Post-partum Care — The Ayurvedic Way

{xtypo_dropcap}T{/xtypo_dropcap}here is much emphasis on the nutritional needs of expectant mothers as it is vital for the development of the growing fetus. Once the baby is born, there is much focus on caring for the baby and because of the hectic nature of being a new mother, her needs are fully met. From examining the postpartum traditions of many cultures, it is clear that care for a postpartum mother is just as important as prenatal care particularly for her long-term health.

Postpartum care for new mothers in India is derived from the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda. It is a health system that is about 5,000 years old. Ayurveda is a science based on the knowledge that the human body like nature, is made of five elements; namely earth, fire, wind, space and ether. For optimal health, there must be balance between the five elements. A combination of these five elements is classified under three doshas namely, vata, pitta and kapha.

Vata is composed of air and ether. Pitta is composed of fire and water, kapha is composed of earth and water. Each dosha has its own functions. Vata because it governs movement is known as the “queen” of doshas. Childbirth, nervous system function, movement of food through the intestines, elimination of wastes are some of the functions of vata. Pitta dosha governs digestion, metabolism and production of heat. The function of kapha dosha is to lubricate joints, mucus production in the airways and in the gut to move food.

Pregnancy aggravates vata as it inhibits the flow or movement of energy that is characteristic of vata. Respiration can be difficult as the baby grows in the womb and digestion is slow. Mention vata qualities of spaciness etc…

{xtypo_quote_left}So new mothers require foods that are vata pacifying and nourishing, unctuous, grounding and easy to digest. Pregnancy places tremendous demands on a woman’s body. This along with childbirth can create many imbalances that need pacifying and rejuvenation for strength and good health.{/xtypo_quote_left}


So new mothers require foods that are vata pacifying and nourishing, unctuous, grounding and easy to digest. Pregnancy places tremendous demands on a woman’s body. This along with childbirth can create many imbalances that need pacifying and rejuvenation for strength and good health.

In addition to proper nutrition, it is a known fact that many cultures do not leave a mother alone to care for herself and the new baby. New mothers need tremendous support and rest and help in caring for other children. In most ancient cultures older women in the family care for the new mother. Mothers are nurtured during pregnancy and after birth as well. It is a special time for care and pampering by women family members. The expectant or new mother becomes the central figure in a family. Doulas can provide the same care to new mothers.

There is nothing more nourishing to a new mother than a hot, nutritious fresh meal prepared with love. Doulas and family members can prepare the recipes in this book. All of the spices used in these recipes are available at your local health food store or grocery store. Purchasing the spices in small quantities before birth and “stocking” it might help in having them on hand to use right after birth. The recipes in this book have been used for women of many generations to aid healing and to increase milk supply.

Basic postpartum care in India lasts for a minimum of 40 days during which the mother is massaged with herbalized oils. During this time, the mother is not allowed to do any tasks or chores in the home. In fact, her only activity is nursing the baby, bonding and resting. This 40-day period of rest and recuperation is considered a long-term investment in the mother’s health. Since the mother is never left alone to deal with any anxieties of motherhood and is encouraged to breastfeed the baby on demand, postpartum depression rates are low among Indian mothers. However, in the event of anxiety or depression, she can rely on the expertise and wisdom of older women in the family who are caring for her.

The expectant mother goes to her parent’s home during the last trimester or the mother comes and stays with her daughter to provide care for her. This is a time for deep bonding between the mother and daughter and new ways of relating to one another are created. In India, birthing is a rite of passage and the woman gains deeper intuition, wisdom and confidence in her femininity. After the birth, the new mother is not allowed to undergo any stress as it aggravates vata. Stress is known to hamper healing and can reduce milk production. During the 40-day rest period, the mother is encouraged to sleep whenever the baby sleeps. This idea might be unheard of in the West, where mothers begin doing household chores, go shopping and attend social events soon after birth. However, good rest is exactly what the mother needs. A well-rested mother will bring confidence and joy to her baby. The focus of postpartum care should be on the mother, the new baby and the growing relationship between them.

