Jan 12, 2024 Expecting Excellence: New Programs Empower Mothers During Pregnancy and Childbirth

woman in hospital bed making a heart with her two hands

Pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood are highly personal experiences that can be challenging—just as they can be awe-inspiring and joyous. To minimize the challenges and amplify the joy, RWJBarnabas Health (RWJBH) birthing hospitals have instituted two evidence-based programs that promote exceptional maternal care, honor parents’ choices, ensure the best possible outcomes and prioritize not only physical health but also mental and emotional well-being.

Many of the protocols at the heart of these programs are things that our women’s healthcare teams have been doing all along,” says Suzanne Spernal, DNP, APN-BC, RNC-OB, C-ONQS, Senior Vice President of Women’s Services at RWJBH. “But the new initiatives formalize specific measures as standards to help ensure that all families have access to the highest-quality and equitable maternity care at our birthing hospitals.”

The two programs—TeamBirth NJ and CenteringPregnancy—each focus on different phases of maternity and address specific needs to help enhance every mother’s experience.

Benefits from the programs quickly became clear after TeamBirth NJ was initiated in fall 2022 and CenteringPregnancy in early 2023. “We knew in implementing these programs that studies supported their value,” Spernal says. “But we’ve now seen their impact firsthand with the first groups of parents, and these moms have done amazingly well.”

Sharing Resources and Experiences

CenteringPregnancy is a unique model of prenatal care that takes place in a supportive group setting that brings together small circles of expectant parents with similar due dates to support healthy pregnancies and babies.

At each CenteringPregnancy meeting (presented in English and in Spanish), women learn new skills and connect with community resources that can assist with pregnancy and childcare. As part of the program, the women meet with doulas, lactation consultants, nutritionists and community health workers.

Developed by the Centering Healthcare Institute and available at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center (CBMC), Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and, soon, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick (RWJUH), the CenteringPregnancy model of care has been shown to result in better outcomes. These include lower rates of preterm birth, low birth weight and admissions to neonatal intensive care units, along with higher satisfaction with prenatal care.

“Moms who participate in CenteringPregnancy feel more empowered and informed about their health,” Spernal says. “We’ve seen directly how this can lead to improved outcomes and better birth experiences.”

Birth As a Team Effort

The TeamBirth NJ initiative is a national model for better communication among providers and patients. Core tenets include a focus on parents’ desires and an emphasis on shared decision making.

“The person giving birth and their support person are viewed as integral parts of the care team,” Spernal says. “Everyone on that team should have a clear understanding of the patient’s preferences, symptoms, experiences and expectations.”

The TeamBirth NJ initiative was launched at CBMC, Monmouth Medical Center and a third New Jersey hospital through the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute; Ariadne Labs, a joint center for health systems innovation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston; and the New Jersey Department of Health.

The initiative has been so successful that RWJBH has expanded the program to RWJUH and will soon offer it at Jersey City Medical Center as well.

“If you’re having a baby with us, we are with you every step of the way, from pregnancy to delivery to postpartum care and ongoing follow-ups,” Spernal says. “Birthing hospitals throughout the RWJBH system are using best practices to ensure great, healthy experiences during the entire maternal journey.”

Recognized for High Performance in Maternity Care

U.S. News & World Report, the global authority in hospital rankings and consumer advice, has recognized four RWJBarnabas Health (RWJBH) facilities among the 2023-2024 Best Hospitals for Maternity Care.

Among those designated as High Performing in maternity care are Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center, Monmouth Medical Center (MMC), Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset.

The annual evaluation looks at hospital data relating to uncomplicated (not high-risk) pregnancies and factors such as scheduled early deliveries, cesarean section rates in low-risk women, newborn complications, the rate of exclusive breast milk feeding and the option of having a vaginal birth after a C-section.

U.S. News evaluated nearly 680 hospitals for its 2023-2024 ratings. Fewer than half of all participating hospitals received a High Performing designation.

In their most recent ranking, Money and The Leapfrog Group listed RWJBH’s Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, RWJUH Somerset and MMC among just 259 hospitals to receive the organizations’ award for Best Hospitals for Maternity Care. Eligible hospitals were required to receive an A or B grade on the Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade assessment for spring 2022 and meet specific maternity care standards in areas such as early elective deliveries, cesarean birth, episiotomy, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) prophylaxis, bilirubin screening and high-risk deliveries.

Beyond Baby Blues

It’s normal to feel mildly downbeat after childbirth—a state sometimes called baby blues. But some women experience a more severe and long-lasting condition called perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, or PMAD. (“Perinatal” refers to the period from pregnancy through about a year after childbirth.) Maternal care providers at RWJBarnabas Health have pioneered the identification and treatment of patients experiencing PMAD, but the first step is to seek help if you experience symptoms like these:

  • Difficulty sleeping—or frequent oversleeping
  • Persistent anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Feeling guilty, worthless or ashamed
  • Frequently feeling sad or crying
  • Lack of interest or pleasure in once-enjoyable activities
  • Scary, racing or obsessive thoughts
  • Heightened anger, rage or irritability
  • Fear of not being a good mother or of being left alone with your baby

For more information, visit RWJBarnabas Health's Maternity Services.