After the baby is born, the mother has much recouperating to do. Getting to know the newborn child while trying to adapt to the demands of new motherhood can be a difficult balance. In Ayurveda, strong emphasis is placed on the 42 days, or 6 weeks after childbirth. It is one of the most significant periods of a woman’s life, and one of the most relevance to her health in following years. It is very easy, especially in western culture of independence and fast pace to fall prey to the pressure of running until we burn out. A new mother should take every measure to rest while the new baby is resting, and needs to rely heavily on the father as well as other family/community support. Cleaning, cooking and other household duties should be delegated prior to the last few weeks of pregnancy to ensure smooth transition and a feeling of ease. If the new mother does not get adequate rest, her job to take care of her baby becomes overwhelming, and she will feel fatigued and depressed.
In a matter of hours, a woman will lose around 15 pounds of weight directly from the seat of vatathe abdomen. Vata is comprised of air and space, which is exactly what is left after the baby is delivered. In addition, the vast changes that her body has undergone over the last 9 months have all come to a head with a very exhausting birthing experience. It is because of this that special attention to decrease vata in the physiology is paid. Incorporating the qualities of moisture, oiliness, warmth, heaviness, routine, and stillness will help to soothe vata and nourish the new mother.
It is recommended that postpartum abhyanga is performed daily, by a skilled Ayurvedic Postpartum Therapist. The practitioner comes to the woman’s home, and the baby can be nearby in case she needs to nurse at any point during the treatment. Much more oil is applied than a typical abhyanga for its hydrating and vata-reducing quality, and herbalized oils like Bala and Ashwaganda can help to soothe soreness and add vitality. Aggravated vata is soothed dramatically by the element of touch, so this is a very important aspect of the postpartum healing. It can get expensive to have these massages daily for the full 6 weeks, so whatever can be done will be beneficial. The massage is usually followed by warm bath and deep rest.
The agni is at its lowest at the period following labour. This is because so much energy and focus in the body was put towards getting the baby out safely and efficiently. This is a very critical time to kindle the digestive fire, being very patient in adding foods to the diet. It is very important to eat a vata-balancing diet during the postpartum period, for the well-being of mother and baby. Some symptoms of vata excess is gas (expressed in the infant as colic), disrupted sleep, fatigue and constipation.
The general quality of food to be taken in the days following delivery is soupy, warm, sweet and easily-digestable. Mostly kitchari, sweet grains, sweet vegetables, fruits, milk, ghee, oils, avocado, soaked nuts, warm cereals, warming spices. It is important to avoid vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, garlic, onions, chilies, peppers, greens, fermented cheeses, yeasted breads, corn, potatoes, and dry foods such as crackers, as these increase the air element. After a few weeks, some soft cheeses and white meat soups can be introduced slowly. (1, pg. 13, 14).
A very beneficial ojas-increasing energy drink that is very beneficial to lacating mothers is as follows: 10 blanched almonds, skinned, 1 cup of boiled milk, 3 dates, a pinch of cardamom, and a thread of saffron, blended.
As mentioned, agni is dramatically lessened after a woman gives birth and emphasis should be placed on rekindling that fire. One of the best ways to improve agni is to steep cumin, coriander and fennel, and drink this first thing in the morning. Warming spices in general will aid in digestion and help to make the digestive fire stronger.
Another thing to consider is that in the first days postpartum, the production of colostrum will occur followed by breast milk. The quality and quantity of breastmilk is dependent on rasa dhatu, as breast milk is an upadhatu of rasa dhatu. In addition to eating foods that build rasa dhatu, galactagogue herbs, those which support healthy milk production, can be taken as well. Shatavari is the ideal galactagogue herb for postpartum use as it has rejuvenative action, promoting vitality and strength, and supports female reproductive organs. Fenugreek is another galactagogue herb that is very beneficial in sustaining healthy milk production.
One of the best herbs taken for rejuvenation, decreasing vata dosha, and supporting a fatigued body and mind is ashwaganda. This can be taken in conjunction with shatavari. Ashwaganda will help enstill deep rest at night, as well as more energy during the day.
Containment of the Uterus
A scarf is snuggly wrapped aroung the abdomen of the postpartum mother in order to prevent excess space from being trapped within. It is done to a comfortable degree for the first week or so, and it should feel relieving to the woman to have this restraint on her belly. This is not done on a woman who has had a cesarian delivery, however, because of the exposure of the abdomen to the external environment, extra focus should be on the other vata reducing suggestions. (1, pg. 12).
In what is one of the most profound, enlightening and fulfilling experiences that a woman will undertake, Ayurveda provides a great deal of knowledge and support throughout the childbearing years. Without aiming for perfection, but with a mindset of moderation and contentment, the principles from this ancient wisdom can give much needed guidance and comfort. In whatever circumstances a pregnant woman may find herself, it is of utmost importance that she seek happiness and take care of herself in preparation for the arrival of the most amazing gift of a baby.