Even wonder what a doula trained in Ayurveda works with postpartum care? We chit-chaatted with NAMA certified Ayurveda Doctor, Madison Madden, co-founder of Pacific Coast Ayurveda to get the what, when and why postpartum care is beneficial for mom and baby.f
A chit-chaat with Madison Madden, AD
Why is postpartum care important for new mothers?
I consider the postpartum period the “4th trimester” and a trimester that is equally as important as the first three. According to Ayurveda, without proper care and rejuvenation, a woman sets herself up for severe health problems later in life. With that said, most women in our culture will never recover from the fatigue and depletion of their first birth.
Ayurveda also informs us that a healthy mother is required for a healthy baby. Physically the quality of her milk literally becomes the baby’s physical body. Emotionally, the quality of her care and her presence becomes the baby’s feeling of safety and love, which is intimately tied to the baby’s’ health – such as their digestive health, hormones, stress response, and the health of the vagus nerve, the body’s superhighway to health vs. dis-ease. Spiritually, the mother’s spiritual connection allows the mother & baby to bond on a soul level.
In Ayurveda, the goal is to bring the mother back to her pre-pregnancy state of health, or better! What a different world this would be, full of happy, healthy, soul-connected mothers…
What happens to the mother’s body after birth?
A mother’s body is very weak after giving birth. “Ayurvedically” speaking, labor and delivery severely affect the vata dosha. The agni or digestive strength steeply lowers after delivery, which reduces appetite, lowers the capacity for digesting food and having healthy bowel movements, inhibits circulation, and increases the sensitivity of the nervous system. Keeping the agni strong is vital for a healthy flow of breastmilk, as well as for the mother’s general strength and vitality. Breastfeeding, a very natural process for the woman’s body, can often be a challenging and troubling venture for new mothers. Her diet and stress levels must not be overlooked, as both directly impact her production and healthy flow of breastmilk, called stanya. This is because the quality and levels of food and stress create either a healthy agni, or a weak agni. Think of it like a fire, that helps to transform food into vital nutrients and tissue (breastmilk), and also helps keep the pipes free from blockages (proper flow).
After birth, the body is also flooded with a highly intoxicating cocktail of hormones that create feelings of love, connection, even bliss. Meanwhile, the body is also very fatigued from labor, and the vaginal canal is recovering similarly to that of a major open wound. The internal organs slowly begin to drop and contract back towards their pre-pregnancy shape and position.
Why 40 days?
In many traditions and cultures all over the world, 40 days is considered to represent a cycle of change. In Kundalini Yoga, for example, it takes 40 days of committed daily practice to break a pattern, and begin a new one. Becoming a mother is a major change, a life-altering transition. It requires a woman to radically change her orientation to herself and the world.
Her physical body echos this, and takes about 40 days to restore the major trauma and fatigue of birth. In Ayurveda, it takes approximately 40 days for a nutrient to be fully digested and assimilated into the deepest tissues of the body. So the carrot you eat today goes through a digestive process that takes it through your GI tract and the 7 dhatus (tissues) – rasa, rakta, meda, mamsa, athsi, majja, and shukra. Only then, does it becomes a vital part of your immunity, your ojas (or conversely, it becomes a toxin if it is not digested fully, or if it is not a pure food).
During pregnancy, a woman’s body prioritizes sending nutrients to the fetus. The 40 days post-birth reorients the system and prioritizes the nourishment of her own body. It is important to recognize that a “nutrient” does not just mean food, it is anything that you intake – food, liquid, breathe, perceptions. That is why a 40-day postpartum regime takes a truly holistic approach.
What does the 40-day program typically include?
An ayurvedic postpartum program is customized to the individual, based on their health, their dosha, the season, and their resources. In general, it includes dietary support, including support with cooking and preparing food, if a family does not have pre-existing support for cooking. It also includes a customized herbal regime that restores the agni or digestive strength, support the breastmilk, the immunity, and bala (strength). Bala refers to the strength of the body and mind – the strength of the physical tissues, immune-system, consistent natural rhythms (sleep, digestion, cycles), mental & emotional stability.
I generally include a spiced herbal tea, a rasayanam, and an herbal jam, such as Chayvanprash. Thailam or herbal oil is strongly encouraged to balance vata dosha and prevent long-term chronic pain of the lower back, hips, and legs. Ideally, the new mother is given abhyanga or herbal oil massage and gentle sudation or sweat through herbal baths, steam, etc. She is also guided in pranayama and meditation. We want the mother to spend virtually every moment in her parasympathetic nervous system, her rest and restore response. The combination of deeply nourishing and gently detoxifying therapies, together with calming and uplifting practices, creates an optimal environment for the mother’s body to heal and restore. Therefore, she offers the best quality food (physically and metaphysically) to the baby.
One of the most fun parts is baby massage! Baby massage and baby massage oil should be offered. A practitioner can perform the baby massage, and will also teach the family so that it can become a regular ritual. Regular massage nourishes and calms baby, helps to build healthy skin, protect from skin conditions, and balance common conditions in babies such as eczema & colic. It is also a wonderful bonding ritual, that creates cues for safety and loving touch in the earliest days of life. Homemade warm-pressed coconut oil is traditionally used in Kerala, India. Traditional herbal oils such as Nalpamaradi Kera are also used. I include a traditional oil and directions for baby massage in the postpartum package that I offer.
Food and lifestyle guidelines for both mother and baby are given for the postpartum period. After the first 40 days, diet and lifestyle can begin to change, and guidelines are given to continue to support the mother and baby.
How does Ayurveda approach postpartum nutrition?
Ayurveda approaches postpartum nutrition very holistically. A nutritional regime is built upon the strength of the agni (metabolic digestion), constitution (dosha), and quality (or digestibility) of the food. There are some general rules-of-thumb, such as cooked food is preferred over raw after birth no matter what dosha is involved. Grounding, nourishing, and foods that encourage re-building of tissue are best. The easier to digest the better. The more whole, fresh, unprocessed, prana-rich foods, the better.
There are other considerations that need to be given on an individual basis, such as spices, quantity, heaviness, rhythm, and varieties of protein and produce. In the traditional texts of Ayurveda, there are many overlaps, as well as variabilities, often due to the region it was written in. Seasonal and regional considerations are very important factors as well.
It is important to remember that “nutrition” does not just mean food. In Ayurveda, we consider one’s diet to be everything that they intake. This includes food, liquids, air, and perceptions – and not just what you take in, but how you digest what you take in. One may eat the most nutrient dense food in the world, but if eating it in fear, it will become a toxin to the body. In joy, it becomes nectar! Therefore one’s mental and emotional state while eating and digesting is just as important as the food itself. While what you eat, when you eat & how much you eat, are very important, how you eat is perhaps the most important.
Why is massage highly recommended in Ayurveda after a mother gives birth?
Giving birth can be tremendously stressful for the mother, even if she does it with the most beautiful ease and grace. Her sympathetic nervous response, the fight-flight-freeze response, is almost always heightened, especially in births that are outside of the home or that have complications. It is absolutely critical to support the mother in bringing her nervous system out of a sympathetic response and back into a parasympathetic response. Then, her body and mind can rest and heal.
Massage plays a vital role in this process. It tonifies the tissues, encourages proper circulation, while also deeply nourishing the nervous system. According to Ayurveda, massage with proper technique and oils can prevent many chronic conditions that begin in the postpartum period.
If having a doula is not an option for new parents, do you have any tips or alternatives?
Ask a friend, whom you really enjoy the presence of, and you feel can be very empathetic, to attend your birth. Ask them if they would simply be there with you through it. Perhaps someone who has gone through, or has experienced birth, but who will not bring their own opinions or agendas into yours. Having someone you trust, alongside your partner (if you have one), tends to be very supportive.
Consulting with an Ayurvedic Practitioner prior to birthing, about creating a plan for diet and lifestyle during and after pregnancy. I offer Postnatal Self-Care Kits, which include herbs, oils, and sitz bath. Ask your friends and family to support you in implementing the plan, making changes, preparing food, and self-care rituals like massage and bathing.
Are there any books you recommend for new mothers?
- Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (for pregnant mothers).
- Discovering the True You Through Ayurveda, by Sebastian Pole for lifelong health
Madison Madden is recognized as an Ayurvedic Doctor by NAMA (National Ayurvedic Medical Association), Birth Doula, and a certified Kundalini Yoga Teacher and Movement Educator. She is co-founder of Pacific Coast Ayurveda in Gualala, California where she offers Ayurvedic and Yogic Counseling, childbirth support services, including pre-natal, post-natal and labor support. Director of Panchakarma (deep tissue detoxification) at her wellness center, she believes in the body’s inherent ability to heal and thrive.