We hear a lot about the dismal state of postpartum care in the U.S and, as parents ourselves, we’ve experienced it. (Listen here for the episode of our podcast Today We Tried where our co-founder Chirsty details her postpartum encounters with the healthcare system). New moms have only 1 appointment at 6 weeks, it can be difficult to find the right support services – postpartum doulas, lactation consultants, pelvic floor therapist – and even harder to find providers who accept insurance.

That’s why we’re so excited to chat with Leoni Runge, founder of Zaya Care. Her company brings the European-inspired comprehensive maternity care model to the US. Zaya is a large network of insurance-covered maternity care specialists that wrap around and complement OB/GYN care during pregnancy and postpartum.

Read on to learn what inspired Leoni to found Zaya Care, the differences in postpartum care in Germany versus the U.S., and Zaya’s commitment to supporting new parents in the 4th trimester and beyond through access to the best postpartum care.

Hi Leoni! Can you tell us what inspired you to found Zaya Care?

Hi Christy! Thanks for having this interview with me. 

When I moved to the US several of my friends were pregnant or had just given birth. The stories I heard from my American friends vs European friends couldn’t have been more different. Many mothers in the US told me they felt dropped off by the healthcare system after giving birth. 

As I learned more about the US system and its outcomes, I realized there is an entire maternity provider workforce in the US that isn’t being engaged in a woman’s routine maternity care. Lactation Consultants, Pelvic Floor Therapists, Maternal Mental Health Therapists…all highly specialized practitioners (in many cases with higher qualifications than their European counterpart), that weren’t covered by insurance and seen as an exception rather than an expectation to a mother’s maternity journey. 

In Germany, the model of complementing OB/GYN care with more holistic care services is a tested and proven model. The insights from my home country, paired with the urgent call for action on improving maternal health outcomes in the US, gave me the drive and conviction to start Zaya Care.

You grew up in Germany. How is postpartum care different in Germany versus the U.S.?

In Germany, there is a deeply embedded belief that the need for maternity care doesn’t stop at the time of delivery. In fact it’s common for mothers to receive the highest frequency of visits during their postpartum period. In the first 10 days after birth a mother gets one or - if requested even - 2 home visits per day. 

During these visits the provider assists the parents in infant feeding topics, measures the newborn’s weight gain, checks a mother’s wounds from birth, and assists the family as they settle into their own rythm. What I’m describing is the standard care design. That said, the number of visits can be adjusted depending on a mother’s unique journey: you can opt out or request only a few days of visits, or - if you require more care - most insurance covers up to 16 additional home visits. 

Starting around 6 weeks after delivery, moms meet in their pelvic floor training course. Here, insurance covers up to 10 sessions to ensure that women regain their pelvic floor strength and prevent the development of lasting urinary incontinence.

What’s interesting is that the involvement of the OB/GYN in the postpartum period is very similar in Germany and the US: one routine postpartum visit scheduled at around 6 weeks postpartum. But different to the US’ system, mothers in Germany benefit from a range of wrap-around care services that complement the OB/GYN’s clinical care services and thereby ensure that their health needs are addressed holistically. That makes a big difference.

Zaya Care helps to connect people to providers who accept insurance. Why don’t more providers in the postpartum space accept insurance?

The first thing I learned about providers who work in the postpartum space is that they are the most mission-driven people that I have ever met. The second thing I learned is how challenging it is for solo practitioners and small group practice owners to grow their practice. 

Accepting insurance allows providers to access a large pool of diverse patients but comes at such a high administrative burden that they cannot afford to do so. So they stay ‘out-of-pocket’, compete for the few patients that can afford their service and apply sliding scales or even free care to be able to serve at least some of the people who don’t have the financial means to pay the full price. Realistically, that means most parents cannot access this type of care. That’s where Zaya comes in. 

We invite these practitioners to our maternity network where they can access better terms through our insurance partnerships and offload all their administrative work on us. By now we have over 100 specialists on our directory and are growing week by week. 

Providers like us for the fact that they can spend more time on what they love the most, without having to endure a business sacrifice nor put a financial strain on new parents. Quality care at lower costs with better outcomes is where parents, providers and insurance win together.

What have been some of your biggest challenges and successes in starting Zaya Care?

Comprehensive maternity care is a tested and proven model - so my challenge wasn’t in proving the effectiveness of it. The thesis we’re testing is: can we deliver this care design within the bounds of the US healthcare system? 

Zaya tries to go the extra mile by not only getting care services covered by insurance but handling all of the paperwork to ensure the mother can focus on her care. Likely not a surprise to our readers here, health insurance is a complex and convoluted matter, so we faced our fair share of challenges when we started navigating and bringing transparency to the insurance system. We’ve come a long way since. Successfully closing partnerships with some of the biggest insurance carriers in the country has been a major milestone for us. Helping mothers find the care they need covered by insurance has been and continues to be the most rewarding experience and how we ultimately evaluate our success.

What’s next for Zaya Care?

Our mission is to make comprehensive maternity care the new standard in the US. For our care design to be considered an ‘established standard’ it needs to be widely accessible and embedded into today’s routine maternity care. For the Zaya Team this means continued expansion to other states in the US and a deep collaboration with OB/GYNs and midwives to let mothers have a streamlined care experience between their primary care provider and our wrap-around care services.

We heard you’re loving your Colugo On the Go Organizer. Tell us more! 

It’s so practical! I’m not really a handbag person so I tend to just carry my phone, keys etc in pockets and hand…which doesn’t really contribute to my style. The OGO does though :) 

Thanks so much, Leoni! We’re so excited about what you’re building at Zaya Care.