FORT HOOD, Texas -- Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center's Pregnancy Centering Program adds an educational and emotional focus to typical prenatal care for its pregnant patients.

Pregnancy Centering programs, established by the Centering Health Institute in collaboration with the March of Dimes Foundation, are offered at civilian and military hospitals across the country to encourage pregnant women to adopt healthy behaviors during pregnancy. Centering sessions include individual prenatal care and small group interaction.

Centering groups at Darnall usually have 10-12 moms-to-be with similar due-dates. Beginning at the 16th week of pregnancy, groups meet for 10 two-hour sessions during their pregnancy. Each session starts with an individual, routine prenatal checkup and private consultation with a provider. The rest of the session time includes open group discussions and instruction on a variety of medical and lifestyle topics concerning pregnancy and childbirth. Spouses are encouraged to attend.

"I learned so much more from my Centering group than I could have ever gotten from a book or 15 minute sessions with a doctor at the clinic," said Sgt. Christina Pressley, from the 504th BFSB at West Fort Hood. She added she is happy she opted to attend the voluntary Centering program in addition to the hospital's Pregnancy PT program, which is mandatory for all pregnant active-duty Soldiers. "This is my first child and my family is in Mississippi, but now with everything I've learned and the support I've received from this group, the whole idea of having a baby feels less frightening and overwhelming."

Centering sessions cover a wide-range of topics such as dealing with back pain, getting better sleep, breastfeeding, options for childbirth and exercising. Often classes will have guest speakers for additional expert advice.

"Each Centering class is structured differently to better meet the needs and goals of the group," explained Kristyn Leftridge, Centering program coordinator. "There's no such thing as a dumb question, and frankly, no topic is taboo. We get a mixture of experienced moms along with the first time moms and information is shared both ways. I've yet to have a patient tell me she didn't learn anything from her Centering group."

The main advantage to the Centering program is the bonds that are forged between women in the groups and even across different groups.

Esperanza Carter, due to deliver her first baby in July, is one of the youngest members of her group and said she appreciates the support of all of her group members. "They've all been so wonderful to me. It's like having a whole bunch of new sisters," she added.

Many of the Centering "alumni" still stay in touch with their class coordinators and each other, forming weekly playgroups for their children and sharing photos on Facebook. Co-coordinator Sharon Shaw said she can attest to the strong bonding experience of the Centering program, as she has remained close friends with one of her earlier patients who has since moved away but is coming back next month with her child to visit Shaw.

"There are so many good stories that come out of Centering. In one of my groups, a patient was in a terrible car accident just weeks before she was due to deliver. She was in a lot of pain and couldn't walk. Her husband was deployed and so the other group members rallied around her, taking complete care of her until her husband could get home. And this was around Christmas when everyone is busy with their own families," Leftridge shared. "You can't receive that type of care and support from any traditional class. That's what sets Centering apart."

For more information about the Centering Program session at Darnall, call the Women's Health Center at (254) 288-8109. For general information on Centering Pregnancy, visit