Recently I worked with a couple who had their first child. Robin and Sonja welcomed their baby girl, Leonie, into the world and embarked on a new path as parents. This is a transformative experience, both emotionally and physically. In Ayurveda the time of birth and the days after are a sacred time—a time of rest, self-care, and love.
This event offered us a good reminder that childbirth (and the pregnancy) is a significant event for the body and mind. How a new mother spends the weeks directly after the child arrives lays the foundation for how the family functions for many years to come. The Ayurvedic texts identify the first 42 days after childbirth as a period of rest, rejuvenation, and bonding. Few mothers in modern culture have the time or support to implement this important practice. With so much change in the lives of new parents it seems inconceivable. But the drive to get back to “life as usual” has caused a range of physical and emotional postpartum conditions that have a negative effect on the woman and the family long term. The most pernicious issue women face as a result is postpartum depression. Women who experience postpartum depression are often unable to bond with their child, and many experience guilt and remorse long after they have recovered.
As a friend, mentor, and colleague, it was my honor to guide Robin and Sonja through a postpartum plan to heal from childbirth and set the family on a path of health and balance in the future.
42 Days: The Gold Standard for Healing
Childbirth is a highly vata-provoking experience, but with a proper recovery period, a woman can easily rebalance and fully step into her new role. This would ideally be the focus for the first 42 days, yet for many families, setting aside this time for rest and rejuvenation is difficult. At a minimum, a woman should spend her first two weeks in a state of complete rest. Her partner, family members, or a postpartum doula should take care of all the daily necessities so the new mother can spend her time healing and supporting her baby.
This healing period should focus on bringing vata dosha into balance, healing and rejuvenating the reproductive tissues (shukra dhatu), and promoting healthy breast and lactation channels (stanyavaha srota). These ensure the mother's health is cared for and allows easy bonding between mother and child.
An Ayurvedic Plan for Postpartum Healing
A postpartum healing plan should be intentionally simple—a mother’s first priorities should be bonding with her newborn and resting. Herbs and simple practices can support those goals and ensure speedy recovery and a strong foundation for the new family.
A new mother can expect her dinacharya (daily routine) to shift significantly in the first few months as she responds to her newborn’s rapidly changing daily needs. Family members can support her to do simple things, such as holding the baby while she bathes and preparing meals at regular times, which will allow her to restore her sense of groundedness. Mom can take a few moments before and during morning breastfeeding to ground using deep breathing, energetic imagery, or a simple meditation. She should avoid asana and other forms of extended physical exercise for the first 42 days, but after the first two weeks, she may wish to take gentle, short walks with her baby (she should discontinue this if bleeding or pain increases). Other simple steps to calm vata and allow the mother to be present with her baby include applying a small amount of brahmi oil on the top of her head each morning, sleeping with an eye pillow and light scarf around the top of her head and ears, and using apana and prana hand mudras.
Mom and baby should take special care of the sense organs (indriyas) and not be exposed to any extreme sounds, weather, smells, or significant demands. Going out to public places and being around many people is not recommended.
A new mother should eat simple, nourishing food, such as split mung beans cooked with ghee and appropriate spices, served with white basmati rice and cooked vegetables. After the first few days if her agni feels strong, she can expand the varieties of legumes and grain. She should avoid dry, crunchy, or raw foods that increase vata. Have 60–70% of each meal made of augmenting foods that have primarily the sweet taste in order to be properly nourished and maintain her weight while nursing. This means the grain and sweeter veggies will be 60–70% of her total meal.
Ojas-building foods, such as dates soaked in ghee or date shakes made with organic whole milk (preferably raw), are a wonderful way to support healing and milk production. She should stay hydrated by sipping warm water throughout the day.
Dashamula tea nourishes and tones muscle tissue and supports the correct downward flow of energy and substances like feces and urine (apana vayu). New mothers can drink a tea made from one tablespoon of dashamula decocted in three cups of water. Drink half in the morning and half in the evening each day with a little honey added, or maple syrup if the mother has high pitta.
I recommend a churna specific to the mother’s vikruti, which may include shatavari (a powerful rasayana to build ojas and rejuvenate the reproductive system), ashwagandha (to regain energy, reduce stress, support sleep, and rebuild tissue), guduchi (a wonderful nutritive tonic and immune support), bhringaraj (to calm vata and pitta dosha and aid emotional release) and fennel (to support digestion and lactation). One teaspoon three times daily in a little warm water and honey works well for most women.
Daily abhyanga (self-oil massage) for mom and baby will pacify vata dosha, ground the new mother, and allow her to be fully present in her new role. Traditionally, new mothers would have this performed by a trained practitioner or close family member. If that is not available she can perform it herself or have her partner help. Oiling the baby daily enhances the lovely bond so important with a newborn and will ground the newborn in her new body with nurturing and nourishment.
Tea made of one teaspoon each of fennel and fenugreek, decocted in four cups of water, supports milk production and is beneficial in the first two weeks or longer as needed. Shatavari powder or tablets also provide excellent nourishment and support for milk production. Additionally, gently massaging the breasts with Beauty Balm can relieve pain and support the proper function of stanyavaha srota.
A new child is a blessing for the family and the world. Giving a new mother the space to properly heal is a gift that ensures she will have the strength and emotional well-being to usher her new babe into life.