Birthing Ayurveda: Postpartum Part 4—Postpartum Blues and Mental Health
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.
The postpartum period is hard. Period. There are expectations that do not get met, fantasies and dreams of how things would be that fail to come to fruition, fatigue and exhaustion that make it difficult to keep perspective, and then there is loneliness. There is nothing more lonely than those night hours you spend awake feeding, pumping, or soothing your baby, especially if your baby is crying and you aren’t sure what to do.
Change, uncertainty, exhaustion, depletion, fear, occasional anxiety, loneliness. These are all very real emotions for any new mother. And most mothers deal with the postpartum blues or challenges with their mental health in some sort or fashion. Given the high amount of vata (light, cold, dry, mobile qualities) during this time, I found it really interesting when I read that women who experience the more severe postpartum blues and depression have more anxiety and panic attacks and feelings of inadequacy and being overwhelmed, showing more of a vata characteristic. And because of our expectations and desires, there is the pitta flare with greater irritability and anger, or feelings of shame and guilt.1
In Ayurveda, our mental constitution (known as our mental prakriti), we are more prone to certain aggravations (for more information read our Guide to Mental Health). But I would venture to say that because vata dominates this period, most mental aggravations will take on that vata quality (occasional anxiety, fear, loneliness). Pitta aggravations (frustration, irritation, needing to control) are also quite common because expectations play a huge role in the postpartum period as well.
The thing is, regardless of our mental constitution, our minds have a tendency to cling to what is familiar and what we desire (the fantasy). When that does not manifest, the mental channel (mano vaha srotas) becomes unbalanced. It seeks opposite qualities when it veers away from what is normal—wanting connection where there is a vacuum, activity where there is stillness, attachment when things are taken way. The goal then is to get it to vibrate again at its healthy vibration.
Last week when I really needed some inspiration, I read this quote.
“If one can be like that, open—truly open in a simplicity, well, the simplicity that knows that it is… ready to receive whatever comes. Then something can happen… To cling to something one believes that one knows, to cling to something that one feels, to cling to something that one loves, to cling to one’s habits, to cling to one’s so-called needs, to cling to the world as it is, it is that which binds you. You must undo all that, one thing after another. Undo all the ties. And it has been said thousands of times and people continue to do the same thing.... they cling to their way of seeing, their way of feeling, their habit of progress, which seems for them the only one.
No more bonds—free, free. Always ready to change every-thing, except one thing: to aspire, this thirst.”
It is still very challenging. I call my daughter my little spiritual teacher for that very reason. She pushes me every single day to stop clinging and just be in the present with her as she goes through her roller coasters of change and discovery. Consider these things to help maintain your equilibrium:
- Get fresh air. The mano vaha srotas responds greatly to sunlight and brightness (sattva) when it is experiencing darkness (tamas) or agitation (rajas). My evening walks that I started after two weeks were a pivotal and centering point of each day.
- Go internal. My mind constantly wanted to escape when things became difficult. I started thinking about how to get back to work, looking at childcare options, really wanting to end our period of incubation (traditionally the mother and baby stay home in isolation for 120 days and are only in contact with close family and friends). But I recognized it as my mind’s way of rebelling and drawing its senses outward instead of inward. I have stuck with our tradition, mainly because I know that going internal is where I will find my true Self, which will give me greater strength in my new role as a mother more than anything else. It also pushes me to keep developing that deeper connection with my daughter and also helps her learn to go internal as well.
- Pray for strength. Every day I prayed for strength to let go. Let go of my need to cling, my expectations, my selfish motives, and to just give wholeheartedly and selflessly to my daughter.
- Find time to get perspective. Even if it’s just twenty minutes, read spiritual quotes, meditate, or do Nadi Shodhana.
- Connect. A feeling of loneliness, or that you are in it alone, despite having ample amounts of support around you, is very common. I found that calling other new mothers and friends helped me so much. It was so reassuring to know that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. There are even Facebook mom groups where you can just vent or ask for some advice. Take advantage of them. I received some of the best advice and support from complete strangers. All mothers know how challenging this period is and you’d be surprised by how willing we all are to help each other out.
- Follow a vata pacifying diet. Warm, mushy, cooked foods are nourishing and soothing to the nerves.
- Rub oil into your scalp and on your feet. You will feel greatly nourished by the dense and oily qualities of the oil. Try Bhringaraj Oil for its support for calmness and tranquility.
- Take a bath when you can and add some ginger powder and baking soda to the water. Again, the idea is to soothe the nerves of your body and for you to feel a little pampered.
- Drink solarized water. Your heart chakra needs all the love it can get. Green is the color of this chakra. Let water sit out in the sun in a green bottle and drink this water daily.
- Allow herbs to help you. Consider the herbal formulations mentioned in Part 2 of this series (Stress Ease and Tranquil Mind). Notable herbs are brahmi, ashwagandha, and shankhapushpi. (As always, check with your practitioner before taking herbs.)
- If you have any thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, seek professional help immediately. This is a very trying time and sometimes you need that help—there is no shame or any judgment.
The thing is that amidst the challenges and tribulations, you get sprinkles of gold—your baby’s first smile, new skills that they learn, learning just how much strength you really do have (I could not believe how functional I could be on so little sleep!), the first time you get to sleep more than a couple hours straight, the feeling you get when your baby is cuddled against your chest. Just remember the challenges and hard times are temporary, just like everything else in the world. This too shall pass.
The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Banyan Botanicals. Our blog is a place where people who participate in and benefit from Ayurveda can share their experience and knowledge. Before starting any new activity, routine, or program, we recommend that you consult with your physician or healthcare provider. Please also note that our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional advice.