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New pregnancy clinic supports women with physical disabilities

May 10, 2017

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Patient gets ultrasound at Sunnybrook's  Accessible Care Pregnancy Clinic Patient at Sunnybrook's Accessible Pregnancy Clinic

The first North American clinic designed to provide specialized pregnancy care to women with physical mobility disabilities has opened at Sunnybrook.

The Accessible Care Pregnancy Clinic cares for women who have both invisible and visible physical disabilities. Invisible disabilities are disabilities that are not immediately apparent. Women seeking care at the clinic may have spinal cord injuries, severe arthritis, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, muscular dystrophy, scoliosis, be a little person, or a history of trauma such as a car accident. Women may also have other conditions impacting their mobility, making them a good fit for the clinic.

“Our goal is to offer care options individualized to each women and her family,” explains Dr. Anne Berndl, a maternal fetal medicine specialist and director of the Accessible Care Pregnancy Clinic at Sunnybrook. “Disabled women often face a host of specialists when they’re accessing the health care system. We’re committed to providing holistic care throughout a woman’s childbearing year, with centralized care where all members of your health care team are speaking to each other.”

The clinic offers preconception counseling, prenatal education, obstetrical care during pregnancy and postpartum care including breastfeeding support.

Sunnybrook’s Bayview campus offers a wheelchair accessible Birthing Suite, although the clinic’s patients may or may not use mobility devices or aids. The ultrasound department is in the same location as the clinic, performed by an experienced sonographer. The health care team assesses patients’ needs ahead of time, including whether TTC Wheel-Trans will be used, to ensure a comfortable environment where women don’t feel rushed.

“Having a disability should not be a barrier to being a great parent,” says Anita Kaiser, a mother and advocate for disabled women. “To have a service where care is holistic across the continuum of care, with physical and emotional support for women and families, is helping to address a much-needed gap in our health care system.”

The clinic has many relationships with community supports, to ensure there is a plan for women following their delivery, once they have delivered their baby.

“Mobility conditions can wax and wane throughout a woman’s life; and can affect any limb or part of the body,” says Dr. Berndl. “You may look at a woman with an invisible disability and have no idea she requires specialized pregnancy care. Being pregnant with a disability can be both an exciting and anxiety-filled time; we want to ensure women receive both the individualized medical care they need and the support they deserve.”

Learn more about the Accessible Care Pregnancy Clinic