Welcome to our Birthing Ayurveda Postpartum series, where we follow the developing story of one woman's first steps into motherhood and life in her new role.
I don’t think anything can prepare you for the serious daily routine upheaval that comes with having a newborn. Intellectually I got it. Of course—there’s a newborn, who will want to feed every couple of hours. But it seemed so rosy and fluid in my head. She’d sleep next to me soundly until she wakes up to eat. And when she’d wake I’d bring her close and nurse her. And when she slept, I’d sleep. Sure it’ll be different, but no big deal, right!?
Wrong. Nothing prepared me for the anxiety that comes with not knowing why your baby is crying. Nothing prepared me for how difficult breastfeeding can be. And I didn’t account for the time it takes to burp the baby and rock her back to sleep after feeding (add another thirty minutes at least). That leaves little time between feeds to take a shower or eat a meal (and that was with all of the help I had).
I usually sleep pretty soundly. But sleeping for only two hours max at a time barely gets me into a deep enough sleep state to feel truly rested when I wake up. And after a while, my vata gets so high that I have a hard time sleeping even though I am extremely tired!
I can honestly say that there is no magic pill or cure for this. I was reading an article on facts of having a newborn and the first advice was something to the effect of, “You can either be angry and frustrated and tired, or be just tired.” There is so much truth in that statement. You’re going to be tired. Accept it. See it as a temporary thing (though I know the feeling that a few months is far from temporary) that you will eventually pass through and just embrace it as part of the process. I was definitely frustrated and tired and it did not serve me well at all. When I let go of the frustration and was just tired, everything was much easier.
That said, it is important to do your best to take care of your sleep and energy level in the postpartum period to the best of your ability. And, as always, make sure you have the ok from your practitioner before you take any herbs while you are nursing. Consider these tips.
- Have a daily affirmation. Every day, tell yourself in the mirror that you are strong, capable, full of energy, full of wisdom, and full of happiness. That is our true Self state, anyway, right? It may feel kind of silly and you may cry while you’re doing it as you doubt yourself or feel like you barely recognize the person in the mirror (I did!). But affirmations are really powerful and if done consistently and regularly, it can work wonders for you.
- Sleep when your baby sleeps. Really. I felt guilty about others cleaning up after me or holding my baby so I could get rest. But lose the guilt. A well-rested and stronger mother makes for a better mother, even if you are just lying down take rest especially in the first several weeks. During the day, I found it more difficult because of the light outside—wearing an eye mask to block the light was a game changer.
- Seek help. If someone offers to help, take it. There is no need to act like super woman. Welcome the help you are getting with a full heart and with gratitude. You will find ways to reciprocate at a later time. You’ll have an easier time if you are able to set up and organize the help before you enter the postpartum period. It’s easier for people to help if they know what needs to be done (and often times during this period you are too tired to even realize what needs to be done).
- Try to establish some sort of a routine. I know there are many extremes of parenting philosophies and some may not advocate this, but what served me very well (and worked really well for my daughter, who takes to routine very naturally) is starting my day at the same time every day and doing a few things at the same time every day. It brought a little order to a seemingly chaotic period in my life.
- Keep oil on your head and rub some on your feet before lying down to rest. The heaviness of oil will really ground vata and help with fatigue.
- Eat a well balanced diet. Make sure you’re getting the nutrients and hydration that your body needs. If you are breastfeeding do not underestimate how much water your body needs!
- Get some sun and fresh air. After the first couple of weeks, spending a few minutes standing in the sun can really boost your energy level and mood as well.
- Light pranayama. If you’re having difficulty falling asleep, do some slow and light Nadi Shodhana before going to sleep. Often times the mother’s mind is racing with things to do, worries, fears, etc. (I was constantly “google-ing” answers to every possible concern I had). Learn to shut the mind off. Your body and your baby will figure things out naturally.
- Sleep with a hot water bottle. I found that my body started to really get cold particularly at night. I saw it as a sign of high vata. Wearing socks and a sweatshirt and sleeping with a hot water bottle or heating pad near my waist (whatever it takes to warm you up!) will calm vata and help with more restful sleep.
- Take herbs. In Part 1 of this series there are many herbs listed to help maintain a good digestive fire and keep vata calm. Additionally you may consider these herbs for sleep and fatigue challenges. People’s sleep can respond differently to herbs, with extremes on both ends (difficulty falling asleep, difficulty waking up). Try to experiment to find out how your body responds to the herbs before you deliver or when you have help available. Again, be sure to work with your practitioner when taking herbs if you are nursing.
A note on herbs and lactation: It is difficult to say that herbs are safe if you are nursing because there just isn’t any research on most of these herbs with women who are lactating. I have not found any studies to show that they are harmful. Many of the herbs used in these formulations have been used for thousands of years in Ayurveda to help with milk production and postpartum care. Further, many of the herbs are used in everyday cooking in India. That said, I always work with my diet and lifestyle (in addition to the herbs I took as outlined in Part 1) before feeling the need to supplement with herbs. See what you are most comfortable with.