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Yoga as Medicine for Postpartum Care: A Compelling Art & Science

Yoga offers a compelling mind-body approach to maternal care that is forward thinking and aligns with the World Health Organization and Institute of Medicine’s recommendations for patient-centered care. But let’s take a look at WHY postpartum care MUST change in order to establish need for the entry of yoga into postpartum care.
 
Maternal Health Track Record
 
The United States and similarly developed countries have a very poor track record for postpartum care. The record is so poor that the problem in the US has been labeled a “human rights failure.”1
 
On its own, the US has the worst track record for not only postpartum care, but for maternal and infant mortality and first-day infant death rate in the developed world (Save the Children 2013). Between 1999-2008, global mortality rates decreased by 34% while the US’s rates doubled for mothers.1
 
Patient satisfaction also suffers under the current model of care, with many more mothers experiencing postpartum depression, a significant risk factor for both mother and baby during and after pregnancy.
 
The increase in mortality and poor outcomes can, in part, be attributed not to underuse, but overuse of medical intervention during pregnancy and birth. 2,3,4  Countries that have “access to woman-centered care have fewer deaths and lower health care costs”; and, hospital system reviews in the US show that reducing medical interventions are both reducing cost and improving outcomes.1,4,5
 
The notorious lack of accountability (reporting system) in maternal health care also plagues the US and suggests that maternal deaths are even higher than currently reported, leading to Coeytaux’s conclusion that the “United States is backsliding.”1
 
Improving Postpartum Outcomes with Integrated Physical Therapy Care
 
In After the Baby’s Birth, maternal health advocate Robin Lim writes, 
"All too often, the only postpartum care an American woman can count on is one fifteen minute appointment with her doctor, six weeks after she has given birth. This six-week marker ends an arbitrary period within which she is supposed to have worked out most postpartum questions for herself. This neglect of postpartum women is not just poor healthcare, it is abusive, particularly to women suffering from painful physical and/or psychological disorders following childbirth."
 
Physical therapists can be instrumental change agents in improving current postpartum care, especially through the integration of contemplative sciences like yoga. Yoga can be the cornerstone of holistically-driven, person-centered care, especially in comorbid conditions such as pelvic pain and depression, where pharmacological side effects, stigma, can severely diminish adherence to biomedical interventions.6 Coeytaux, as well as other authors, clearly correlate the reduction of maternal mortality with improved postpartum care. The World Health Organization recommends that postpartum checkups should include screening for:

  • Back pain
  • Incontinence (stress)
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Breast pain
  • Perineal pain
  • Depression
  • Painful or difficult intercourse
  • Headaches
  • Bowel problems
  • Dizziness or fainting

A physical therapist is a vital team member in not only screening for many of the
listed problems above, but in managing them. It is important to note that other countries, like France, deliver high quality postpartum rehab care plus in-home visits, all while spending far less than the US on maternal care.
 
The World Health Organization, however, clarifies the vital importance of postpartum care delivery by making a significant recommendation for a paradigm shift in biomedical care.7
 
Yoga as a “Best Care Practice” for Postpartum Care
 
The WHO recommends the use of a biopsychosocial model of care, which yoga is ideally suited to provide via its ancient, multi-faceted person-centered philosophy. Medical Therapeutic Yoga is a unique method of combining evidence-based rehabilitation with yoga to emerge with a new paradigm of practice. MTY:
 

  • Addresses the mother as a person, not as a condition or diagnosis.
  • Empowers mothers with self-care strategies for systems-based, not just musculoskeletal or neuromuscular, change.
  • Addresses all domains of biopsychosocial impairment.
  • Teaches interdisciplinary partnership-based theory, which is integral to creative collaborative discourse and innovation in postpartum care.
  • Equips clinicians with business service, website development, practice paradigm, and social media campaign tools to fully develop the new clinical niche of Professional Yoga Therapy practice. 
  • Promotes patient advocacy, health promotion, and public health education via mainstreaming yoga into rehabilitative and medical services.
  • Provides the gender context for prescription that traditional yoga is lacking.
  • Evolves yoga for use in prenatal and postpartum care.

 
Physical therapy screening and intervention in the postpartum is vital, but the addition of yoga can optimize postpartum care and has enormous potential to be a “Best Care Practice” for postpartum care in rehabilitation. 
 
As a mind-body intervention, yoga during pregnancy can increase birth weight, shorten labor, decrease pre-term birth, decrease instrument-assisted birth, reduce perceived pain, stress, anxiety sleep disturbances, and general pregnancy-related discomfort and quality of life physical domains.8-9
 
In addition to the typical physical therapy intervention for postpartum physical therapy, the MTY paradigm provides:

  • self-care strategies for psychoemotional health and social engagement, increasing self-efficacy, confidence, and self-worth,
  • a concise container for clinical-decision through its algorithmic programming,
  • psychoemotional and neuroendocrine intervention,
  • nutritional counseling  and resource utilization,
  • energetic adjunct therapies steeped in Ayurvedic science,
  • executive functioning and cognitive support,
  • epigenetic effect, and
  • inter- and intrarelational development.

 
Postpartum integrated physical therapy care can provide more comprehensive care than rehab alone because of its multi-faceted biopsychosocial structure and systems-based model of care. Ginger’s course, Yoga as Medicine for Labor, Delivery, and Postpartum provides evidence-based methodology for prenatal and postpartum practice that streamlines clinical decision-making and intervention through introduction of a yogic model of assessment.
 
To learn more about Ginger’s course, visit Yoga as Medicine for Labor, Delivery, and Postpartum


Coeytauz et al., Maternal Mortality in the US: A Human Rights Failure. Contraception Editorial, March 2011. http://www.arhp.org/publications-and-resources/contraception-journal/march-2011
Kuklina E, Meikle S, Jamieson D, et al. Severe obstetric morbidity in the US, 1998–2005. Obstet Gynecol. 2009;113:293–299.
Tita ATN, Landon MB, Spong CY, et al. Timing of elective cesarean delivery at term and neonatal outcomes. NEJM. 2009;360:111–120.
Clark SL, Belfort MA, Byrum SL, Meyers JA, Perlin JB. Improved outcomes, fewer cesarean deliveries, and reduced litigation: results of a new paradigm in patient safety. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2008;199:e1–105.e7.Abstract | Full Text | Full-Text PDF (100 KB)
Oshiro BT. Decreasing elective deliveries before 39 weeks of gestation in an integrated health care system. Obstet Gynecol. 2009;113:804–811.
Buttner, M. M., Brock, R. L., O'Hara, M. W., & Stuart, S. (2015). Efficacy of yoga for depressed postpartum women: A randomized controlled trial. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 21(2), 94-100. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2015.03.003 [doi]
WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION., 2002. Towards a common language for functioning, disability and health : ICF. Geneva: World Health Organisation.
Curtis, K., Weinrib, A., & Katz, J. (2012). Systematic review of yoga for pregnant women: Current status and future directions. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : ECAM, 2012, 715942. doi:10.1155/2012/715942 [doi]
Sharma, M., & Branscum, P. (2015). Yoga interventions in pregnancy: A qualitative review. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (New York, N.Y.), 21(4), 208-216. doi:10.1089/acm.2014.0033 [doi]

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