“To me it felt like I was just sitting on bed rest, waiting to have a seizure, you know, waiting to start circling the drain.” “Every time I went to the doctor I had this…anxiety attack.” These are the words of pregnant women diagnosed with preeclampsia and on bed rest. Other phrases reported by the authors who interviewed women on bedrest included “…an impending doom…”, “…meltdown…”, “nervous wreck.” A few of the major themes that emerged in the interviews was that of negative thoughts and feelings, family stressors, and not being heard. And while using the term “crazy” is not truly appropriate, women who are forced to abruptly stop interacting and participating in their typical life activities must be regarded as being very high risk for more than just physical issues. Kehler et al., 2016
In an ideal situation, bed rest during pregnancy is prescribed to help keep the mother and fetus healthy. Unfortunately, bed rest in itself is associated with potentially negative consequences in physical and mental health, and providers are not always up-to-date on changing recommendations for bedrest. Perhaps the cautious attitude of providers towards minimizing risk guides some choices. In addition, many women describe frustration about lack of clear guidelines, difficulty managing their stressful feelings, and varying degrees of support from medical providers.
During pregnancy-related bed rest, research has described how the entire family is affected. Physically, the mother may have changes in her circadian rhythms, increased anxiety, depression, and hostility. The rest of the family can also experience and demonstrate stress. Other children may act out, partners may be more stressed and worried, and financial strain may be a concern. Bigelow & Stone, 2011 Although we as rehab professionals may not have solutions for every issue, we may be able to facilitate accessing resources and at a minimum hear what a woman is dealing with during this stressful time. Many women, even when on bedrest, are allowed to attend medical appointments such as physical therapy, and should be provided with appropriate physical and mental activities to help minimize muscle atrophy and stress. Home health or hospital-based providers are also in a perfect position to educate providers on the value of referrals while the patient is at home or in the hospital.
We should keep these issues in mind during pregnancy as well as in the postpartum period. Maloni & Park (2005) measured postpartum symptoms in women who were on bedrest during pregnancy, and at 6 weeks postpartum, 40% of the 106 women (high-risk, singleton) complained of mood changes, difficulty concentrating, and other physical issues. Women who had a c-section had worsened symptoms, and the length of time on bed rest was highly correlated with the number of symptoms.
Bed rest affects a woman’s cognition, creates fear, a sense of lack of control, powerlessness, and even anger. “Because of this, Rodrigues and colleagues (Rodrigues et al., 2016) suggest that “…mental disorders should be routinely investigated during high-risk pregnancy, whenever possible with the use of specific instruments so that they can be detected early and so that interventions can be made in due time.” If you are interested in discussing this issue and many others, check out the Institute’s continuing education choices in peripartum health. The next Care of the Postpartum Patient course is taking place on September 16-17, 2017 in Nashville, TN.
Bigelow, C., & Stone, J. (2011). Bed rest in pregnancy. The Mount Sinai Journal Of Medicine, New York, 78(2), 291-302. doi: 10.1002/msj.20243
Kehler, S., Ashford, K., Cho, M., & Dekker, R. L. (2016). Experience of Preeclampsia and Bed Rest: Mental Health Implications. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 37(9), 674-681.
Maloni, J. A., & Park, S. (2005). Postpartum Symptoms After Antepartum Bed Rest. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 34(2).
Meher, S., Abalos, E., & Carroli, G. (2005). Bed rest with or without hospitalisation for hypertension during pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 4.
Rodrigues, P. B., Zambaldi, C. F., Cantilino, A., & Sougey, E. B. (2016). Special features of high-risk pregnancies as factors in development of mental distress: a review. Trends in psychiatry and psychotherapy, 38(3), 136-140.
During labor, I had no problem breathing out. My hang up came when I had to inhale - actually oxygenate my blood and maintain a healthy heart rate for my almost newborn baby. When extra staff filled the delivery room, and an oxygen mask was placed over my face, my husband remained calm but later told me how freaked out he was. He was watching the monitors that showed a drop in my vitals as well as our baby’s. In retrospect, I wonder if practicing yoga, particularly the breathing techniques involved with pranayama practice, could have prevented that moment.
A research article by Critchley et al., (2015) broke down breathing to a very scientific level, determining the consequences of slow breathing (6 breaths/minute) versus induced hypoxic challenges (13% inspired O2) on the cardiac and respiratory systems and their central neural substrates. Functional magnetic resonance imaging measured the 20 healthy subjects’ specific brain activity during the slow and normal rate breathing. The authors mentioned the controlled slow breathing of 6 breaths/minute is the rate encouraged during yoga practice. This rate decreases sympathetic activity, lessening vasoconstriction associated with hypertension, and it prevents physiological stress from affecting the cardiovascular system. Each part of the brain showed responses to the 2 conditions, and the general conclusion was modifying breathing rate impacted autonomic activity and improved both cardiovascular and psychological health.
Vinay, Venkatesh, and Ambarish (2016) presented a study on the effect of 1 month of yoga practice on heart rate variability in 32 males who completed the protocol. The authors reported yoga is supposed to alter the autonomic system and promote improvements in cardiovascular health. Not just the breathing but also the movements and meditation positively affect mental health and general well-being. The subjects participated in 1 hour of yoga daily for 1 month, and at the end of the study, the 1 bpm improvement in heart rate was not statistically significant. However, heart rate variability measures indicated a positive shift of the autonomic system from sympathetic activity to parasympathetic, which reduces cortisol levels, improves blood pressure, and increases circulation to the intestines.
Bershadsky et al., (2014) studied the effect of prenatal Hatha yoga on cortisol levels, affect and depression in the 34 women who completed pre, mid, and post pregnancy saliva tests and questionnaires. While levels of cortisol increase naturally with pregnancy, yoga was found to minimize the mean levels compared to the days the subjects did not participate in yoga. After a single 90-minute yoga session, during which breathing was emphasized throughout the session, women had higher positive affect; but, the cortisol level was not significantly different from the control group. Overall, the authors concluded yoga had potential to minimize depression and cortisol levels in pregnancy.
Considering the positive effect of slow breathing practiced in yoga, the positive shift in the autonomic nervous system function and the decrease in cortisol levels, yoga is gaining credibility as an effective adjunct to treatment during pregnancy. If a woman enters the delivery room with a solid practice of slow breathing under her belt, she may be equipped to handle the intensity of contractions and the pain of pushing a little better. Yoga may help a woman breathe for her life and her baby’s as well.
If you're interested in learning more about yoga for pregnant patients, consider attending Yoga as Medicine for Pregnancy with Ginger Garner, PT, DPT, ATC/LAT, PYT. The next opportunity is in Fort Lauderdale, FL on January 28th and 29th, 2017. Don't miss out!
Critchley, H. D., Nicotra, A., Chiesa, P. A., Nagai, Y., Gray, M. A., Minati, L., & Bernardi, L. (2015). Slow Breathing and Hypoxic Challenge: Cardiorespiratory Consequences and Their Central Neural Substrates. PLoS ONE, 10(5), e0127082.
Vinay, A., Venkatesh, D., & Ambarish, V. (2016). Impact of short-term practice of yoga on heart rate variability. International Journal of Yoga, 9(1), 62–66.
Bershadsky, S., Trumpfheller, L., Kimble, H. B., Pipaloff, D., & Yim, I. S. (2014). The effect of prenatal Hatha yoga on affect, cortisol and depressive symptoms. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 20(2), 106–113.
The following testimonial comes to us from Karen Dys, PTA. Karen recently attended the Care of the Pregnant Patient course, and she was inspired to send in the following review. Thanks for your contribution, Karen!
I have been working as a physical therapist assistant for 11 years and worked in a variety of settings. In the past two year I have become more focused on pelvic floor rehabilitation. During that time frame I have had a handful of pregnancy patient including being a pregnant woman myself. Since taking this course, my mind has been opened up of how I can treat my patients and educate them for their best future outcomes. I also can see now how I would have benefited myself if I knew some of these techniques that I’ve now learned. With knowing with my personal story and that my PT could have helped me more with avoiding bed rest and staying active longer with pregnancy, it has become my goal now to treat my pregnant patients differently. I am thankful for Herman and Wallace courses to gain these wonderful techniques to reach out and help so many people.
Within the first few moments of meeting the teacher at a continue education class I can tell if is going to be a good class or not. This course started out great with a very friendly and kind person. Sarah’s compassion and knowledge brightly shined throughout the weekend of teaching. It was very refreshing having a teacher who also has experienced some of the same problems are patients go through. It gave it a good personal perspective of how we can affect our patient outcomes.
One thing that I really appreciated at this course was the comfort level felt during the entire weekend. Right from the beginning Sarah made it clear that no question was stupid to ask. She explained that we are all at different learning stages in our career and that we are working together to gain this knowledge to be better therapists. I really appreciated hearing that and I know it made some of the new pelvic floor therapists feel more comfortable as well. I enjoyed having different labs throughout the weekend to practice these new techniques with new therapists of different educational levels. Sometimes I attend courses being more confused on techniques because the teacher, assistant or other course mates don’t have the time or knowledge to explain in further detail. At any of my Herman and Wallace courses I have attended, especially this one, I have not felt that way.
So I attended this wonderful class and now what? Well during the class I was thinking of my pregnant friends who are expecting multiples and how I can help them with their already felt extra swelling and low back pain. I also was thinking of some of my post-partum pelvic floor patients and how if I would have known some of this information sooner I could have impacted their pregnancy. Some things I would have changed were compression stock wear, abdominal binder/ brace wear, labor positioning techniques and strengthening more with education for post-partum phase. So now I have brought back to my company more knowledge of how to evaluate, assess more correctly and treat pregnancy patients. I have led a in-service for my coworkers who are primarily orthopedic based . They had a good take away of how to help patients with orthopedic complaints of pain who also happen to be pregnant.
I am thankful for this course I attended and look forward to making it a regular event I attend. Herman and Wallace courses never disappoint. Thank you.
Karen R Dys, PTA
You wouldn't place a newborn in a crib without knowing the legs were firmly attached at the right angle to the base. You wouldn't jump on a hammock if the poles or trees were not firmly intact and upright to support the sling. Why would you treat a pregnant woman without checking if her hips were working optimally in proper alignment to support the pelvis, inside which a new life is developing? Let's hope higher level clinicians spend the extra effort to learn about the surrounding areas that affect our specialty, whether it is pelvic floor or spine or sports medicine.
In 2015, Branco et al., published a study entitled, “Three-Dimensional Kinetic Adaptations of Gait throughout Pregnancy and Postpartum.” Eleven pregnant women voluntarily participated in this descriptive longitudinal study. Ground reaction forces (GRF), joint moments of force in the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes, and joint power in those same 3 planes were measured and assessed during gait over the course of the first, second, and third trimesters as well as 6 months post-partum. The authors found pregnancy does influence the kinetic variables of all the lower extremity joints; however, the hip joint experiences the most notable changes. As pregnancy progressed, a decrease in the mechanical load was found, with a decrease in the GRF and sagittal plane joint moments and joint powers. The vertical GRF showed the peaks of braking propulsion decreases from late pregnancy to the postpartum period. A significant reduction of hip extensor activity during loading response was detected in the sagittal plane. Ultimately, throughout pregnancy, physical activity needs to be performed in order to develop or maintain stability of the body via the lower quarter, particularly the hips.
The same authors, in 2013, studied gait analysis in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Branco et al., performed a 3-dimensional gait analysis of 22 pregnant women and 12 non-pregnant women to discern kinetic differences in the groups. Nineteen dependent variables were measured, and no change was noted between 2nd and 3rd trimesters or the control group for walking speed, stride width, right-/left-step time, cycle time and time of support, or flight phases. Comparing the 2nd versus 3rd trimester, a decrease in stride and right-/left-step lengths decreased. The 2nd and 3rd trimesters both showed a significant decrease in right hip extension and adduction during the stance phase when compared to the control group. In this study, the authors also noted increased left knee flexion and decreased right ankle plantar flexion during gait from the 2nd to the 3rd trimester. The bottom line in this study, just as the more recent one suggests, pregnant women need a higher degree of lower quarter stability to ambulate efficiently throughout pregnancy.
Physical therapists are movement specialists with a unique opportunity to analyze how humans function, whether athletes or pregnant women (or even a pregnant athlete). How the hips move and whether or not proper muscles are firing can affect anyone’s gait. The extra demands on the pregnant body require more specific analysis of kinetics by therapists, thus directing the protocols for rehabilitation of this population. It should behoove every pelvic floor specialist, in particular, to attend a course like “Biomechanical Assessment of the Hip and Pelvis" or "Care of the Pregnant Patient" in order to provide patients with the optimal support for the natural “crib” women provide during pregnancy.
