The anticipation of a new baby is (often) filled with joy, happiness, and excitement. We take the classes, we buy all the things (many of which we'll never end up using), and we make plans for how you we think things will go for the delivery and for the newborn period. There is a lot of advice on pregnancy and birth....but our framework for proper postpartum care and expectations is sorely lacking. Given that this is a critical time of bonding and recovering from the experience of pregnancy and the birth process, it is something that we really should be working more diligently to lay out smarter groundwork for.
Ayurveda, like a lot of other traditional and ancestral models, has great wisdom to draw from for healing during the postpartum period for the Mother, as well as bonding between the Mother and the Infant. During Pregnancy, you often feel supported, by your care providers, family and friends. You are the vessel of creation! But afterwards, the attention is often shifted to the new baby. It is important to understand that while the new baby depends completely on us for their wellbeing, we have just undergone an incredible transformative process. We deserve rest and healing.
Birthing Process Itself
According to Ayurveda, childbirth itself is governed by the Vata dosha. Vata is responsible for a lot of metabolic functions and movement throughout the body, including expulsion, which clearly childbirth is one of the biggest examples of that. However, the void in the body left there after the birth is ALSO governed by Vata (remember, the two elements for Vata are Air and Ether, or space). Childbirth, as a result, naturally throws us into a place with excessive Ether, and a resulting Vata imbalance. Even if this process is normal and natural, the Ayurvedic postpartum healing period understands that the process itself created the imbalance and balance must be created to optimize healing.
Vata also regulates the nervous systems. If it is unbalanced, you may feel spaced out, not grounded, or experience dryness, fragility, fatigue, hypersensitivity, constipation... And in the middle of all this, you have to take care of another human being requiring your undivided attention.That's why it's so important to educate yourself before giving birth. Get organized so that you are well surrounded and that your loved ones understand your path and your postpartum choices.
The Importance of 42 Days
Ayurveda recognizes the importance of taking care of the Mother and work on balancing the Vata dosha for 42 Days (aka 6 weeks) so that the next 42 YEARS will go well. The recurring challenges may range from depression and other mood instabilities to aches and stiffness, constipation, gas and bloating, joint and weight problems, and relationship challenges.This goes well beyond the mother herself; the couple, the whole family and even the community will benefit from us taking the time to understand this tricky period and prevent future problems.
The world quickly wants us to return to normal; start exercising, have a lot of visitors, and we celebrate when the Mother goes out after giving birth. But all of these things aggravate Vata, which is already likely imbalanced. It is highly encouraged in Ayurveda to essentially hole up for 4-6 weeks and take care of you and the baby. Then, magically, most women feel ready and a safe urge to return to some of their normal lives.
So with that in mind, here are 9 Essential Postpartum Ayurvedic Tips:
1. Organize a support network around you for after the birth. Set clear expectations to this group about what visitation will look like, and what the price of the visit will cost them. Recognize that having visitors exacerbates your Vata dosha. So their presence should reduce anxiety and stress, not aggravate it. Bringing a meal, working a visit around a chore that they can help you with, or assisting you with your other children is the least they can do for a few minutes of seeing the baby. Speaking of which...
2. Tell your family that you want to take care of yourself and the baby during this period. The focus should be on the blossoming relationship between Mother and the baby and not on other people. You are not under any obligation to give up a single second of those baby snuggles. They aren't just for fun, they are forging an attachment, an unbreakable bond, between you and your child. Attachment creates feelings of safety, love, and trust between a mother and her child, and is in fact the first time this little person will ever experience that type of an interaction. It's vital to foster that, so that the baby is able to form healthy attachments later in life.
3. Your very first meal after birth should be a home-cooked meal. This is not the time to enjoy that hospital pizza if you are at the hospital, or order takeout if you are at home. Your digestive fire, or agni, will be very low after delivery, so food must be easy to digest. This is an excellent time for a Kitchari, Soup or other comforting foods. Be considerate of Ayurvedic food combinations that are difficult to digest (the biggest culprits are cheese and beans, yogurt and fruit, eggs and potatoes, nightshades and cheese. Fruit should be eaten alone).
4. Adding oil and ghee to your diet and lifestyle for at least a month after the delivery. Hormones are lipid (fat) based. Increasing your bodies intake of healthy fats is vital to a good recovery. Good quality fats are important to balancing hormones. Vata requires fat to return to balance. If you don't provide your body with healing fats, it may stockpile fats as a protective measure.
5. Avoid raw foods, salads, or cold meals. These are very difficult to digest and aggravate Vata. Even your water should be room temperature or warm. Not only will this help with vitiating Vata, but it will also help with some of the basic signs of imbalance, such as constipation. Your body doesn't have to work as hard in using warm water.
6. Just after giving birth, use sesame oil on your belly and feet. This helps to fill the void left by the baby in your body, and will vitiate Vata. In the coming weeks, continue to use sesame oil to massage the body.
7. Consider using an abdominal binder, or look into belly binding! Binding has many benefits. And one of the most beautiful methods is Bengkung Belly Binding.
This particular style of wrapping originates in Malaysia, but there are binding techniques used all over the world. The wrapping can occur anywhere from day 3-5 following a vaginal birth, and 2 weeks following a surgical birth. The fabric should be make from at least 15 yards of 100% prewashed cotton, that is 8-9 inches wide, that can go directly on the skin comfortably. They are traditionally worn for 12 hours on, and 12 hours off. A tip is to wear it with a nursing cami underneath, then it's just part of your outfit. The tension is a personal preference, and should be done to the Mother's comfort. Tighter creates more benefits, and it will naturally loosen throughout the day. It is important to put it on either first thing in the morning, or after the woman
Photo Credit MotherNaturale
has had a chance to get her organs repositioned. This can be accomplished by putting up the feet on the couch, or legs up the wall for 10 minutes. Legs should be kept together when binding, and the underwear can be lowered for the first couple of passes on the hips, and then pulled up when the wrapping has moved past the hips so that the mother can easily use the bathroom. If you are doing this yourself, try to position yourself in front of a mirror so that you can see what you're doing. A great tutorial video can be found here. We hope to start offering these soon!
8. Spices are healing and should be included in every meal. Spices such as fenugreek, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, fennel will be very good allies to restart your digestion and promote lactation(in dishes and herbal tea).
9. Lie in bed as much as possible. Your body will thank you later. The sub-dosha of Vata: Apana, which allowed the expulsion of the baby, is a movement that goes down. Your body, your uterus and all your organs and systems need time to find their places. Give it time. A few days is not enough.The gravity of the standing posture is too intense on the body for at least a month.
This is a period of healing, adjustment, and the dosha most compromised (Vata) requires the most gentleness. As always, should you have any concerns, feel that your mood is too low to take care of yourself or the baby, or if you have any feelings or thoughts that scare you, it's absolutely time to get in touch with your provider. Listen to your Midwife or Doctor with regards to what to expect for normal healing, and speak up if you're worried. Postpartum care is tricky, because it requires you to be selfish, brave, and to take care of a brand new helpless being while undergoing a massive transformative experience. It's intense, and overwhelming. But it can be a gift, if we treat ourselves well, and lay down boundaries and reasonable expectations. Love and Light, friends!