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.
As I have watched my daughter over the last several months as she transitions into this world, I have experienced, first hand, just how much change newborns go through. It is astounding. We all think about the transition from the womb to the world. Certainly this is monumental. But then you also consider the constant change their bodies and minds go through, particularly during those first four months (it now makes sense to me why Indian tradition encourages isolation for four months!).
There are growth spurts (supposedly four distinct growth spurts in those first several months, but I felt like my daughter had constant waves of them, albeit smaller, for the first six weeks) and there are mental developmental leaps. You can see your child change literally overnight with new skills, greater alertness, or even physical growth (I could have sworn that onesie was looser just a few days ago!). It is a roller coaster for them!
For the most part, babies’ bodies know what to do and the mother’s role is simply to love and nurture and feed the baby. My biggest learning as a mother is to simply let my baby do her thing as her innate intelligence guides her to do so. Of course, every baby is different—some need a little more support and some take to guidance very naturally. For instance, my daughter just took to routine very well. I always started the day the same way at the same time and the rest of the day seemed to flow.
Don’t fall into “google-itis.” I am beyond guilty of this. I was on my phone, trying to find the answer to every little change that happened as soon as it happened. Truth is, the change is going to be constant. I mean, constant! It is just the sweet baby growing up. More often than not, if you just let the baby be and support her with love and care, she will figure it out. Step out of the way! As parents, so many of us feel the need to control—I know I did. Instead, have faith in your child and in her inner consciousness.
Everything is impermanent. This too shall pass.
That said, how can you create an environment that supports your baby as she goes through the changes? What are some practices that will nurture a newborn? You may find, as I did, that these practices actually will simplify your life, making your life a bit easier. Some may be more challenging to incorporate, but do your best and adjust as needed. In the end, your mental health and happiness is most important for your baby.
- Create a vata-pacifying environment. The womb is warm, cozy, and dark. The outside world can be cold and bright with so many stimuli to senses that the baby is not accustomed to. Use soft clothing and bedding. Make sure the room is warm (not hot). As your baby grows she may need cooler temperatures, but initially keep it warm. For the first twenty-one days avoid bright lights in the room (including from the window) and keep it as close to silence as possible. In certain parts of India, the baby is kept in complete darkness for the first few weeks and the mother uses only a candle light for light during feedings and other routines. Hold and love on your baby like crazy, but avoid talking and too much stimuli during this period. Keep heavy fragrances away from your baby. Think about all five senses and how to minimize stimuli during this critical period. Doing so helps the baby adjust and teaches the baby to stay internal. It is said that when the baby experiences stimuli, it activates the memory function of the mind (the baby records it and then looks for it again). Instead, the intellect will develop more without the extra stimuli. After the first twenty-one days to a month, introduce sattvic sounds and scenes. Sing spiritual songs and verses and hang spiritual pictures (but avoid too much such that it overwhelms the senses).
- Avoid visitors. For the first twenty-one days, minimize contact with the baby to just the parents and others that are helping with the postpartum care. After the first twenty-one days, try to limit visitors for four months to just immediate family or your closest friends. The baby and mother are still fragile and sensitive. You want to be sure that the people in contact with you two have the purest hearts and best of intentions. Further, too many new people and their energies can be overwhelming for the newborn.
- Stay indoors. Try to stay indoors for the first few weeks, as your immune system and your baby’s immune system is very fragile and sensitive to germs and energies. If you need to escape for fresh air, try to at least keep your baby indoors.
- Massage and daily routine. A warm oil massage after the umbilical cord falls off is one of the best things you can do for your baby. I start at the head and end at the feet. Also include baby exercises like cycling their legs and flexing the legs against the belly. This helps their digestive tract and overall tone and flexibility. Follow the massage with a warm bath. When dressing the baby, place a piece of cotton soaked with lukewarm sesame or castor oil on the head over the soft spot to protect the brain and the very sensitive marma points located there. Keep it in place with a cap. Doing this before bedtime helps soothe the baby for more restful sleep. Alternatively, you can do it in the morning as a good start to the day. Either way, try to make it a routine—the beginning of your baby’s first daily routine!
- Wait and see. More often than not, changes that you see will resolve on their own, whether it is baby acne or a spout of watery stool. My tendency was to figure out what was going on right away, but by the time I figured out possible causes, the issue had resolved. Let them be (within reason, of course) and don’t jump to conclusions. You will save yourself so much time and instead use that time for relaxation or meditation if you can do this.
- Read about newborn and infant development beforehand. As I wrote earlier, your baby is going to go through so many changes constantly and it can be overwhelming for not only your baby, but also for you. I read several books that helped quite a bit and it eased my mind significantly. Read about growth spurts and these developmental leaps, coined as "Wonder Weeks" (by authors van de Rijt and Plooij of The Wonder Weeks). I highly recommend reading about these transitions so you can help your baby with them, rather than become confused or frustrated because you just can’t understand what is going on (my case for the first couple weeks). Talk to family and friends who have gone through this as well. It will also give you tools and ideas of how to support your baby through the changes.
- Learn about a variety of parenting styles. There are many different parenting methods and theories. I have come to appreciate that each one has truth in it and no one method is going to work for every baby. Try to learn about the full spectrum—from attachment parenting to schedules and BabyWise (an infant care program)—without jumping to conclusions. It will only give you more tools. I ended up using methods from several of them, and then I also adjusted based on my daughter’s nature.
Becoming a parent is one of the hardest things I have ever experienced, mainly because it is such an unchartered territory with so many factors and emotions that no book could prepare me for. Just focus on purely loving and supporting your baby without your preferences and conveniences getting in the way. Have faith in your child. Have faith in yourself.