Branco, M., Santos-Rocha, R., Vieira, F., Aguiar, L., & Veloso, A. P. (2015). Three-Dimensional Kinetic Adaptations of Gait throughout Pregnancy and Postpartum. Scientifica, 2015, 580374. http://doi.org/10.1155/2015/580374
Branco, M., Santos-Rocha, R., Aguiar, L., Vieira, F., & Veloso, A. (2013). Kinematic Analysis of Gait in the Second and Third Trimesters of Pregnancy.Journal of Pregnancy, 2013, 718095. http://doi.org/10.1155/2013/718095
The care I received from the doctors, nurses, and hospital staff during labor, delivery, and postpartum period was excellent. I felt all the staff members explained all procedures for myself and the baby. The labor and delivery nurses were helpful and compassionate. They showed me how to breastfeed the baby, assisted me with skin to skin contact, and taught my husband and I how to care for the baby when we took her home. The birth center site at the hospital was amazing. I had an individual birthing suite with a bathroom, a television, a bathtub and a place for my husband to sleep. Health care for the baby and I following delivery continued to be excellent. I had a surgical follow up one week later with my doctor and another postpartum visit at 6 weeks. At each visit I was given The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (a scale to help identify postpartum depression) as well as educational pamphlets on self-care following a cesarean delivery. The only complaints I had that required assistance from a health care provider was with getting baby to latch with breast feeding and neck and shoulder pain from breast feeding the baby. I took it upon myself to work on core and hip exercises I would give a postpartum patient who had undergone a cesarean delivery and was working on my scar tissue to prevent problems with bladder, bowel, abdomen, and uterus. I sought some massage for my neck and shoulders and did my physical therapy exercises for my neck and shoulders. I sought a lactation consultant for the latching issues with breast feeding. Seeking care helped resolve these issues which reduced my neck and shoulder pain and helping me enjoy breastfeeding my baby.
Before having my daughter, I had preconceived notions about postpartum care. For the last ten years since I started working with women’s health patients I have heard repeatedly from my patients that they felt they did not receive comprehensive postpartum care. Many of these women hopped from health care provider to health care provider, sometimes taking years to resolve orthopedic or pelvic floor problems from their pregnancy or labor and delivery experience. Quality postpartum care was my soap box issue and still is. That being said, I was very satisfied with my postpartum health care experience. My experience revealed that support and education about postpartum problems as well as proactive healthcare for theses challenges is becoming mainstream. I have always felt that women in our country need better post-partum care and I am happy to see improvements being made. We may forget between the constant baby changing, soothing, and feedings that mom needs some care too. I am not sure that we always remember that there have been 9 months of physiologic changes occurring to a woman’s body. Additionally, physical trauma that occurs with caesarean or vaginal delivery. A mother may need physical therapy for exercises to strength abdominals or back, help for bowel or bladder problems, manual therapy for painful intercourse, or scar tissue work for abdominals or pelvic floor.
I think as a society we are getting more aware of the influence of hormones, crying babies, sleep deprivation, and a heavy work load can overwhelm a postpartum mother. Based on my experience only, I think we are doing a better job of monitoring postpartum depression, pain management, and pelvic floor problems. I was so pleased at the availability of information and counseling opportunities presented to me during my birthing and postpartum experience. I received so much encouragement and permission to seek help from others during my postpartum healing.
Now that patients are being routinely counseled on postpartum self-care for mind and body we need to help them achieve successful outcomes. As health care providers, we should help postpartum patients decide how to include self-care with their new routine with baby. Caring for a baby takes a lot of time! My postpartum experience was likely similar to other women, where I had very little time to do all the “things I should be doing.” (For me this included neck, shoulder, abdominal, back, and pelvic exercises. As well as attending pediatrician, massage therapy, and lactation appointments.) The baby needs to feed constantly. By the time you feed, change, and soothe the baby (and pump if needed) it is almost time to do it again. You may never have more than an hour to get things done or get some sleep. As a mother there are many novel challenges to face, skills to learn, and emotional stress from fatigue and hormones. On top of all that, oh yeah, you should exercise, eat healthy, and if you are lucky shower and sleep! The point is, being a mother is challenging and we are all doing the best job we can. It is difficult to care for your baby while taking care of yourself. Reflecting back on my “birth story” has helped me empathize with my patients but also helped me to see that as health care providers, we should continue to provide education to our patients on self-care and continue to encourage them to seek care for their problems. However, to really help our patients successfully heal, we need to help them figure out how postpartum self-care blends into their new life with baby.
