless of their health status or risk factors. Online interaction, usually via video conferencing, may be offered in combination with live meetups or additional contact, such as text threads. There are also a number of online forums but whether they are considered a focused “pregnant support group” really depends on what you are looking for - consider the following aspects of online options as they provide dramatically different experiences:
- Public or private space - can anyone join? Is the group continuously the same people?
- Cost - is there a subscription fee, membership due, or free attendance? Is it covered by insurance or part of another health group, program or initiative?
- Is it a live interaction, or a rolling open forum for writing, texting, etc.
- Is there a regularly scheduled meetup time? Is it consistent, or does it vary in terms of frequency, duration and types of offerings?
- Mission or culture - is there specific approach, idea, shared experience or attitude that the group is focused on or built around?
A group’s function and presence is highly impacted by its size, as well as the considerations above. Whether you are part of a messaging platform or a weekly video call, the number of people participating can make a big difference on your experience, and what kinds of benefits you receive from participating. A smaller group of ten or fewer people has a very different dynamic than 20, 200, or 2,000! How might the following be impacted by group size? Consider your interests and goals and how a small group might serve your pregnancy journey differently than a large one:
- Sense of privacy and confidentiality
- Likelihood of engagement when responding or starting a conversation
- Focused nature of topics or conversations
- Consistency and ease of scheduling
- Diversity of experiences
- Unique, in-depth relationships
- Managing discomfort, group changes, and post-pregnancy future dynamics
Peer or professionally facilitated
Perhaps one of the most notable differences in the options we’ve discussed will be the way a pregnancy support group is facilitated. Any group activity benefits from a bit of leadership from a willing and enthused member. Whether that person is a perinatal expert, a medical provider, a non-medical birth-working professional like a doula or childbirth educator, the lady down the street or a social media connection, their job is to help the group feel comfortable, engaged, supported and safe.
- A peer facilitator might be another mother, someone who benefitted from pregnancy support in the past and decided to create the same for others. It could also be someone who is actively pregnant and looking to create support themselves. This can be a wonderful option in that it may be more relaxed than a clinical group setting overseen by a medical staff person, or include the type of off-the-cuff connection and authentic companionship that come with casual friendly spaces. What that peer facilitator brings in terms of structure, experience and group cohesion will vary widely between personalities, paid v. unpaid circles, and meetup activities, etc.
- A professional who facilitates a non-medical pregnancy support group (distinct from patient cohorts who receive prenatal medical care together) might be a doula, health educator, home visitor, yoga instructor, etc. These are usually individuals who are passionate about the importance of relationships in health outcomes and who enjoy connecting with and uplifting others. They are usually skilled teachers, counselors and listeners, and often have specific birth and pregnancy expertise from their experience working with other families.
The pregnancy support option that is right for you will depend on your goals, budget and lifestyle. We hope this overview will help you find your perfect pregnancy support group.
- Takeshita, Junko et al. “Association of Racial/Ethnic and Gender Concordance Between Patients and Physicians With Patient Experience Ratings.” JAMA network open vol. 3,11 e2024583. 2 Nov. 2020, doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.24583
- Greenwood, Brad N et al. “Physician-patient racial concordance and disparities in birthing mortality for newborns.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol. 117,35 (2020): 21194-21200. doi:10.1073/pnas.1913405117
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- Chen, L., Crockett, A.H., Covington-Kolb, S. et al. Centering and Racial Disparities (CRADLE study): rationale and design of a randomized controlled trial of centeringpregnancy and birth outcomes. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 17, 118 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-017-1295-7
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