Each day of proper care after giving birth, corresponds to a year of health and vitality in a woman’s life. This wisdom originates from the great vaidyas of ancient Ayurvedic medicine, and the women who took care of one another, passing practices mother to daughter for hundreds of years.
In many of the world’s cultures 40 days of rest and specific practices are observed for a healthy postpartum recovery. Ayurveda sees this time as shaping the health and vitality of mothers for at least the next 40 years of their lives and is often referred to as ‘the sacred window’. This important crossroads can even be used to improve a woman’s health, as she is so open to change at this time.
So what’s a woman to do at this time?
You can read our new ebook 40 Days for 40 Years, A Postpartum Guide and Cookbook which gives you lots of tools and recipes. The main aspects of the book are these 5 essentials for postpartum recovery listed below. Please also seek the assistance of a qualified practitioner.
1. Get 40 Days (6 weeks) of Rest, Rest, Rest
When possible, arrange for others to help with housework and meals. You’re doing a lot of unseen things during this time – healing, rebuilding, shifting of hormones, making high quality breastmilk. You may be transitioning into becoming a mother for the first time. You’re also doing some things that are more visible like caring for your baby.
All of this requires a lot of rest. More rest than you may be able to imagine, and possibly more rest than you are used to getting.
Rest is the most important component of the postpartum time!
2. Nourish Tissues and Rebuild Digestive Strength
One of the biggest supports Ayurveda provides women during postpartum is a time-tested, simple, specific list of dietary recommendations.
If you do nothing else, understanding how to eat for the first 40 days (or six weeks) postpartum can be radically healing, and create a nourishing foundation for your baby. Not only will you feel better and heal more quickly, but you’ll also significantly improve the quality of your breast milk.
According to Ayurveda, breastmilk is derived from healthy rasa (blood plasma, juice) in a mother. Healthy rasa provides nourishment, strength, and ample ojas (immune enhancing benefits) to the baby. The foundation of healthy rasa is a strong digestion enhanced by fresh cooked foods.
In the early hours and days postpartum, your digestive strength or agni is greatly decreased. Therefore you must rebuild slowly. The recommended diet is one that’s easy to digest which means that according to Ayurvedic principles, it uses simple ingredients and has qualities that are warm, light, moist and oily. Build slowly from most simple meals to more complex and richer ones over days and weeks. Avoid taxing your body with heavy and hard to digest meals.
For the first two days we recommend rice congee with lots of ghee and digestive spices.
For the first six weeks we advise steering clear of foods that are tough on the digestive system such as raw, fried, cold, processed foods, and even too many greens. Eat wholesome foods such as stews, soups and porridges from soaked pulses and grains, baked root veggies (yams, squash, carrots, and beets). Add digestive spices such as ginger, clove, black pepper, turmeric, fenugreek, fresh dill, cumin, saffron, and cardamon plus garlic well browned in ghee. Eat ample protein and good quality fats such as ghee and olive oil to nourish tissues. Drink nourishing beverages such as spiced milks, nut milks and digestive teas such as fennel, tulsi, and ginger. Preferred tastes are sweet, sour, and salty to balance excess air or wind, and a little pungent to build digestive fire.
3. Take Essential Herbals
Essential herbals for postpartum recovery include traditional preparations such as panchakola ghee, a 5-spice herbal ghee formulation and twice daily decoctions of dashamula (a traditional formula containing ten roots). In short, these help to rebuild digestive strength, balance and redirect the flow of vāta dosha and rejuvenate the tissues.
Herbs should only be taken under the guidance of a qualified practitioner.
4. Do Daily Oil Massage (for you and baby)
This cannot be emphasized enough. Warm oil massage helps to soothe and strengthen a woman’s body postpartum. It even takes the place of exercise for the first few weeks, as it encourages circulation, moving out wastes and nourishing tissues. It supports relaxation, sound sleep and healthy lactation.
In babies, it also promotes relaxation, sound sleep and encourages healthy growth. I generally recommend using Ashvagandha Bala oil, or plain sesame, but your constitution and climate may require something a little different. Check with a qualified practitioner.
5. Try Belly Binding
For centuries, mothers from traditional cultures have used belly wraps to speed up weight loss and to support the abdominal muscles and skin after birth. From an Ayurvedic standpoint, belly binding creates holding and protection for an area that now has empty space once baby and placenta have moved out. I like the Bengkung method of belly binding, simply because there is a specific, secure way to wrap. There are many online videos for how to accomplish this easy and secure wrap using a long piece of unbleached, cotton muslin.
You can find all of these practices in-depth and much more in our new book 40 Days for 40 Years: A Postpartum Guide and Cookbook.