Prasutha: Mother of a New Born Child
Finally the most anticipated big day of labor is done; you gain a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in creating a beautiful baby. What next?
Exhausted and sleepless, transition into motherhood can be challenging, physically and mentally. According to Ayurvedic medicine, choices made in the first 42 days after childbirth play an important role in woman’s health and ability to mother. Mothers follow Hollywood images and feel it is a sign of accomplishment to get back to ‘normal life’ and shape as soon as possible, but leaves them feeling sad, depressed and empty. The body is deprived of much needed rest and the importance of regaining strength after nine months of noticeable changes, is neglected. It is an inexplicable emotional roller coaster.
In current times, a normal hospital stay is between 24-48 hours. Ayurveda emphasizes on completely resting for 6 weeks, as it takes 6 weeks for dhatus (tissues) to recover from child birth. A new mother will be flooded with conflicting emotions while nurturing the little one, depriving herself of required rest and is in dire need of support, physically and emotionally. Ayurveda says “mother the mother” to avoid any postpartum fatigue and stress.
The Emotional State in the Postpartum Period:
In India and some other countries, such as China, Columbia, etc. certain essential guidelines are followed religiously for caring and helping a mother recover in her postpartum period. Mothers feel exhausted, depleted and tired; especially facing the transition into motherhood with all the responsibility and joy, and need extra care and support from everyone around. If these basic needs of the mother are neglected, the prolonged discomfort, depression and lack of recovery can manifest into fatigue, stress, hemorrhoids, irritability, depression and digestive problems resulting in chronic health problems later.
Physical Changes in the New Mother:
After childbirth a woman’s digestive fire is weakened and needs to be rekindled and nurtured. Ayurveda focuses on foods that vata (“wind” or force of propulsion) pacifying. Foods which are warm, wet, and oily to bring vata back into balance. A mother who has recently delivered will undergo vata disorders like anxiety, insecurity, dryness, constipation, gas, indigestion, and lack of sleep. With a small baby to feed every hour makes it almost impossible to get all the rest needed.
Importance is placed on keeping the room clean and quite. New moms are advised not to abuse the senses, as all our body parts are weak. A daily peaceful massage with warm oil and rest after, keeps new mom feeling fresh and relaxed.
Fresh Food and Diet:
Food preparation is a crucial element in mother and baby care. Cooking fresh food twice a day is important and eating food that is freshly made is highly recommended. Fresh meals have more life force (prana); they have the most nutrition, life and digestive support which provide sufficient nourishment for a speedy recovery and for a joyful and well rested baby. Eating leftovers is discouraged in Ayurveda. A mother after going through nine long months of transformation and intense labor will not be in any state to prepare food herself, so a small help from people around would pay off in long run.
Ayurvedic Food for Postpartum care:
Ayurveda suggests having a vata pacifying diet. Rice, warm vegetable soup, lots of garlic, milk and ghee. Vata producing vegetables can develop gas and manifest as colic in the baby. If diet is neglected or avoided, there can be imbalance in vata resulting in weight gain and serious vata imbalance leading to arthritis and other diseases.
Postpartum needs are different from prenatal. Rest is the key to recover completely. Few days of support from partners, loved ones and neighbors can bring back the natural strength and vitality for a happy mother.
Ayurveda shows the connection between a mother and baby is strong. Therefore what mother consumes as food affects the mood of the baby. The emotional and mental state of mom is also seen on baby. There are many foods that support the mother’s digestion, restoration, and lactation.
Foods such as milk, honey, yam, basmati rice can be used to add quality of Madura. Vegetables such as beets, carrots, green beans, serve better and gassy vegetables like potato, cauliflower, and okra should be avoided. In India fruits are avoided for first 21 days, except apples and pear. It is less on sugar and is not juicy to increase water content in the body. Satvik foods are chosen to avoid any discomfort for mothers; food like fenugreek leaves, seeds are included for lactation.
Eating salads can cause constipation. It is assumed raw vegetables and greens increases fiber. But it is all taxing to digestive system; agni (“fire”) is diminished hence warm porridge of oats, rice along with ghee is more soothing to digestive system.
Anything cold out of refrigerator, ice water, or ice cream must be avoided for minimum 48 days. Sipping on warm water is suggested on waking for easy bowl movement.
Importance of Nuts:
Nuts are soaked and powdered to mix in milk, consumed every day for strength “StanyaRasayana”. Dried fruits and nuts are great if they are soaked overnight; the soaking of nuts releases the enzyme inhibitors in them. Almonds should have the skin removed since it is hard on the liver according to Ayurveda and they taste better if peeled and toasted in the oven until golden in color.
Since beans can also be gassy, clear broth of boiled moong (lenthils) can be added to diet for protein. Fish and poultry are best when extra cooked. Introducing new and variety of food is avoided. After 21-48 days new vegetables and normal diet can be consumed. This also helps the baby to adjust to different taste and aids in healthy digestive system.
Herbs and Spices:
There are certain herbs and spices that are used in Ayurveda that enhance lactation and help with good digestion and sleep. Garlic is a major postpartum kitchen medicine if it is roasted well with oil or ghee until it is browned, not raw or lightly cooked. It supports digestive, immune, and nervous systems especially when the new mom needs immunity to ward off any infections.
Other spices to include in 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 beneficial too.
Shatavari, a root which has estrogenic quality, helps the reproductive system and uterus recover back to its shape quickly and Dashmool is a ten root formula which supports cell rejuvenation.
Abhayanga: The Massage Therapy
Warm oil massages, termed abhyanga is a type of massage that is practiced in Ayurvedic care specifically for postpartum women. Postpartum abhyanga can be very helpful in avoiding any vata dosha imbalance. It regulates and controls body temperature, and relaxes the recovering mom. Include hot water showers to release toxins and revitalize the aching body. Imbalances fade and mother is prepared mentally and physically for all the challenges that life brings.
Vigorous oil rubbing on strained muscles relieves aches and body pain. It helps in tissue rebuilding, controls heavy bleeding and moves all the stored waste out of tissues. Repeated massages make a deeper impression on cell memory leaving the mom with a feeling of security, care and love. Also helps in promoting deep peaceful sleep and generous lactation.
Snehana: Infant massage
Baby is also massaged with warm herbal oil, which aids in a peaceful and rested baby, free from colic. Journey through birth canal in itself is a stressful process, and adjusting to new environment is an experience in itself. A 15 minute massage creates bonding with parents and avoids symptoms of gassiness and fussiness in babies.
Belly wrapping is a traditional Ayurvedic technique that helps the body to fill in the empty spaces and restore the organs and muscles to their appropriate places. After labor, immediately wrapping the belly helps in removal of any leftover chord parts and avoids vata to sneak into the empty space which is now susceptible to all kinds of vata dosha. Also brings back the shape of woman’s belly without much worry about flopping and saggy skin.
A long piece of cloth, a big cotton scarf (has to be comfortable), is wrapped around the abdomen a few times and pulled snug, but not too tight. There are belly wraps made commercially as well and many women prefer to use these.
By promoting a balanced approach to postpartum care, through food preparation, nutritional consultation, massage, and family support, Ayurveda can help facilitate awareness and provide a healthy start to this important transition in life.