Cold drinks, ice, juices and frozen foods are never given to a mother. Vata is cold and dry. Since the goal is to balance vat dosha, it is important to not consume cold foods. Boiled milk and water are served warm or hot. Edible resins are used in India to aid recovery after birth. The acacia gum resin is used along with raisins, almonds and wheat cooked in ghee to normalize reproductive organs after birth. After the tenth day, the mother is served one of these “gum balls” early in the morning with a cup of boiled cow’s milk.

Vegetables such as tender green beans, carrots, opo squash, and different types of greens, zucchini and beets are served to the new mother. Along with vata –pacifying spices, the new mother is served ghee (clarifies butter), which balances vata but is also nourishing and rejuvenative to the body. Butter is never given to the mother as it has a cold effect. Sour foods such as yogurt and tomatoes are not served often either as they are said to cause digestive problems. Instead “sweet yogurt” is served once a day. Sweet yogurt is home made and is fermented no more than just a few hours.

{xtypo_quote_right}New mothers require and deserve a great of support and nourishment to heal their bodies and to fulfill their motherly responsibilities. In India, it is said that if the mother is happy then her baby is happy. So every effort is made and great care is taken to ensure the mother’s needs are met and that she is happy. Her health and happiness is vital for the blossoming of the mother-baby relationship.{/xtypo_quote_right}

Beans are not an optimal food for the new mother as it is vata aggravating. Legumes are even avoided the first few days because it is difficult to digest protein after birth. If the healing mother taxes the already exhausted and delicate digestive system, this may take way from the natural healing processes of the body. For the first ten days the soupy part of the cooked moong dal is seasoned with spices and served to the new mother. Vegetables that a new mother should avoid are potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, green peas, broccoli, and snow peas as they aggravate vata dosha and can make the baby gassy. Spices that are served to the new mother include ajwain, cumin, black pepper, sea salt, turmeric, fenugreek, fennel, saffron, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom.

It is ideal if the food is prepared in small quantities, which is sufficient for one or two meals. Food that is stale, leftover and frozen is not appropriate for new mothers. It is preferable that the vegetables are fresh and organic. The food should be served piping hot and the mother should sit down and eat comfortably and peacefully. If the baby is fussy or needs to be held, the doula or family member can hold the baby while the mother eats her meal. This will help with assimilation and proper digestion, all of which enables efficient recovery from birth.

The new mother’s diet may be considered rich because of her intake of ghee, but she is neither overfed nor underfed. The wisdom behind this principle is that the body after birth is in healing mode and the digestive system should not be taxed with overeating or eating heavy foods. Further, easy to digest foods also brings vata into balance. A function of vata is digestion and elimination, which slows down during pregnancy. This is further weakened from childbirth. Therefore, the mother needs to eat easy to digest foods that are warm and unctuous. It is important to eat meals on time to strengthen digestion. The digestive Agni is strongest between noon and 1 p.m. and it is optimal to eat lunch at that time. All the loving care and nutrition that is provided to a new mother is intended to strengthen her for life and help her recuperate from the exhaustion and hard work of pregnancy and childbirth.

To further balance vata, mothers are also encouraged to keep their body warm by wearing socks and sweater after birth. Abhyanga or warm oil massages are also given to the mother for several weeks after birth. Sesame oil is preferred as it is warming and thus balancing vata. Oil massages soothe the fatigued body and calm the nervous system. It is also known to tone the uterus and help detoxify the body. Special attention is paid to the back and abdominal region. Baby massage is also an important component of the mother baby care. The baby is massaged daily in the morning after the cord falls off. Sesame oil, castor or coconut oils are used depending on the seasons. Commercially available soaps are not used on the baby. Instead, chickpea flour mixed with sandal wood powder, turmeric and yogurt are used as soap on the baby. Baby massage has many benefits including restful and deeper sleep, improved immune function and circulation and a stronger body.

New mothers require and deserve a great of support and nourishment to heal their bodies and to fulfill their motherly responsibilities. In India, it is said that if the mother is happy then her baby is happy. So every effort is made and great care is taken to ensure the mother’s needs are met and that she is happy. Her health and happiness is vital for the blossoming of the mother-baby relationship.

NOTE: This article was published on the Kids Yoga Network (http://www.kidsyoganetwork.com/kynArticle.php?id=59)

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