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Ayurveda: Pregnancy

Pregnancy and the Doshas

The pregnant woman is referred to as the garbhini in Sanskrit. Therefore, the care of the pregnant woman is stated as garbhini paricharya. There are many recommendations that she should follow during this time that are fairly consistent from woman to woman. For instance, although there are cases where a woman might need to restrict her diet based on her prakriti, constitution, or vikruti, current state of imbalance, for the most part in pregnancy, it is advised to include dravyas, or substances, that might be avoided otherwise, due to the constitutional makeup of the growing baby.

Pregnancy is a very delicate and unique situation, because it is one in which all of the doshas are being increased in the body under normal circumstances. The doshas are made up of two different elements, or mahabhutas, found in nature. The combined quality of air and ether compose vata dosha, the energy created by fire and water is pitta dosha, and it is that of water and earth that make up kapha dosha. Because pregnancy is a time of such vast and abrupt change, physically and emotionally, it is primarily vata provoking. However, because the blood volume of the pregnant woman increases to 200% by her 7th month, hormones increase as well as body temperature, pitta also increases during this time. Lastly, because of the large increase in weight in such a short period of time, fluid retention, and general slow-moving tendency, kapha is naturally higher in the body as well. It is also because of this that a woman is advised to take tridoshic diet and lifestyle, meaning things that will naturally bring harmony to all three doshic energies.

Apana Prana

As mentioned earlier, the vata dosha is the main dosha that is aggravated during pregnancy. The doshas are further broken down into subdoshas, each governing a specific function and location in the body. All of the vata subdoshas encompass movement in the body. Apana Vata, or Apana Prana is the subdosha that is emphasized during pregnancy as its location is the colon and abdomen, and it governs all downward motion in bodily function; mentruation, delivery of the fetus, elimination, etc. Apana Prana also controls development of the organs of the growing fetus (2, pg. 50). It is because of this that Apana Prana must be balanced properly. If it is too weak or too strong, miscarriage or problems during the delivery can result.

Pregnancy is a Special Time

It is said in Ayurveda that the woman can completely reset her health during the childbearing year if she takes proper care during this important period. However, if she does not make adjustments in her life to prepare for the changes that lie ahead, ignoring a proper diet, keeping up to a pace she is used to before pregnancy and not taking time for adequate rest and mental relaxation, she can contract imbalances that can take much discipline to counteract. The demands of a new-born baby are many, not to mention the fact that when recovering from childbirth the woman cannot keep up with very much. A lack of sleep, breastfeeding demands and constant care of the baby will require stored energy, so it is imperative that before and during pregnancy, health concerns have previously been addressed, and proper care is taken throughout the time of childbearing. When a woman carries a child within her womb for 9 months, her body does a tremendous amount of work, and what the baby requires will be taken directly from the mother’s stores. The health of the mother-to-be must be the first priority in order to sustain her vitality over the following years.

Digestion, Shukra Dhatu, and Ojas

Digestion in Ayurveda is considered to be the root of health. In the west it is said that we are what we eat. However, in the east it is said that we are what we digest. All of the bodily nourishment and energy that sustains our physical structure as well as our emotional well-being comes from the food we consume. This is particularly important in pregnancy because the quality of the nourishment to the baby will depend completely on the mother’s intake of food, and the quality of processing in her body.

There are digestive guidelines that are given in Ayurveda that if followed ensure a strong agni, or digestive fire, therefore supporting the initial step in the process of health. These include things like eating in a pleasant environment, not overeating, taking the biggest meal at lunchtime when the agni is naturally at its peak, and waiting several hours between meals to eat until the previous meal has been digested (3, pg. 88). The quality of foods that should be emphasized to aid a strong agni will be discussed in the diet section. The significance of agni and digestion lies in the nutritive fluid. This is the digested pool of nutrients that will begin to circulate throughout and nourish the entire body.

The dhatus represent the seven structural tissues of the body. Each is formed subsequently from the nutritive fluid created by the digestive process, and is found is less quantity than its preceding dhatu. It takes about 5-7 days after the consumption of food, for each layer of dhatu to form, the first taking only this time to produce, and the last requiring about a month. The dhatus, rasa, rakta, mamsa, meda, asthi, majja, shukra/artaja represent the western concepts of plasma, red blood cells, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow, and sperm/ovum, respectively. The shukra dhatu is the tissue layer of reproduction, however, not only is it responsible for the sperm or ovum, it also controls the reproduction of cells. This is why it holds so much importance preconception as well as in pregnancy. It is said that shukra lies within each cell of the body, with that reproductive quality within.

It is because of the successive nourishment of the dhatus that a strong agni and vibrant diet are critical. Shukra dhatu is the last of the seven-dhatu-chain to be nourished from the digested nutrition, and it is the tissue found in the least quantity in the body. If there is not enough nutrition after processing through the previous six dhatus, it will lack strength. In cases of infertility, it is the shukra dhatu in both the woman and the man that should be nourished. To ensure healthy sperm, ovum, and overall production of fetal cells, shukra dhatu must be strong and balanced, and pregnancy can then be achieved.

Ojas is explained in Ayurveda as the juice of life. It is responsible for immunity, vibrancy, strength, enthusiasm and is the foundation of life. Without enough ojas, people feel dull, lifeless, and weak, fall ill frequently, and lack a zest for life. The pool of ojas is filled only after each of the seven dhatus has taken from the nutritive fluid in the digestive process. It is because of this that so much significance is placed on balanced rasa, and eating foods that will be very nourishing to the dhatus.

Ojas has a special role in pregnancy because during the eighth month, ojas is passed from the mother to the baby through the placenta. It will return to the mother, and then fluctuate back and forth throughout this month. Ojas is responsible for happiness and inspiration, so during this time, when the ojas is given to the baby for periods of time, the mother will experience waves of joy and sorrow. There is more danger to the fetus this month because the ojas is unsteady, so it is vital that extra care is taken. It is in the eighth month that is most important to surround the mother with love, avoid stress and strain, and refrain from travel

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