Towards the end of my pregnancy, my doctor ordered an ultrasound to make sure the baby was growing appropriately. This was precautionary as the baby had measured small the last couple appointments. The ultrasound gave us some important information. Baby K was growing appropriately, however, she was breech. At this point, she should have already flipped into the cephalic (head down) position, and it was unlikely that she would turn further along in my pregnancy. I knew what this meant… “C-section” (cesarean). Like so many women before me, this was not what I wanted for my birth plan. Having a planned cesarean had not really crossed my mind. I figured it would only be some kind of emergency that would result in this outcome. Instantly I thought of all the patients I have treated over the years who had cesarean delivery. I thought of abdominal adhesions and scar tissue mobility work that would need to be done postpartum. Naturally, as a physical therapist, I also thought of all the mobility challenges this would bring after baby. Having a cesarean would change my post-partum recovery; I would need more help with lifting, carrying, and we have so many stairs in our house! I know this may sound crazy… but what saddened me the most about cesarean delivery was that I was not going to experience what labor felt like. I felt cheated, in a weird way, I was looking forward to it, almost like a rite of passage. I wanted to analyze labor and delivery from a patient’s standpoint, not just as a therapist. I thought it would help me relate to patients and friends who have experienced labor. All that being said, a scheduled C-section was happening unless that baby miraculously flipped.
My doctor suggested a version, which is a procedure where your doctor tries to manually turn your baby using an external technique. I had heard it is painful, but I pride myself on being a pretty tough woman who has dealt with some pain, I can do this! Needless to say, the version was painful… Very painful! As a matter of fact, the most painful procedure I have ever encountered. After trying about four times to turn the baby, my doctor asked me if we should try one more time. Although I was miserable, I asked if they thought the baby was close to being in the right position. The looks on my husband’s and doctor’s faces told me that she hadn’t moved at all. We gave it one more try, but that stubborn baby really liked the spot she was in. The plan was to proceed with the scheduled C-section at 39 weeks, unless I went into labor first, then it would be an emergency cesarean delivery.
At 39 weeks, I woke up the morning of the planned cesarean and thought, “it’s a good day to have a baby”. I was excited to finally meet this little princess, but a little nervous about the cesarean delivery. I was trying not to think about what was going to happen to my abdomen and uterus. I was hoping Baby K would handle all of this safely, and she would be well. My plan for the procedure was distraction, not to think about what was happening, as I knew too much. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I did not want to think of every unfortunate story I had heard about “spinals”, and “cesareans gone wrong”, so I kept telling myself to trust my doctors and relax. After all, this is what they do every day, and they are good at it. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the numbness and tingling I felt in my legs, as well as the lack of motor control in the lower half of my body once they administered the spinal, but it did the trick.
All I felt during the caesarean was just some tugging on my abdomen as the doctor worked to get baby out and complete the procedure. Luckily, it was all happening behind a partition while my husband held my hand and we told jokes to relieve our nerves. All of a sudden, there was a loud cry, and I felt instant relief. It was my baby, and she had healthy lungs! My doctor popped around the screen and showed me my beautiful brown-haired baby. Next, my husband and the nurses cut the cord and took care of baby. Once she was cleared and safe, they plopped her on my chest. Like a moth to a flame, that baby wriggled herself right onto my breast. It was the purest form of instinct I have ever witnessed. How did that little baby that just entered this world have the innate knowledge to nourish, and the strength to find her food source. It was amazing! Overall, no matter how much you research and plan for labor and delivery, it likely won’t turn out how you plan it. The positive is that our bodies have been delivering babies forever, so trust in your body, and trust in those around you helping with the delivery. The labor and delivery experience is innate.
The following is the first in a three-part blog series which chronicles the peripartum journey of Rachel Kilgore.
In April, I had my first child, a sweet and healthy baby girl. Reflecting on the last year, what a ride! I have had many of my friends, family members, patients, and acquaintances discuss the journey and challenges of motherhood with me, however, experiencing it first hand was a memorable voyage. I thought I was very prepared and knew what I was getting into, but as usual, nothing compares to first-hand knowledge and experience. From an academic standpoint, I had done my research on everything from conception, what to expect each trimester of pregnancy, and reviewed the many options for labor and delivery. I even was lucky enough to assist in the Herman and Wallace Care for the Post-Partum Patient course with Holly Tanner while I was pregnant! As a practitioner, I love treating pregnant and post-partum patients, it is one of my favorite populations to treat. I love helping these strong, motivated women with pain relief and to teach them management skills to adapt to a new lifestyle and a changed body that has unique musculoskeletal needs.
