Group antenatal care still too little known, despite proven benefits

The Horizon2020 programme Group Care for the First 1000 Days is coming to an end. Researchers in seven countries, including three from the VUB, have worked with colleagues in the US to investigate the provision of antenatal care in participating countries. The study looked at group sessions rather than traditional monitoring through individual consultations, as is standard in Belgium. The research lasted four and a half years and was primarily intended to map strategies that can be applied to facilitate group care

Group antenatal monitoring is not new. The method has proved useful in the past and has been the subject of much research. "That research has shown that women who took part had at least equally good pregnancy outcomes, were more likely to breastfeed and developed a valuable social network that benefitted them after the birth," says VUB PhD researcher Astrid Van Damme. "Pregnancy is an exciting time and pregnant women have lots of questions. During group monitoring they receive a lot of useful information. Both women and care providers indicate greater satisfaction with this form of care than with individual consultation."

At the point that pregnancy is confirmed, women are invited to take part. The project focused on a 1,000-day monitoring period, until two years after the birth of the child. "These 1,000 days were deliberately chosen," says Van Damme. "Previous research has indicated that the first 1,000 days from conception are essential in the development of the foetus into a toddler. The participating groups consist of eight to 12 women. During and after pregnancy, they meet multiple times to discuss their pregnancy and motherhood. During each session, which is guided by two experts including at least one midwife, doctor or gynaecologist, not only do they receive individual medical advice, there are interactive lessons and they create a social network."

It’s clear that this is not an obvious system everywhere. Belgium has a strong individual tradition relating to antenatal care, while group monitoring is common in the Netherlands. "The project began with context analysis in all 26 participating sites across seven countries - Belgium, Ghana, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Suriname, the UK and South Africa," says Van Damme. "We then proceeded to organise group care at the sites, with support from our colleagues from Group Care Global in the UK and Centeringzorg Nederland, in order to evaluate the implementation. We developed blueprints that can be used in the participating countries to support the implementation of group care in their own organisations."

For the VUB, Professor Katrien Beeckman led on a sub-work package, focusing on necessary adjustments to the model and context to ensure successful implementation. "That’s also the focus of my PhD within the research," says Van Damme, who worked with fellow PhD candidate Florence Talrich on the project. "In the context of sustainable implementation, we set up Group Care Belgium: this includes organising training in Belgium and supporting organisations setting up group care."

The final meetings of the project will take place from 17-19 April, with Van Damme and 30 colleagues from all participating countries and the US attending. On 18 April there will be a visit to sites including Ghent. The following day, a number of other national and international stakeholders will be present and a sustainable roll-out of the model will be discussed based on the results.