Postpartum Healing: A Holistic Approach
It is believed in Chinese Medicine that proper healing in the postpartum period can lead to a graceful menopause, greater health overall and even recovery from previous illness and chronic dis-ease. The body, mind and spirit go through tremendous changes in pregnancy and these changes don’t stop once baby is in the outer world. We must grieve our lives from before, we must learn to communicate and support a whole new human who is utterly dependent on us, we must find a new rhythm and our bodies must find a new normal. This takes time, lots of patience and support from our greater village and can lead to amazing, almost magical transformation in our bodies, beliefs and perceptions.
While most put lots of emphasis on the birth plan and what the nursery will look like, not many think about those tender weeks, months and first year of recovery and transformation, love and grief, confusion and joy. It truly takes a village to support a new family in this period of time and I encourage all my clients to sit down and make a plan in advance. Asking friends and family to help cook food, do chores, run errands and give a family space to find their new groove.
In many traditional practices including traditional Chinese medicine, the mother and baby were left from one moon cycle up to 6 weeks to recover and build their bond. Family and friends would bring food, clean, keep mom and baby warm and away from cold, wind and the outer world, in order to protect the new family from illness, over exertion and emotional overwhelm. In some cases the mother was not even allowed to bath. Her only job was to eat, rest and learn the language of her new baby. In our modern world we know it is good to bath on occasion and getting some gentle exercise is very important to help in both physical healing and mental wellbeing. But the general principles behind these practice are still important to keep both moms and babies healthy, encourage recovery and bonding and lead to long term health outcomes.
In this article I am going to go through some of the key elements to work with postpartum that I have learned in my studies, practice and life.
Building up the blood and yin
“Qi is the commander of blood and blood is the mother of qi”
It takes Yin, Qi and Blood to make a child. Yin the material form of all life gives rise to the anatomy of the body; its organs, tissues, muscle, skin…. Qi the energetic form of all life gives rise to the physiology of the body; digesting food, breathing, thinking, moving,… Blood, a yin substance connects the mother and baby, nourishing the fetus in the womb and then turning into breastmilk after the baby is born. Labour requires an extraordinary amount of qi to birth our babies and with the birth mothers lose some blood and with it more qi. Thus it is essential to build up the yin and blood to restore mama to her full strength and to make the milk that baby requires.
The best way to build up yin and blood is through the food and drink that we consume. Bone broths, liver, red meat and red fruits and vegetables are the best for building the blood. Whole grains, nuts, seeds and spices help build up the milk. Warmly cooked and neutral foods are easiest to digest. Here are a list of foods that are great to give a new mama.
Bone broths (my favourite recipe)
Red Meats and Liver to replace Iron
Beets and Red fruits esp. Chinese red dates aka jujubes, goji berries, raspberries, strawberries and cherries to build the blood
Oats, Barley, Peas, Legumes, walnuts, almonds, sunflower, flax, pumpkin and hemp seeds to nourish the milk
Fennel, anise, dill, coriander, caraway and cardamom to aid digest and increase breast milk.
Keeping the body warm aka mother roasting
All that qi and blood that gets used in labour can leave one feeling chilled and more vulnerable to invading pathogens like wind and cold. Thus it is essential to keep both mom and babe (who can’t regulate their temperature yet) nice and warm. There are several ways to do this.
- Wrap mom and babe in warm clothes and blankets
- keep windows closed, especially if there is a cold wind.
- Feed mom warm teas and foods
- Moxa!! An amazing medicine in my tool kit. Moxabustion is made of Chinese Mugwort, one of the only ways to increase qi and Yang (heat) from an external source. I give all of my postpartum clients a moxa stick to use three days after birth (six weeks after a cesarean) The stick is lit and held over the womb space and slowly moved over the abdomen in circles, spirals or figure eights until the skin becomes slightly red and warm. This feeds the qi, warms the body, moves the blood to prevent stagnation and clotting and generally feels amazing!
