Having a baby is a natural, amazing, powerful, and life-changing event. Physiologically, this time period is impactful for many reasons. The exhaustion, depletion, and physical strain that begin during pregnancy only continue once baby is born. The physical feat of labor and delivery take a massive toll on the body. The pelvis needs time for recovery, especially if there was a caesarean, tearing, or an episiotomy. When the woman’s uterus opens, she loses a lot of blood and fluids and is more susceptible to pathogens.
An ancient Chinese text states:
“It is not only during delivery that women must worry. When they arrive at the postpartum stage, they must exercise particular caution. This is where the greatest threat to their lives is found.
“Women were advised to not be left alone as they could act in a way that caused harm to their health by invasion of pathogens. It was said that a small pathogen could make a big problem for a woman who has just given birth. This is because after delivery is complete the organs suffer from weakness and deficiency. They need to be supported and nourished.
“The blood that comes from the uterus after birth must be regulated to ensure that no stale blood is left behind.
“Deficiency and stasis were also causes of troubles with breast feeding — all the more reason to regulate and nourish mindfully post birth — for the long-term care of the mother and short-term uterine health and breast-feeding success.”
From a Chinese medical perspective, females are principally composed of, and dominated by, blood. It is at the core of our physical and emotional health.
The blood of the female body was described in ancient texts as:
“… by its (the blood) openness vulnerability to such pathogenic substances such as wind, cold, and postpartum blood obstruction, in addition to chronic vacuity and weakness that result from the ravages of pregnancy, childbirth and lactation.”
Ultimately, blood is the root of all female health and it is the one thing we are continually losing through menstruation and reproduction.
The fact that blood loss and deregulation has been documented and tracked over the centuries provides a strong footing for what we see with woman today experiencing challenges in the first few years after birth. Thankfully, now we can reap the benefit from this knowledge and pre-emptively care for women to properly prevent depletion after childbirth from occurring.
The main causes of women’s vulnerability are:
- Stresses of childbirth > taxation, loss of blood after birth > depletion, physical exhaustion
- Postpartum period > woman being vulnerable after birth to problems with bleeding, infection, weakness, blood stagnation, loss of blood
- Return to menstruation > difficulties with the onset of menstruation, emotional instability, damage to internal organs, menstrual disorders, and irregular flow of blood and qi in the channels.
In labour the body exhausts itself, the placenta tears from the uterine wall leaving a wound, and then the feeding process begins, continuing the ongoing drain of mama’s nutrition. Sleep is sparse, emotions are flowing, and the mother is vulnerable and in need of rest and refilling. Delivery and the first few months of motherhood deplete the body and its resources physically, but we must also consider the emotional, mental, and spiritual effects of this precious time.
There is so much attention provided to the preparation for labour and delivery, but not nearly as much care focused on the postpartum time. It is of the utmost importance to take time for recovery while you are adapting to the intensity of newborn baby care. Once your child enters the world, everything changes. Your entire focus is on this little person and self-care tends to be put to the side. Sleep is elusive, your body feels weak and tired as you’ve lost a lot of blood, and hormones shift in massive ways.
All too often in our society postpartum overwhelm, anxiety and depression occur. In the Western world, many women are all alone in their homes, stressed, tired, and unsure of what to do with their babies. After a month or so of visitors, everybody goes back to daily routines and yet we are at home alone with the baby.
For many women this can create huge conflicts, guilt, and a host of other feelings. There is so much pressure these days to do it all the right way, but what is the right way?
We feel that the first two years of postpartum care are the most important ones to take good care of yourself, as this sets you up for a lifetime. The depletion that occurs in the first year after having a baby can be so profound that full recovery can be very difficult if not attended to right away. If a mother chooses to do the self-care that is required for adequate recovery, by being attentive and attuned to her body and mind, she can save herself the premature onset of many chronic diseases.
Chinese medicine will help to assess blood and fluid depletion and deregulation after birth. Using acupuncture, moxibustion, food therapy and herbal formulas we can help balance emotions and physiology.
Traditionally in China this deep exhaustion and depletion was attended to by the practice of the Zuo Yue Zi or Golden month — “the sitting month” — for new mothers. This means the mama is fully taken care of, fed, allowed to rest fully, and never exposed to drafts or cold of any kind. Proper foods and eating habits are encouraged to help with recovery as another way to restore blood, fluids, and nutrients, to regulate the bowels, and to build or maintain adequate milk supply.
Some recommendations from the traditional practice of the Sitting Month:
- REST is a priority. Do not become re-engaged in the life you had before. Slow down!
- Reach out for communal assistance with household chores and food preparation.
- Consider abdominal or belly binding to support the health and recovery of your abdomen — you can contact Angie Falk from Birthing Insights for belly binding locally.
- Regulate lactation. Get help with breast-feeding if you need it. Getting a good start will make a huge difference hormonally, for your breast health, your ability to get longer sleeps, and your baby’s comfort.
- Use blood building foods and herbs to rebuild what has been depleted and to keep your milk supply abundant.
Things to avoid during the Sitting month:
- New moms and babies should limit exposure to wind, cold and pathogens. Keep the house and rooms warm especially at night when getting up to feed. And use hot oil rubs with sesame or coconut oil.
- Avoid cold water.
- Wash you hair as infrequently as you can — the traditional practice was to use dry washing to avoid the chill that can come from wet hair.
- Avoid baths, choose short warm showers in a warm bathroom. Dry off completely before leaving the bathroom.
- Keep your back, abdomen, and feet warm and covered at all times.
- Avoid lifting and climbing stairs — have family members carry you baby for you as much as possible unless you are sitting, especially after a C section. This can help your pelvic floor recover much faster.
- Avoid uncomfortable nursing positions, use ample pillow support when nursing in a sitting position or simply lie down.
- Do not watch TV or read in bed to protect the eyes. The eyes are the opening of the liver and the liver regulates the blood. The over use of the eyes can exhaust your liver blood. This is an important piece in this time of the world because of phones and excessive computer use.
- Do not over eat. Eat smaller amounts, chew well, eat slowly, be mindful — protect your stomach.
- Do not shed tears. The tears are the fluid of the liver. Each tear is said to be like 500 grams of gold.
- Avoid sex for up to 100 days.
- Specifically for the first month avoid sex when you are tired, the weather has changed, you are nervous, going to a funeral, or having an argument — some older references add when you are drunk or on your birthday.
Enjoy this precious time. Do the best you can for your self care. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. Despite how difficult it can be to withdraw from the life you knew from before to follow these post partum practices — taking the time now for health, will save you the time later in life treating disease!
These practices are one of the best ways woman can prevent postpartum depression, burnout and overwhelm with small children, the onset of various chronic diseases during the middle age, and uncomfortable menopause later on.
See the Postpartum Care links for some food and supplement suggestions.
One practice we find very beneficial is “Mother roasting”: a warming moxibustion treatment performed over the lower abdomen in the first weeks postpartum. This is a way of helping to recover the strength and integrity of the uterus and to ease appropriate blood flow from the mother’s body as she heals from birth. Please inquire with us about mother roasting. Babies are always welcome to join their mothers in the treatment room.
The following is a list of ailments commonly supported with Chinese medicine during the postpartum period, at Wild Roots:
- Prolonged or profuse postpartum bleeding
- Abdominal pain or retention of placenta
- Postpartum constipation or changes in digestion
- Difficulties with breastfeeding, painful nipples, mastitis engorgement, or insufficient milk supply
- Postpartum anxiety, depression, irritability
- Difficulty restoring regular menstruation
- Exhaustion, insomnia