I had always had a preconceived notion that I would exercise diligently and eat super healthy through my pregnancy. After all, that was how my lifestyle was before pregnancy, why should it change? That lasted about 6 weeks, until 24-hour episodes of nausea and vomiting overwhelmed me, which continued until the start of the second trimester. I basically just tried to make it through the day without vomiting at work, and would go straight to bed whenever I had the chance. I even had to miss several days of work! I thought it was termed “morning sickness” implying that it went away after morning, but apparently it should be renamed to “forever nausea” as that is what it felt like at the time. Because of the nausea, I wanted nothing to do with food, which in turn lead to constant concern about the baby not getting enough nourishment. Of course, my regular activity levels plummeted. In addition to nausea was constant fear of miscarriage and whether my regular activities were somehow harmful to my baby. Instead of ice cream and pickles, I craved information. What should I be doing, and what should I not be doing?
When the first day of the second trimester hit, the nausea just went away. I was ecstatic! I got my energy back and was finally enjoying the pregnancy again! I was able to exercise regularly and eat healthy, two of my favorite things. Everything was going well, and it was time to start figuring out this whole baby thing. Luckily, most of my friends are mothers themselves, and they helped guide me. They directed me to great resources to satisfy my quest for knowledge about everything I needed to know for pregnancy, labor delivery, and the baby itself. They helped me decipher what all these baby products were, and what do you actually need. All the fun stuff was happening! We painted the baby’s room, ordered furniture, and planned a baby shower.
Everything that happens to my patients happens to me. Third trimester was when I started to really “feel pregnant”. Daily mobility became challenging. I never realized how many times in a workday I show patients correct lifting mechanics or how often I set things on the ground or pick up weights. I started to dread every time I had to pick up something. At work, I would drop my pen on the ground so many times, and why had I never noticed that I did it so often? Luckily, I used my “physical therapy knowledge and skills” and did things I tell my pregnant patients to do; the results were minimal problems with musculoskeletal pain. Techniques such as: Using proper mechanics throughout my day, pulling in my core, and wearing a maternity support if my back was hurting a little. I never really developed severe back pain as is the case for many pregnant women. I completed hip and trunk exercises I usually give my pregnant patients and found they were easy to do and made me feel better... shocking right? Of course I was doing my kegels too! While my musculoskeletal system was doing well, my gastrointestinal system was not. I had never really had heart burn before, but now had it constantly, and found it to be very frustrating and depressing. I love cooking and eating but neither are enjoyable when you have heartburn. The heartburn was so bad it would wake me up every night coughing and chocking on my own acid reflux. Between lack of sleep, heartburn, and reduced mobility, I was getting pretty excited to be done with pregnancy and to finally meet “Baby K” as we had begun calling her. Overall, being pregnant was a very informative experience for me as a person and as a clinician. I often hear my patients tell me of their uncomfortable symptoms during pregnancy involving their musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal systems, however, now I empathize on another level.
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:
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:
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:
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]
I lived in Seattle during my pregnancies, where practicing yoga is almost as common as drinking coffee. I never accepted my friends’ invitations to partake in a perinatal yoga classes, mostly because I do not know how to do it, and I simply ran instead. My friends reaped the benefits of the meditation and strengthening involved when it came to delivering their babies. Researchers have been trying to measure the physical benefits from performing yoga during pregnancy, both for the mother and the fetus, and scientifically support the efficacy of participating in peripartum yoga.
In a systematic review of studies regarding yoga for pregnant women, Curtis, Weinrib, and Katz (2012) explored the literature on yoga for pregnancy. Six studies were included in the review, only 3 of which were randomized controlled trials. The aspects of yoga included in the trials were postures, breathing practices, meditation, deep relaxation, counseling on lifestyle change, and chanting and anatomy information. The programs in the trials began either between 18-20 weeks gestation or between 26-28 weeks. The yoga was practiced either 3 times per week for 30-60 minutes or 60 minutes daily. Control groups included walking, standard prenatal exercise, or general nursing care. The literature review suggested improvements were noted regarding quality of life and self-efficacy, discomfort and pain during labor, and birth weight and preterm births. Due to the limited number of trials, only a general positive commendation of yoga during pregnancy could be made from this research.
In 2015, Jiang et al. looked at 10 randomized controlled trials from 2004 to 2014 regarding yoga and pregnancy. The authors found consistent evidence showing a positive correlation between yoga intervention and lower incidence of prenatal disorders and small gestational age. Lower levels of stress and pain as well as higher relationship scores were noted with yoga. The studies showed yoga to be a safe and effective means of exercise during pregnancy, but the authors agreed further randomized controlled studies still need to be performed.
A 2015 randomized control trial by Rakhshani et al. examined the effect of yoga on utero-fetal-placental circulation during pregnancy considered high-risk. The yoga group consisted of 27 women who received standard care plus 60 minute yoga sessions 3 times per week and practice at home. The control group included 32 women who received standard care and walked 30 minutes in the morning and evening. The intervention began at the 13th week of gestation and concluded at the end of the 28th week. Yoga intervention involved yoga postures, relaxation and breathing exercises, and visualization with guided imagery. The authors conceded larger studies need to be performed to confirm the results of their randomized controlled trial; however, they concluded yoga visualization and guided imagery can significantly improve uteroplacental and fetoplacental circulation.
Although further studies are needed to make evidence-based claims regarding yoga during pregnancy, the general consensus deems yoga appropriate and safe. As with any exercise program, a tailored approach for each individual is prudent. Yoga includes many components, and current trials consistently indicate the visualization/imagery aspect is safe and beneficial during pregnancy, even when high risk. In retrospect, when I had placenta previa, perhaps I should’ve traded my running shorts for yoga pants!
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.
Jiang Q, Wu Z, Zhou L, Dunlop J, Chen P. (2015). Effects of yoga intervention during pregnancy: a review for current status. American Journal of Perinatology. 32(6):503-14..
Rakhshani, A., Nagarathna, R., Mhaskar, R., Mhaskar, A., Thomas, A., & Gunasheela, S. (2015). Effects of Yoga on Utero-Fetal-Placental Circulation in High-Risk Pregnancy: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Advances in Preventive Medicine, 2015, 373041.
Many therapists start their career feeling a bit intimidated to work with women who are pregnant. A common and understandable concern is that something the therapist will do during examination or treatment may harm the patient. While there are certainly things to avoid when working with a patient who is pregnant there are also many therapeutic strategies that can help a woman thrive during her pregnancy and beyond. When women have pre-existing issues such as a disease or physical challenge, or when she develops an illness during pregnancy, the therapist needs to rely upon more knowledge- this knowledge is something she rarely learns in school, but more likely in continuing education environments. A recent article asked the question “are women getting sicker, and are there more high-risk pregnancies now than ever before?”
Researchers studied trends in maternal morbidity and mortality in the United States in order to answer this question, and the answer is a definitive “yes”. Several studies describe increases in the rates of maternal morbidity, with issues such as cardiac and pulmonary complications, and the severe blood pressure fluctuations associated with eclampsia. Gestational diabetes, and postpartum rates for hemorrhage, perineal lacerations, and maternal infections have also risen. Part of the reason for more women carrying pregnancies more successfully or longer when they are ill may be contributed to newer treatments for conditions such as diabetes, yet this does not explain entirely the increase in maternal morbidity. Increased cesarean births, longer labors with epidural anesthesia, pre-pregnancy obesity, rates of multifetal pregnancies, and the rising age of mothers are other factors to be considered.
The more we know as health care providers about how maternal morbidity affects our rehabilitation efforts, the more we can contribute to a woman’s pregnancy and postpartum health. If you would like to learn more about caring for women during pregnancy and during the postpartum period, Herman & Wallace offers the Pregnancy and Postpartum Series. The following courses are available this year:
Care of the Pregnant Patient - Somerset, NJ
Apr 30, 2016 - May 1, 2016
Care of the Pregnant Patient - Akron, OH
Sep 10, 2016 - Sep 11, 2016
Peripartum Special Topics - Seattle, WA
Nov 12, 2016 - Nov 13, 2016
Tillett, J. (2015). Increasing Morbidity in the Pregnant Population in the United States. The Journal of perinatal & neonatal nursing, 29(3), 191-193.