The Intervention that Improves Family Planning, Breastfeeding and Birth Preparedness

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By: Jody Lori, Associate Dean for Global Affairs & Director of the WHO/PAHO Collaborating Center, University of Michigan

Jody Lori University of michigan nurse WHO PAHO ghana group antenatal care women empowerment improved outcomes health center women's group maternal health midwife

The Maternal and Newborn Health Conference in Mexico City was motivating, energizing, and stimulated lots of conversation and thought about the way forward as we transform our approaches to maternal and newborn care in the post MDG era. Coming directly on the heels of the launch – just last month – of the Sustainable Development Goals, we heard about the progress we have made and the challenges we face as we work to end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 and reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births as part of SDG# 3: to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

ghana group antenatal care women empowerment improved outcomes health center women's group maternal health midwife

There was great interest and discussion following the session on group antenatal care (ANC).  As we know, over the past decade we have placed a great deal of focus onstrengthening facilities to provide Comprehensive and Basic Emergency Obstetric and Newborn Care. This effort has helped to dramatically decrease the number of maternal deaths in low-resource areas of the world.  I believe group ANC has the potential to play a central role in ensuring continued progress in maternal and newborn outcomes.  We know providers spend very little time with women during ANC, efficiency is poor, and quality is often low.

Research has shown that groups, especially women’s groups, provide solidarity and networks, educate and empower, and serve as a catalyst for action.  Findings from a study we carried out in Ghana found women who participated in group care demonstrated:

  • Improved birth preparedness and complication readiness
  • Improved understanding of danger signs
  • Increased intent for uptake of family planning methods
  • Greater understanding of the components of breastfeeding/lactational amenorrhea for birth spacing
  • Improved health literacy (greater understanding of how to operationalize health education messages)
  • Increased intent for postpartum follow-up

Additionally, the midwives providing group ANC found the process improved communication through the use of picture cards, enhanced information sharing and peer support for women in the group and improved their understanding of patient concerns.

Group Antenatal Care offers an opportunity to increase quality and improve maternal and newborn outcomes. Harnessing the power of groups to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals would be a laudable achievement.

Let’s continue the conversations started at the Mexico City conference and put into action the evidence-based practices, disruptive innovations and scientific discoveries needed to end preventable maternal and newborn deaths everywhere in the world.

To learn more about the outcomes of this project, access these articles: