The postpartum period is one of those things in life that we do not quite appreciate until it finally arrives. You may have the room set, clothes bought and laundered, and the right breast-feeding equipment ready to go. But no amount of preparation can take care of the anxiety and uncertainty that accompanies the transition into motherhood.
Some mothers simply find it easier to navigate their way through the inevitable doubts and worries. But many mothers (one in seven, in fact) find these emotions and fears to be overwhelming, and even crippling. Yet despite these numbers, few mothers even consider that they could suffer from postpartum depression.
Enter Ayurveda, a 5,000 year old science of healing with roots in India, now becoming well-known as yoga’s “sister science," which places a huge emphasis on the first 42 days after birth. The ancient science acknowledges, and deeply appreciates, the massive amount of change that occurs during and after delivery.
The light, cold, and mobile qualities of postpartum change are represented by the ether and air elements (collectively known as vata) in Ayurveda. To be concrete, these qualities manifest themselves in the following ways: a once full abdominal space becomes unoccupied; there is significant blood loss, interrupted sleep patterns, constipation and gas, and emotions of uncertainty and worry. Ayurveda also acknowledges that postpartum depression takes on a slightly different emotional tenor; the uncertainty pervading the experience of early motherhood brings about a certain "airy," ungrounded emotion.
The solution: treat with the opposite. Supporting yourself and your environment with warmth, grounding forces and stability is the cornerstone to Ayurvedic postpartum care. No matter how affected you are by the postpartum blues or depression, supporting yourself in this manner will benefit your physical and emotional health drastically. The more nourished you are, the more you can nourish your little one.
While it is best to work with an Ayurvedic practitioner throughout your postpartum period, here are seven steps that you can do to set yourself up for a rejuvenating and replenishing postpartum period.
1. Fill yourself up ... with support and love.
Combat the physical and psychological sensations of emptiness with the support of friends and family. Many want to help, even if you aren't aware of it — and keep in mind that others may just not know how or may not want to be intrusive. Schedule visits from your mother, mother-in-law, sister, and friends throughout the 42 days after delivery so that you do not have an overwhelming amount of people around you in the beginning and then absolutely no one later.
Welcome the company of others, and especially of other mothers. Before you deliver, share ideas of how they can help you when they do come to be with you.
2. Pay extra attention to what you eat.
After delivery, your body needs to reset, which means taking it easy isn't just a pleasure, but a necessity. That's why paying extra close attention to the kinds of foods you are eating is essential. Think about it: digesting food takes a considerable amount of energy. So don't put your body under too much pressure by only eating cold, raw vegetables, for instance, that are hard to digest .
Initially, eat warming and grounding broths and soups, and save hard-to-digest dairy and meats for later. Eat a pinch of freshly grated ginger root with some salt and lime before and after meals. If you find that you are getting bloated and gassy, or your little one is experiencing the same with colic, it is a sign to eat simpler and easier-to-digest foods.
3. Set up an online food calendar before you deliver.
Share your ideal meal plan and let your community sign up to bring you meals on specific days. The last thing you will want to do between naps and feeding your baby is cook, and even if you want to cook, thinking about what to cook is exhausting. This is a great way to feel the support of your family and family.
4. Appreciate the importance of massage.
Massage is a must according to Ayurveda. Oil is grounding, nourishing, and dense (all opposite to the qualities of air, which we associate with postpartum anxiety). If you have someone helping you after your delivery, see if they would mind massaging at least your head and feet from time-to-time.
Otherwise, you can absolutely pamper yourself with a daily self-massage daily. Remember: use ample amounts of warm oil!
5. Wrap your belly.
After your massage and a hot shower, wrap your abdomen with an abdominal binder or long piece of cloth. This isn't just comforting physically, but emotionally. The feeling of containment around your now-emptier belly will give you a sense of stability.
6. Sleep, sleep, sleep (as much as you can).
Let me put it this way: if your baby is sleeping, you should be, too. Sleep supports your immune system, metabolism, memory, and mood, amongst other vital functions.
7. Seek help when needed, and don't take it as a sign of inadequacy.
Many mothers write off their fatigue, insomnia, and feelings of guilt and inadequacy. While these are often normal parts of the postpartum period, seek help from a qualified professional if you have any doubts, especially if you have thoughts of hurting yourself for your child. There is no shame in getting help, and you may be surprised by the amazing tools and ideas that counselors can provide.
For more tips on how to counter vata, read this quick, free guide.