Sweet Blessings: Ayurvedic Postpartum Care
I had the honor of working 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 forty-two 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, taking this time seems inconceivable. Regrettably, 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. Ideally, rest and rejuvenation would be the focus for the first forty-two days—her partner, family members, or a postpartum doula would take care of all the daily necessities so the new mother can spend her time healing and supporting her baby. Yet for many families, setting aside this time is difficult. At a minimum, a woman is best supported by spending her first two weeks in a state of complete rest.
This focus of this healing period is bringing vata dosha into balance, healing and rejuvenating the reproductive tissues (shukra dhatu), and promoting healthy breast and lactation channels (stanya vaha srota). These ensure the mother's health is cared for and fosters 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 are 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 and her role as a new parent. If present, 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 order. Mom can take a few moments before and during morning breastfeeding to ground herself using deep breathing, energetic imagery, or a simple meditation. She should avoid asana and other forms of extended physical exercise for the first forty-two days, but after the first two weeks, she may wish to take gentle, short walks with her baby (paying attention to her body's cues and discontinuing 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.
Taking special care of the sense organs (indriyas) and avoiding extreme sounds, weather, smells, or significant demands is a wise idea for both mom and baby. Going out to public places and being around many people is not recommended..
Simple, nourishing food, such as split mung beans cooked with ghee and appropriate spices, served with white basmati rice and cooked vegetables are preferred for a new mother. After the first few days, if her agni feels strong, she can expand the varieties of legumes and grain. Dry, crunchy, or raw foods that increase vata are best avoided or eaten in moderation. To be properly nourished and maintain her weight while nursing, 60–70% of each meal can be made of augmenting foods primarily consisting of the sweet taste. 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. And sipping warm water through the day is a good way to stay hydrated.
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 support and 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.