Mothering the mother
After birth and the initial flurry of visitors and excitement of a new baby, mothers are often forgotten. So many new parents feel isolation and loneliness as well as exhaustion and overwhelm if they don’t have a lot of support. In this post we will earn how vital postpartum healing is.
There is a lot of emphasis on our health during pregnancy and it is only in more recent times that there is more awareness of the need for post-natal recovery and support for a new mother. Post birth recovery not only includes recovering from the birthing process, but also the previous nine months of pregnancy of growing and carrying a baby.
There is not a big emphasis on post-natal care and postpartum healing in our culture. However, in some of the more traditional cultures women are supported and pampered after giving birth. They are fed nourishing foods and herbs to clean and rebuild their health and wellbeing giving the mother more capacity to care for the newborn child. The need for healing in the postpartum time was recognized in Chinese Medicine thousands of years ago as evidenced in one of the Classical herbal texts we still study from today.
Our body needs healing from pregnancy and birth
Pregnancy puts a strain on many women. Our body changes dramatically during pregnancy. We are growing and nourishing a new being. It is a transitional time where we experience physical and emotional changes. Yet once we have given birth and now have the responsibility of looking after our newborn, our health and wellbeing is no longer a priority. We are so absorbed in being a new mum that we may completely put our needs of healing aside. Yet the impact of pregnancy on our health can last a lifetime if not addressed.
In Chinese medicine, there are four times in a woman’s life that can make or break our health. Pregnancy and postpartum are included in those times. That is why I feel so passionate about educating women on the importance of her own postpartum healing and recovery from pregnancy and birth.
The process of giving birth takes a lot of energy for mother and child. It is not called labour for nothing! Some women are able to bounce back quickly and naturally after pregnancy and birth. Others struggle with the new demands of motherhood, let alone with healing her body after the profound exertion of birthing a baby.
Every woman’s recovery is different
There may be a number of circumstances that may limit our capacity for recovery after giving birth whether it is a vaginal or caesarian birth. These include pre-birth or pregnancy weakness. It may be constitutional or functional weaknesses. It could be difficulty getting pregnant and going through assisted reproduction therapy. It may be having many children, having children close together. It may even be difficulties during pregnancy or the birthing process, birth trauma, interventions or complications. Previous miscarriages, being an older mother, having a weak constitution or even having inadequate post-natal support may predispose us to a greater risk of post-partum symptoms.
During birth we exert an enormous amount of energy, we can experience sleep deprivation and blood loss. C-section or caesarian birth is a major abdominal surgery and requires healing and recovery too. You can learn more about C-section healing here.
Post birth, we nurture our newborn through giving love, breast feeding and caring for their every need, while we are experiencing sleep deprivation and fluid loss through breast feeding. This can lead to weakness, fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, anxiety and isolation. Focusing on your needs too, focusing on postpartum healing is vital for your health and wellbeing, as well as the wellbeing of your family.
Some of the symptoms a woman may experience post birth include loss of appetite, exhaustion, poor digestion, insufficient breast milk production, sleep deprivation, poor memory and depression. How can this be avoided?
Chinese herbal Medicine support post birth
There is an herbal formula that is traditionally prescribed after birth in Chinese medicine called Sheng Hua Tang. This combination of herbs helps to replenish blood loss from birth, improve blood circulation, warm your body, relieve pain and help with the discharge of the lochia. Lochia is the post birth discharge contains blood, mucus, pregnancy tissue, and amniotic fluid. It can last for days or up to 6 weeks and is like a period. This is the first herbal formula used for postpartum healing.
Chinese herbal medicine for fatigue, energy and anxiety
After the post birth formula has been taken, the focus of herbal medicine is then moved to rebuilding blood, increasing your energy levels, strengthening digestion to be able to receive nourishment, ensuring there are enough resources for breast milk.
This may include addressing physical complaints post birth as well as helping the mum adapt to the new responsibilities of having a newborn child. Your herbalist will also address the individual issues you may be experiencing may include treatment for exhaustion, blood loss, insufficient milk production, excessive sweating, constipation, fluctuating emotions, anxiety and post-natal depression. The combination of herbs, called a herbal formula, is uniquely prescribed for you to help with what you are experiencing. They are safe to take while you are breast feeding.
The Golden Month
The Golden Month in Chinese culture is the month of supporting women through the postnatal period and focuses on postpartum healing. By supporting the new mum through this period not only is nourishing to her, but also to the new baby and the family as a whole. We call this mothering the mother.
During the Golden month mother and baby stay at home cocooned in warmth, recovering from the birthing process, healing and bonding. There is usually support from family members, mothers and aunts to help with chores around the house, cooking, holding the baby so you can rest and heal. Some families still have the luxury of support, however many of us have moved away from families and may need to support of friends, community members and from professionals.
In Australia, you can hire postpartum doulas, you can order postpartum meals and nappy services. But don’t forget your own needs.
It takes a village to nurture a mother
How can you support recovery from pregnancy and birth so you feel nourished and have strength to nurture yourself and your new child? It takes a village to support a family. Seeking support, and even preparing your support while pregnant will ease the transition. Postpartum healing does not just happen in the first 6 weeks. While the first 6 weeks is crucial for your healing and recovery, you may need support for the first few years. You can avoid postpartum depletion with the support of Chinese herbal medicine, and support from other mothers, family members and the village you create around you.
There are amazing traditional practices that help with postpartum recovery.
Steps for postpartum healing and recovery after childbirth
- Hire a trained post-partum doula.
- Ask friends and family to help out: whether it is to look after other children or to cook a meal, pick up some shopping; have the support of your community around you.
- Use a meal delivery service for postpartum mums
- Have someone to help with the cleaning and washing.
- Rest, rest, rest when your baby is resting, rest at the same time to give your body a chance to heal after pregnancy and child birth.
- Eat warm nourishing foods and stay hydrated, avoid cold foods and drinks. Below is a soup recipe for rebuilding blood post birth.
- Chinese herbal tonics to rebuild strength –
- Mothering warming – this is a moxabustion treatment to help repair the body after pregnancy and birth
- Chinese herbal medicine to support replenishing blood, increasing energy, relieving anxiety and depression
- Nutritional supplements designed for postpartum, breast feeding and parenting
- Massage to help with pain relief and help support healing after pregnancy and birth
- Postpartum yoga – a gentle restorative practice for physical and mental wellbeing
Acupuncture for postpartum healing
Acupuncture is a healing modality that can be used throughout our lifetime. When I was working at Bumi Sehat, the natural birthing centre in Bali, at times I was called into the birthing room to give acupuncture to mother and newborn. This was just moments after birth. New mothers would also receive acupuncture in the days after giving birth to start the healing process. Acupuncture is generally not painful, it is healing and relaxing. The acupuncture points used depends on your constitution, as well as what you are experiencing. For example, our bodies are generally in a weakened state after birthing, it helps to restore our energy and digestive system so we can absorb nourishing foods.
Mother warming is a beautiful technique that helps to warm our pelvic area and lower back. It feels amazing, feeling the warmth seep into our body, relieving pain and relaxing us while healing our bodies. Different traditions have different techniques. In the Chinese medicine tradition, we use the herb mugwort. This is rolled into a stick and is called moxibustion. This warming technique is used to warm, improve blood circulation, boost our energy, relieve pain and help our uterus heal. Mother warming is generally started five days after birth, and is taught to you so you can do it at home.
Food is medicine. And this applies to our postpartum time. For postpartum healing, we need to eat warm, easy to digest nourishing foods to heal our bodies and to make breastmilk. Hearty soups and stews that are tasty and easy to warm up so you are keeping your body well nourished. I hear many women say to me they struggle with eating or they might just forget as they are so busy attending to everything else. However breastfeeding takes a lot of nourishment and it will deplete our body if we are not eating warm nourishing meals. In Chinese medicine cold is not our friend – it can cause pain and blood stagnation – which is why there is such an emphasis on keeping new mums and bubs warm. So please avoid iced drinks and cold foods while healing after birth.
Rest, ask for help and support from family and friends, consume nourishing warm foods and fluids for recovering after labour and breast milk production.
Nutrition, rest and moderate exercise are important during the months of pregnancy for the health, development and growth of the fetus. They are equally important during the post-partum period when new mothers are recovering from labour, blood loss, breast feeding and taking care of the new born. The care a woman receives in the post-partum period can have a profound effect on her health in the coming years.
The first month after birth and up to 4 months after delivery is the time to take special care of the woman’s health. In many traditions the new mother is often house bound for 4-6 weeks after the birth of a child to ensure post partum healing and full recovery after delivery of a child.
After 4 months the woman is considered fully recovered as the blood has had the chance to replenish and the womb has reduced back to its normal size.
Breast Milk Supply
In the early months of pregnancy your blood increases in volume to be able to support the growing fetus by supplying the placenta with blood and nutrition. Labour and delivery is a monumental exertion of energy and combined with blood loss during labour it can leave you very depleted of energy and blood.
Breast milk according to Chinese medicine comes from the same resources as blood. It is very important to build and support the woman’s health in the post partum period. Nourishing warm foods and fluids need to be consumed for a sufficient supply of breast milk. In some traditional societies the care for the new mother is provided by close family and community members ensuring they are cooked for and fed. All the other chores are taken care of by others. There are still many demands on the health of a woman post-delivery and it is often referred to as the 4th trimester.
When you are struggling to create enough breast milk, we prescribe Chinese herbs to build the supply. Acupuncture or acupressure can also be used according to why. This is based on Chinese medicine diagnosis. It might be a blockage of qi or simply your body lacks the resources and needs tonics to heal.