Yoga as Medicine for Pregnancy
The Prenatal Care Problem
Worldwide, maternal care can and must improve. In the United States, current standards of practice have been cited as a “human rights failure.”1 With a skyrocketing C-section rate at 33% in the US, and more than 50% in Brazil, far above the World Health Organization’s recommended 10% (for reducing mortality), prenatal care is in a full-blown international crisis.
It is rather easy to deduce, then, that the current biomedical model is not, as a whole, meeting the needs of mothers or their babies. Patient satisfaction also suffers, with stories of birth trauma, whether physical or emotional, being unfortunately all too common.
Contemplative science has long been a compassionate, culturally sensitive method for improving mindfulness and all-health outcomes. And the use of contemplative science in prenatal care, specifically yoga, has enormous potential and a growing evidence-base that can ameliorate this crisis.
Yoga offers an evolutionary paradigm-shift that modernizes standard biomedical prenatal and postpartum care, through the WHO and IOM-endorsed lens of biopsychosocial practice.3 Even more is yoga, when informed by rehabilitative science, can advance the creative dialogue of rehabilitation and yoga practice, paving the way for yoga to become an innovative best-care practice in prenatal and postpartum rehabilitative care.
Prenatal yogic medicine can be used in childbirth education and coaching, as well as postpartum care, and has been shown to improve labor and delivery outcomes, affect genetic transcription and expression, improve HPA Axis regulation and gut microbiome colonization, and can also well address pre-existing or perpetuating issues such as chronic pain, depression, anxiety, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and weight management. All of these comorbid conditions have a vital role in determining rehabilitation outcomes and should be addressed in regular care. However, for example, in comorbid conditions like pelvic pain and depression, pharmacological side effects, and the stigma of seeking mental health treatment can severely diminish adherence to biomedical interventions.4
Enter yoga as a mind-body intervention that is both a cost-effective and scientifically sound means for delivering prenatal care. 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, and anxiety
- decrease sleep disturbances, and
- diminish general pregnancy-related discomfort and quality of life physical domains.5-6
Yoga offers an optimal evidence-based strategy that can positively affect the underlying neuroendocrine issues that ultimately dictate therapeutic outcomes.
From a practical perspective yoga delivered in healthcare improves a comfortable therapeutic landscape and extends a feeling of warmth and safety that is often absent in the landscape of medical offices. Yoga can also be offered at low expense to both health care offices and expectant mothers. Group therapy sessions can create and grow a community of support for mothers, no matter what type of birth they desire.
Mind-body care provides compassionate and person-centered care that is personalized based on each woman’s biopsychosocial needs. This care is based on dignified, respectful care of a mother and her baby. Mind-body care can allow us to return to a time that embraces birth as a rite of passage, provides a sense of belonging, ushers in an era of compassionate care and encouraging accountability – a place where women help women not just survive, but thrive in their new role as a mother.
- 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
- World Health Organization Statement on Cesarean Section Rates. April 15, 2015.http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/maternal_perinatal_health/cs-statement/en/. Last sourced 2015.7.24.
- WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION., 2002. Towards a common language for functioning, disability and health : ICF. Geneva: World Health Organisation.
- 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]
- 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]
- 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]