- Get a full Mother Roasting treatment! For more info
Of course you do not want them to get to hot either, so in summer do be mindful of the ambient temperature of your rooms.
Reducing pain and inflammation
The body’s natural response to going through the hard work of labour, the stretching and sometimes tearing of tissues, the hours of squatting and pushing is to send fluid and immune cells to these tissues to repair them. This insurgence causes inflammation which causes pain. In order to reduce the pain we want to reduce the inflammation by helping the healing of tissues. Good nutrition as mentioned above is key to repairing the skin and building new vessels and cells, especially helpful is bone broth and collagen. Other helpful nutrients are vitamin A, C and zinc which are crucial to building new collagen and blood vessels, Rutin and grape seed extract are antioxidants that help vitamin c enter the cells and prevent scar tissue formation. Also taking natural anti-inflammatories like bromelain or turmeric can reduce inflammation, pain and speed healing.
One of my favourite and safest ways to speed healing, reduce inflammation and pain is with acupuncture. Acupuncture works by stimulating neurotransmitters that modulate pain, release tight muscles and helps the body find the optimum path to healing. Ideally, having acupuncture in your home three days after your delivery is best to promote healing and well being. But it can be done at any time even months after delivery to help heal scar tissue and residual aches and pains.
Homeopathics are gentle yet potent medicines that hold the vibration of the plants, animals and minerals they are made from and help the body find its return to health by itself much like acupuncture. For pain and inflammation: arnica Montana 200c, calendula officinalis 200c, staphysagria 200c and hypericum perforatum 200c are taken one tablet at a time up to every half hour.
Keeping the emotions balanced
In TCM, Our emotional well-being is controlled by the liver who is responsible for the smooth flow of all our mental, emotional and physical energy, as well as bodily fluids. So if we get stuck in a mental or emotional rut or don’t move enough our qi becomes stagnated causing the liver to become upset and stagnate further. As we know post birth there has been lots of qi and blood lost and the change in our hormones, sleep schedules and need to rest can lead to further qi stagnation and emotional imbalance.
Acupuncture excels in balancing the emotions. In fact, in Chinese medicine each emotions is associated with a different organ. Long term emotional imbalance can injure the organs as can injury to organs lead to emotional imbalance but lucky it is quite easy to help the qi move smoothly and find the correct path again, relieving anxiety, depression, worry, sadness, fear, shock, anger and over stimulation.
Some other ways to help process and balance your emotion are:
Support groups- We are never alone in our experiences, though we are each unique we also share so much especially in the world of birth and parenting. We were all born and were parented and many will go on to birth and parent themselves. Finding others who have gone through birth and parenthood or are going through it helps us to remember we are not alone and allows us to express our feelings and thoughts and hear from others perhaps gleaning some nuggets of wisdom, tools or compassion for ourselves and others.
Counselling- seeking out a trained counsellor who has experience in working with birth and parenting and can offer tools and insights can be a real game changer. I am especially fond of somatic and mindfulness based approaches.
Placenta pills are made from your placenta. The placenta is cleaned and dehydrated and then powdered and encapsulated, some also make a tincture or eat their placenta whole. The placenta is full of minerals, especially iron and hormones from pregnancy and labour. Some women find that consuming their placenta helps balance the hormones and emotions after they drop on the third day postpartum. Others find they are too sensitive to it and can’t take it. When looking for someone to encapsulate your placenta always make sure they have training in blood borne infections and proper clean technique.
Rescue remedy is a combination of five flower essences created by Dr Bach. Like homeopathics they contain the vibrational imprint of the flowers and are especially good at balancing emotions, releasing grief and trauma, reducing anxiety and fear and reconnecting the spirit withe the body. Four drops can be taken at a time as often as needed.
Information in this post and on this web site is provided for informational purposes only. The information is a result of practice experience and research by the author. This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. Do not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing medication or other treatment. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem.