Ayurvedic Postpartum

Smiling african mother and babyI love sharing the beautiful Indian cultural practice of postpartum “confinement” in which new moms and their babies stay home for 40 days after birth. I learned about this tradition because i was raised in a Sikh community and lived in India for 12 years. As a mother and a midwife who practiced in New Zealand for eight years, I am delighted about the resurgence of this postpartum practice in America, a tradition that is standard in most non-western cultures.

WHY 40 DAYS?

Although the time period varies, in most Indian communities confinement is forty days or roughly six weeks because this is the time during which most women establish breastfeeding. Also, physical healing is supported, and stamina is restored for normal life activities during the confinement. There is an Indian saying that ‘the first 40 days of life will impact the next 40 years of life.

Confinement allows the mother’s body to recover from the intensity of childbirth when hormone levels change dramatically, the uterus returns to pre pregnant size, milk production is established, and the perineum or caesarean section incision heals.

Women are becoming mothers (even if it is not for the first time) while processing the events of the birth, adjusting to a lack of sleep and responding to new bodily demands.This postpartum time is physically demanding but is also a precious window for bonding and offering the new baby a gentle welcome to the world.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE 40 DAYS?

I remember acutely the 40 days at home with my newborn daughter. While dealing with the challenges of engorgement, tender nether regions, and the wild roller coaster ride of hormonal changes, I needed the nurturance of others. The help my husband and I received facilitated our gaining confidence as new parents. Contrary to the sound of the word “confinement,” women who practice this tradition are not alone, which lowers the anxiety and stress of motherhood. In my experience, women who follow this practice—including receiving the help of others—have lower rates of postpartum depression.

The primary purposes of the 40 day seclusion are to provide the sensitive newborn physical protection and to allow the mother complete rest and recuperation. In India mothers are encouraged to abstain from chores, food preparation, cleaning or even hosting guests. Mothers are given the often underestimated need for deep rest and time with their newborn. Going out may include short walks around the block for mothers, but babies stay at home unless there is an urgent need to leave the home.

In Ayurveda, a 5000 year old Indian healing tradition, this period is considered a sensitive time for mothers, particularly for the digestive system—hence the strong emphasis on simple, digestible foods. Traditionally, mothers are given hot oil massages daily. They are fed very simple but special foods and a number of herbal drinks to promote healing and recovery, boost their immunity and improve milk supply.

HOW DOES ONE GET HELP?

Young Attractive Ethnic Woman Holding Her Newborn Baby Under Dramatic Lighting.In traditional Indian culture wives live with their in-laws.  After giving birth new mothers either return to their mother’s home or their mothers come to stay with them. Usually many female relatives are available to help during this special time. In our society postpartum arrangements require more creativity and planning.

Some moms do have one or several female relatives who can come for periods of time. For some, like me, the best option was hiring someone for cooking and cleaning and asking close friends for other kinds of support. It required a financial commitment on our part, but my husband agrees that it was well worth it. I view it as an investment in the rest of my life, and my child’s life.

SEEK OUT HELPERS

It’s important to choose helpers who can hold the sacred space of this time. Tasks may include fielding phone calls or visitors, helping with laundry, making a Badaam Milk (see recipe below), preparing special foods and teas throughout the day, or giving a foot massage—as one friend did for me while I nursed my baby for what felt like the thousandth time that day. Postpartum doulas can fill this role by offering both physical and emotional support during the 40 days.

In our Sikh community, a network of close friends and family bring simple and delicious meals every day of the forty days. A friend can be a point person to create a meal schedule for other friends who commit to making one meal a week for six weeks. This allows mothers to keep the forty day practice when no family is close by. Other community members often offer to care for other children, or even pets, which is very helpful during this time. Any support that reduces the pressure on a mother and her family is a perfect gift in these first weeks.

I know it can be challenging for new mothers to arrange for forty days of rest in the midst of busy and stressful lives. Some moms need to return to work or have other children to care for. Regardless of circumstances, however, I encourage women to ask for and be willing to receive the help needed for healing and bonding. These first weeks are like none other. Maybe the rest of life can wait for just 40 days.

 AYURVEDIC FOODS RECOMMENDED DURING THE FIRST WEEKS AFTER BIRTH

lentil soup

Cooked vegetables (not cruciferous: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and bok choy)

Fruits

Legumes: yellow mung, red lentils, green mung beans

Warm food

Nuts/Nut butters

Whole milk dairy products

Whole grains: well cooked

Ghee (clarified butter)

Ginger (in small amounts)

Basil, cumin, fenugreek, fennel, dill

Milk puddings; tapioca, rice pudding (without eggs)

AYURVEDIC FOODS DISCOURAGED DURING THE FIRST WEEKS AFTER BIRTH

Caffeine (chocolate, coffee)

Cigarettes and alcohol

Raw vegetables

Yeasted breads

Chilies, onions, garlic

Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, brussel sprouts, broccoli)

Fermented foods

Cold/icy or crunchy foods

Sugar

Meat

Foods in the nightshade family: tomatoes, potatoes, sweet peppers, and eggplant, for example.

RECIPE FOR BADAAM (ALMOND) NURSING DRINK

iStock_000022545215Small

Soak 10 almonds overnight.

1 cup of warm milk

1/2 tsp of Ghee

1 tsp of honey or maple syrup

pinch of turmeric (optional)

Slip the skins off the almonds. Blend all ingredients together, strain out the pieces of almond as desired. Heat mixture on low heat. Serve warm.

 POSTPARTUM CARE RESOURCES

After the Baby’s Birth: A Woman’s Way to Wellness…A Complete Guide for Postpartum Women. by Robin Lim.

Natural Health after Birth: The Complete Guide to Postpartum Wellness. by Aviva Jill Romm.

Traditional Confinement Foods for New Moms.

For more information or recipes for the 40 day period, please feel free to contact me directly at info@mynurturingsolutions.com.

And, here’s a great introduction to Ayurvedic cooking in general:

Ayurvedic Cooking for Westerners: Familiar Western Food Prepared with Ayurvedic Principles. by Amadea Morningstar.

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shabd-simran-smallShabd ‘Simran’ Adeniji is a midwife and parent educator in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She offers in-home/phone/Skype consultations from pregnancy through parenting. Contact her at 505-552-2454 or at www.mynurturingsolutions.com.

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Peggy O'Mara

About Peggy O'Mara

Editor and Publisher of peggyomara.com. Longtime natural living advocate, award winning writer, and independent thinker.

37 thoughts on “Ayurvedic Postpartum

  1. S. Nicoletta Rogers

    This is beautiful! Just imagine if ALL mothers and babies EVERYWHERE were cared for in this way! What a wonderful way to start out as a new baby AND as a new mother! I think the ramifications would be phenomenal, if this was practiced all around the globe!

    Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  2. lightheart7200

    I can’t even imagine how glorious it would be to have a time of bonding and rest with your new baby like this. When I had each of my three babies, I was also a full-time stepmother of three active older children, working part-time from home, actively involved with our small family farm, trying to keep up our home in order… basically busy out of my mind. Forty days of rest is as untouchable of a notion as a trip to the moon for me, and I envy anyone who could even get four days of rest.

    Reply
  3. Oneva Pena

    What a wonderful article. After my home birth with my second child I loved the time at home with my family without having to leave the house for any reason. Although I didn’t stay home for anywhere near 40 days I can see the importance and benifit of staying home for the full six weeks, both for a mother recovering from birth and adjusting to motherhood as well as a baby coming into this new world.

    Also, I have thoroughly enjoyed the parenting classes with you being held at Chaparral Elementary. Thank you for helping me on my journey to continually grow as a mother and role model for my daughters.

    Reply
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    • Olga

      I am far from an expert, but according to how I feel when I eat cruciferous veggies, I believe it is because of gas building and if you are breast feeding it might create more gas in your baby.

      Reply
    • Simran Adeniji

      Leslie, In Ayurvedic medicine cruciferous vegetable are seen as gas producing vegetables typically ( cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts etc. ). I suggest that moms try introducing green leafy vegetables in the 2nd to 3rd week of their post partum period ( kale, chard etc.) They have lots of nutrients of course but they can be tougher to digest and the key concept of this Post Partum period (Ayurvedically) is that the digestive system is a little weak in this period and we need to only give simple, easy to digest foods to the mother. In addition, avoiding raw vegetables like salad is helpful as these foods are energetically ‘cold’ and we are wanting to only offer ‘warm’ foods to the mother, this aids in healing and in containing her energy that she needs for her own recovery and milk production.
      Simran

