Pregnant women should gather their other pregnant friends and plan a girls' outing to the obstetrician if they want improved birth, neonatal, and reproductive outcomes, according to new research published in The American Journal of Public Health.

Negative birth outcomes, such as preterm birth and low birth weight, are the leading causes of infant morbidity and mortality in the U.S. This is especially true among women from socially disadvantaged groups who face reproductive and sexual health disparities. But results from a study led by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health suggest group prenatal care can reduce these disparities and improve health outcomes.

With group prenatal care, women were 33 percent less likely to deliver babies who were small for their gestational age when compared to women who received individual care. These women also had a lower risk of preterm and low birth weight. Attending group prenatal care sessions were also associated with fewer days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The more group sessions the women attended, the less likely they were to have an adverse birth outcome, to become pregnant again soon after giving birth, or to catch an STD.

"Few clinical interventions have had an impact on birth outcomes," said Jeannette R. Ickovics, lead author of the study, in a statement. "Group prenatal care is related to improved health outcomes for mothers and babies, without adding risk. If scaled nationally, group prenatal care could lead to significant improvements in birth outcomes, health disparities, and health care costs.”

For the study, researchers conducted a multisite randomized controlled trial in 14 health centers throughout New York City. In all, the study involved more than 1,000 pregnant women aged 14 to 21 who were less than 24 weeks pregnant, and whose pregnancies were not considered high risk. They were placed in groups of eight to 12 women who were of the same gestational age, and who had a clinical and medical assistant tending to them. Each group attended 10 two-hour sessions, which followed clinical guidelines from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

In 2013, black and Latino infants had 16 and 11 percent higher respective preterm birth rates when compared to white infants, according to the March of Dimes. The current study’s findings could help to mitigate these persistent racial and ethnic disparities in birth and sexual health outcomes, although more research is needed to identify why group sessions were more effective.

“Is it additional time afforded for education and skills building in groups, opportunity for social support, or inclusion of self-care that relates to outcomes observed?” the researchers asked. Maybe soon, they’ll find out.

Source: Ickovics J, Earnshaw V, Lewis J, et al. Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial of Group Prenatal Care: Prenatal Outcomes Among Adolescents in NEw York City Health Centers. The American Journal of Public Health. 2015.