FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Blanchfield Army Community Hospital recently earned site accreditation for its Centering Pregnancy prenatal care program, officials announced Sept. 25.

"We're very proud of our team members for achieving this milestone. It represents their commitment to our expectant mothers and their babies as this achievement demonstrates they receive safe, quality care. We are honored to provide military service members and their family members the best prenatal experience available at our hospital," said Col. Anthony McQueen, hospital commander.

Centering Pregnancy is an alternative prenatal care program offered at Blanchfield and other military treatment facilities that offers pregnant women greater support and preparation than traditional prenatal care.

In addition to the prenatal health screenings recommended by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Centering Pregnancy adds interactive learning and community building. Centering brings pregnant women together in groups of eight to 12 women, for 10 sessions lasting about two hours each, to share in their pregnancy journey, guided by their healthcare team.

"A typical prenatal visit is just a one-on-one with a healthcare provider. It usually lasts about 20 minutes. They measure your tummy. They listen to the baby's heartbeat, order labs, order ultrasounds, make sure everything is good and then 20 minutes is pretty much over," said Heather Katz, Centering Pregnancy Program Coordinator at Blanchfield. "In Centering Pregnancy it's an entire group of women with similar due dates. You still get the one-on-one with the healthcare provider, but once that is over we all center-up in a group together."

Meeting at the same intervals as traditional prenatal care, Centering covers different pregnancy topics recommended by the Centering Health Institute each session. The interactive learning allows participants to connect and bond during their pregnancy establishing lasting support and friendship.

"CHI (Centering Health Institute) distributes a facilitator's guide that provides us with the educational content for group sessions. However, because the group participants lead the discussions, we can always touch on different topics if the group wants to," said Katz. The peer discussion in one of the benefits of Centering. In one session the expectant mothers discussed breast-feeding. As a participant raised a personal question, other participants revealed they had the same question but had not asked.

Representatives from the Centering Healthcare Institute visited Blanchfield and conducted interviews, reviewed records and collected information to complete their evaluation.

"There are nine essential elements. We're seeing that they conduct their group in a circle… There is respect for all the members in the group. They have two consistent facilitators, a provider facilitator and a staff facilitator. That they are facilitative, which means that they are not lecturing. They are having interactive activities and discussion. One of the things we're looking for is does it look more like a peer group or a classroom. And definitely today we saw it very much felt like a peer group," said Cynthia Wade, a consultant for Centering Healthcare Institute, after her observation of a Centering session as Blanchfield.

"They absolutely love it. And especially in the military, because they are far away from home and they don't have family, there is a great deal of bonding in the group. It's good for any kind of group but so particularly important in the military families," said Wade.

In 2016 Army Medicine entered an agreement with the Centering Healthcare Institute to offer Centering Pregnancy at 10 Army hospitals or medical centers. The program is voluntary at Blanchfield for women who want to participate in Centering.

Spc. Connie Ramirez, a telecommunications operations chief with the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division participated in Blanchfield's Centering Pregnancy while expecting her first child.

"I really loved it and talking with all the other ladies, basically just sharing anything to do with pregnancy. I've made some friends too, so, it's been really nice. I can always text them and ask questions about the baby. Even during the pregnancy we'd text each other and ask if something was normal," said Ramirez. Now that she has had her son, Ramirez said she has made lasting connections with the other women in her group. "I definitely talk to the other moms, like on Facebook. We've been to each other's house just to hang out or babysit."

Each Centering Pregnancy participant remains with the same group of women and healthcare providers for the duration of their prenatal care. New groups are formed each month as pregnancies are confirmed.

With accreditation achieved, Katz said she is excited to grow the hospital's program for more women.

Newly expectant mothers who are interested in participating in Centering Pregnancy should talk with their healthcare provider.