      Reply
  5. Olga

    Dear Peggy,
    This is a wonderful article. While the 40 days “confinement” is not new to me, as it something very strictly practiced where I come from – Moldova, I had no idea it is a custom in India as well. Back home, in my culture, it is said that a cup of the traditional Moldovan chicken soup “zeama” will help the new mom to recover. As for the nursing milk – grandmothers say that a piece of bread toped with walnuts and honey drunk with a cup of milk will help improve milk supply too. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and for the recipes, which I will sure try. I hope all women embrace this practice and take this time to bond with their baby! With much appreciation,
    Olga

    Reply
  6. sunnysandiegan

    According to Ayurveda, you should never cook or heat honey. In the recipe with almonds given in this article, add honey to the warm but not super hot dish at the end right before ou eat it. Cooked honey is considered toxic in Ayurveda

    Reply
    • Simran Adeniji

      Yes Sunnysandiegan you’re absolutely right! Thanks for clarifying that. I usually just warm the drink enough to melt the ghee but you raise a great point which is not to cook with honey but to use it only at the end. Thanks. Simran

      Reply
  7. Chetana

    Ayurvedic practices also recommend keeping the new mother warm. I am an Indian and I have seem many, many new mothers wearing sweaters and woolen head scarves even in summer. The reasoning behind this is that the mother has lost a lot of heat during child birth and needs to preserve all her energies.

    Reply
    • Simran Adeniji

      Chetana thanks for your input! In fact, there are many practices that I did not include in this short article but you are completely right. Like in many cultures, Ayurveda promotes keeping warm afterbirth to preserve your energy and promote healing and recovery, it is also beneficial for producing milk. Hence the use of warm vs cold foods and also eating ‘warming’ foods.. those which create warmth when ingested like certain spices, ginger, honey etc.

      Reply
  8. Ayurveda Mama

    As a fellow Ayurvedic practitioner – and mother to 2 young children – who also specialises in delivering Ayurvedic doula and post natal care packages, I can fully attest to the need to bring this back to new mothers. It really works! Mothers i have worked with says it has saved their lives, sanity, alleviated post natal depression and leaves them feeling calm and confident with a calm baby. The way women are expected to get back to ‘normal’ asap, is nothing short of criminal. We need to cherish and nurture them at this crucial time, with the help of all female communities and helpers.

    Reply
    • Simran Adeniji

      Ayurveda mama, yay for more ayurvedic post partum doula services for mamas! Thanks for your solidarity! it’s such a precious time and everyone deserves this support.. I completely agree that our expectations to ‘get back to normal’ put so much pressure on new mothers. I hope that we can change the culture around this special time and bring folks back to some of the traditions that we have lost from all of our heritages over time.
      Good luck with your work!

      Simran

      Reply
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  11. Anhoni Patel

    Simran, thank you so much for writing this piece, illuminating this practice and for sharing these recipes.

    While I wasn’t completely confined for 40 days, I was able to do something similar after the birth of both my children and it was incredibly healing and helpful. I am Indian and my mother stayed with me after I delivered. With her help and care and love, I was able to rest as much as I could. She gave me massages every day for three weeks (!), prepared morning sitz baths for me in the mornings and nurtured me with tons of great Ayurvedically-based and balancing foods and teas that helped me with postpartum healing, breastfeeding and replenishing my body with vital nutrients.

    I took several of her recipes, which were passed down to her from her mother and my grandmother’s mother before that, etc., and started sharing them with other new mothers. I was so honored to do so. Since then I have started a business called Mrs. Patel’s, that offers these Ayurvedically-based treats and teas to nursing moms around the country. Please check us out.

    Many thanks .

    Reply
    • Simran Adeniji

      Anhoni, Thanks you so much for your comments! I love to hear about other people’s experience of this special time after a baby is born. I’m so glad you mentioned massage too! I am writing something more specifically about massage in the 40 days since it’s so important! So wonderful that you offer such a wonderful service to new mothers, yumm! I will be looking you up Mrs. Patel:)
      Simran

      Reply
  12. Jyothi

    Hi Peggy,

    Wonderful article. Well explined the 40 days care and its health benefits.
    Beautiful and delicious pictures. I am sure any pregnant women who gets a chance to read this will defenitely follow this advice.

    Thanks again for sharing this traditional wisdome. All the best

    Reply
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    • Shabd Simran Adeniji

      Hi Neha,
      Congratulations on the birth of your baby! Yes, Tapioca is wonderful food in the Postpartum period.. it’s a great vehicle for whole milk/fats that are nourishing in the recovery period. If you’re making it at home be sure to add some warming spices like cinnamon, cardamom or even black pepper!:) They all aid in recovery.
      Take Care.

      Reply
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