Ayurveda Postpartum Care

For a while now I have been very interested in a holistic approach to health.  A real drive to dive deeper in to understanding the why an ailment is presenting as oppose to just fixing the issue seen.  What are the underlying issues causing that reaction.  I wanted to focus on a more holistic approach to all health, which obviously, with my passions for new mothers and new babies led to me look at what practices can be included postnatally which could benefit long term health in both mother and baby.  Welcome, Ayurveda!

Ayurveda, or the Science of Life as translated from Sanskrit, was first documented around 5000 years across India.  Ayurveda is a holistic system of medicine and is rooted in the synergy of body and mind.  It looks to identify the root cause of an issue as opposed to treating merely the symptoms presented, as is typical in modern medicine seen across the western world. https://www.ayurvedainstitute.co.uk/ayurveda-institute/

Alongside this interest in deeper diving to understanding whole health, I’m really keen to explore cultural practices in postpartum across the world.  Typically, in the East, and more tribal communities, postpartum women are still nurtured how we all would have been once.  A true understanding that for full long-term health of both the baby and the mother, rest and nourishment, of mind and body, are what are needed.

This blog post will focus on ayurvedic principles in the perinatal period, specifically the postpartum sacred window, the first 42 days after birth.

In order to know where to start to get evidence-based knowledge in this area I contacted the Ayurveda Institute UK, a training centre in the UK, if they could advise on a reliable resource. They in fact put me in contact with one of their students to use as a reference point for the questions I had. https://www.ayurvedainstitute.co.uk/

To gain more knowledge on the ancient traditions of ayurveda, I read a blog by Vrinda Devani MD FACOG AP about her experience in the perinatal period on Bayan Botanicals https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/blog-the-banyan-insight/details/birthing-ayurveda-postpartum-nurturing-the-mother/. Vrinda explains a lot around the ancient traditions of ayurveda in her blog, and how her experience of these helped her on the journey to motherhood.

In Ayurveda it is commonly stated that the care received in the first 42 days from birth will impact a mother’s health over the next 42 years.  This period is known as kayakalpa and is a period of ritual, nurturing of the new mother and healing of the body, mind, and spirit, and to allow bonding with baby and establish successful breastfeeding. https://motherus.com/ayurveda-prenatal-postpartum/   

The key priority in ayurveda postnatally is to balance the vata, which is categorised as ether and air, and is one of the main constitutions or doshas in ayurveda, all three of which are made up of the five worldly elements – fire, water, air, ether, and earth.  Vata is also aligned with our nervous system. Post birth vata is very high due to the space left inside a mother’s body once baby has been born, which is akin to leaving all the windows and doors open in a house and allowing all the cold air to rush in.  A new mother needs to be grounded and warmed to ensure a good transition into motherhood. https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/blog-the-banyan-insight/details/birthing-ayurveda-postpartum-nurturing-the-mother/  Too much vata allowed to run riot within the body can manifest as anxiety, dryness, gas, constipation, bloating, fatigue, hypersensitivity and interrupted sleep. https://www.ayurvedapostpartum.com/postpartum-services

Because vata is associated with air and space and therefore movement, rest and grounding are of the upmost importance.  Recommendations on this would be lots of bed rest for the mother and the new baby. Traditionally the new mother would be nurtured by a team of women who have birthed before her to allow her this rest and bonding time with her new baby.

Within this period the new mother’s digestion would be seen as delicate and/or impaired.  The priority here would be to reignite the agni, which is the digestive fire. This is important because if digestion is weak, other bodily ailments are often not far behind.  Keeping agni strong is vital for the mother’s general strength and vitality as well as establishing breastfeeding.

In order to reignite agni and pacify vata new mothers are advised to stay away from anything cold, raw or bloating.  Foods that counter vata are warm, mushy, oily, heavy, smooth, and dense.  Having a delicate metabolism means staying away from foods that are too spicy, garlic, raw onions, or processed foods in general. Lots of ghee is added in this period – there is some question mark around when and how much to introduce if you have had an abdominal birth. https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/blog-the-banyan-insight/details/birthing-ayurveda-postpartum-nurturing-the-mother/

Warm herbal teas and room temperature water should be sipped throughout the day to increase hydration, imperative for milk supply.  Simple stews, rice and lentil dishes, broths, particularly bone broths, and soups are all foods recommended during this period. (The First Forty Days, Heng Ou)

Whilst ayurveda would absolutely call for individualised care, there are a few common herbs and suggestions I have found across numerous sources. The use of fenugreek to improve milk supply, cumin and fennel to support digestion, ginger and ashwagandha to warm the body – all of these are recommended for all new mothers during kayakalpa.

Establishing breastfeeding is very important in ayurveda, it is seen as a central element to bond and nourish the new baby.  Again, by stabilising vata and reigniting agni, the new mother will be able to provide nourishing milk to her baby.  There are some herbal remedies that can be offered to new mothers if there is any concern around milk supply. Namely fenugreek and dill, as well as shatavari if digestive agni is strong. https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/blog-the-banyan-insight/details/birthing-ayurveda-postpartum-part-3-breastfeeding/

In addition to the nutrition guidance, ayurveda puts a lot of emphasis on oilation and massage, known as abhyanga.  The lightly warmed oil, often recommended as sesame oil with some additions depending on ayurvedic practitioner advice, a commonly recommended oil is Ashwagandha Bala oil, should be massaged into the new mother daily.  If it isn’t possible to be massaged by another, small self-massage, even on her own feet would really benefit the new mother in pacifying vata.  Baby will also benefit from a massage so this can be a lovely bonding opportunity between mother and baby.  https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/blog-banyan-vine/details/sweet-blessings-ayurvedic-postpartum-care/

Keeping warm in also key in this time. Vata by its nature is cold so keeping a warm environment, and utilising these massages, would pacify vata. https://motherus.com/ayurveda-prenatal-postpartum/

Ayurveda does not support intense exercise in the first three to six months postpartum.  Short walks after the first six weeks, with the introduction of gentle yoga around three months postpartum.  I have been advised by the student at the Ayurvedic Institute that it is suggested that new mothers should avoid going out in cold and windy weather completely in the first four to six weeks due to the high levels of vata.

Another ancient tradition in ayurveda is belly binding. Having the physical support of the wrap around the new mother’s abdomen can support her back and uterus as well as offering emotional support with a sense of stability.  https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/babytalk/babytalk-belly-binding/9804136 and https://mamabirthing.com/226/, Belly binding acts as support whilst the new mother cannot work on her core in those very early days, a placeholder for that physical support.  The feeling of being held when wrapped with gentle pressure releases feel good hormones, and feelings of safety and being contained.  It is recommended for the first six weeks at least.

The final pillar to be followed during this sacred window is more spiritual.  It is recommended that the new mothers meditate or at least utilise pranayama, or breathing exercises, during this time.  The meditation and pranayama act as grounding activities to pacify vata.

The new mothers dincharya or daily routine, has been upended by the birth of a new baby and therefore adding in any of the above anchors to her day, alongside times to eat or wash will also reduce vata and provide some stability.

What a fascinating insight into the practices followed where ayurvedic principles are heavily practiced as a key to holistic health.  The learnings I have taken from this research have tailored the support I offer my new mums.  Bringing warming stews and soups when I visit, learning simple self-massage techniques to share, supporting mum to keep her body warm postpartum. I hope to learn more around massage oil blends and massage techniques to add that support in the future.

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