Finally the most anticipated big day of labor is over; you have given birth to a beautiful baby. Now what?
Accompanied by fatigue and sleepless nights, the transition into motherhood can be challenging both physically and mentally. According to ayurvedic medicine, the choices made in the first 42 days after birth, play an important role in regaining a woman’s health and her ability to look after her child. Often mothers follow Hollywood images and feel a compulsion to get back to ‘normal life’ as soon as possible. Such unwanted expectations affect them both physically and mentally.
Nowadays, the hospital stay after a delivery is usually between 24-48 hours. Ayurveda puts emphasis on taking complete rest for 6 weeks, as this time is needed for the dhatus (tissues) to recover from childbirth. In today's modern world a new mother does not get the support she needs. Ayurveda, on the other hand, stresses on “mothering the mother” to avoid any postpartum fatigue and stress. If a woman does not get the much needed care, she can face problems like hemorrhoids, irritability, depression and digestive problems resulting in chronic health problems later.
Besides, importance should be placed on keeping the bedroom room clean and quiet. New moms are advised not to abuse the senses, as all the body parts tend to be weak. A daily massage with warm oil followed by rest keeps new mothers fresh and relaxed.
Cooking food twice a day is important as eating food that is freshly made is highly recommended. Fresh meals have more life force (prana) and nutrition. Eating leftovers is discouraged in ayurveda as it does not provide sufficient nourishment for a speedy recovery.
Ayurvedic food for postpartum care
After childbirth a woman’s digestive fire is weakened and needs to be rekindled and nurtured. Ayurveda focuses on vata pacifying foods which are warm, wet and oily to bring vata back into balance. A mother who has recently delivered will have vata disorders like anxiety, insecurity, dryness, constipation, gas, indigestion and lack of sleep.
Rice, warm vegetable soup, lots of garlic milk and ghee are great for new mothers. Vata producing foods can increase gas and make the baby to suffer from colic. If a good diet is neglected or avoided, there can be imbalance in vata resulting in weight gain. Serious vata imbalance can even cause arthritis and other diseases. Postpartum needs are different from prenatal needs. Here, rest is the key to complete recovery.Ayurveda points out that the connection between a mother and her baby is strong. Therefore the food consumed by the mother affects the mood of the baby.
Foods such as milk, honey, yam and basmati rice can be used to add the quality of Madura. Include vegetables like beets, carrots and green beans to your diet instead of gas producing vegetables like potato, cauliflower and okra. In India, fruits are avoided for the first 21 days, except apples and pears. These fruits are beneficial as they have less amount of sugar and water.
Again, satvik food is chosen to avoid any discomfort for the mother. Foods like fenugreek leaves and seeds are included for improving lactation. Eating salads can cause constipation. It is assumed that raw vegetables and greens are good as they have more fiber. But it can prove to be taxing to the digestive system thereby diminishing agni. Hence a warm porridge of oats and rice along with ghee is more soothing to the digestive system.
Anything cold like ice water or ice cream should be avoided for a minimum period of 48 days. Sipping warm water in the early morning is suggested to ease bowel movements.
Nuts are soaked, powdered, mixed in milk and consumed every day for strength “Stanya Rasayana”. Dried fruits and nuts are great if they are soaked overnight as this releases the enzyme inhibitors in them. According to ayurveda, almonds should have the skin removed since it is hard on the liver. Also, almonds taste better when peeled and toasted in the oven until golden in color.
Since beans can produce gas, a clear broth of boiled moong can be added to the diet for protein. Fish and poultry are best when cooked for a longer time. Introducing new and different foods should be avoided in the initial days. After a period of 21-48 days, new vegetables can be added to the diet and the mother can revert back to her normal diet. This also helps the baby to adjust to different tastes and aids in healthy digestion.
There are certain herbs and spices that are used in Ayurveda that enhance lactation and help with digestion and sleep. Garlic is a major postpartum kitchen medicine if it is roasted well with oil or ghee. It should be well browned, and not lightly cooked. This supports digestive, immune, and nervous systems especially when the new mom needs immunity to ward off any infections.
Other spices to include in your diet are saffron, fennel, dill, basil, caraway and mainly fenugreek for lactation. Spices that help in relieving gas are cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, ginger, garlic and fennel. Basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram, tarragon, nutmeg, turmeric and coriander are also beneficial. Shatavari is a root which has estrogenic quality. It helps in the early recovery of the reproductive system and aids the uterus to get back to shape. Dashmool is a ten root formula which supports cell rejuvenation.
Warm oil massages, termed abhayanga, is a type of massage that is practiced in ayurveda. This massage is specifically designed for postpartum women. Postpartum abhayanga can be very helpful in avoiding any vata dosha imbalance. It regulates and controls body temperature, and relaxes the recovering mother. Include a hot water shower to sweat out toxins and revitalize the achy body.
Vigorous rubbing of oil on the strained muscles relieves aches and body pain. It helps in tissue rebuilding and removes all the stored waste out of tissues. It also helps to control heavy bleeding. Repeated massages make a deeper impression on cell memory, thereby leaving the mother with a feeling of security, care and love.
Infant massage “snehana” is also recommended for the baby. When the baby is massaged with warm herbal oil, the outcome is a peaceful non colic and rested baby. The journey through the birth canal is in itself a stressful process and adjusting to the new environment is an experience in itself. A 15 minutes long massage provided to the baby creates better bonding with the parents. Snehana also controls gas and fussiness in babies.
Belly wrapping is a traditional technique that helps the body to fill in the empty spaces and restore the organs and muscles to their appropriate places. Wrapping the belly immediately after delivery helps in the removal of any leftover cord parts. It also stops vata from sneaking into the empty space which is now susceptible to all kinds of vata dosha. This also helps to bring back the shape of the woman’s belly without problems like flopping and saggy skin. A long piece of cotton cloth or a big scarf is wrapped around the abdomen a few times and secured without making it too tight. Nowadays there are belly wraps which are made commercially.
By promoting a balanced approach to postpartum care through food preparation,nutrition, massage, and family support, ayurveda facilitates awareness thereby providing a healthy start to this important transition in life.