Health Building in the Postpartum Period
During pregnancy, the focus is often on supporting the health of the mother as this directly affects the growth and development of her baby, but nourishing the mother is often forgotten after the birth of her child. In traditional Oriental medicine, maintaining a woman's health is also highly emphasized in the postpartum period. During this time, women in China follow strict guidelines regarding diet and lifestyle in order to support the return of health and vitality.
The postpartum period is considered to be the 4 months following the delivery, the first month being the most important time to take special care of ones self. After delivery, a new mother's qi and blood are deficient, and not until the end of the 4th month does her yin and blood become fully replenished. In Oriental medicine, this is viewed as a critical period in a woman's life when caring for and nourish her self can have great impact on her health and vitality far into the future.
Below are some basic recommendations for the postpartum period:
- As difficult as it may be in these modern times, new mothers should take special care to get enough rest and nourishment. In order to help restore the circulation of qi and blood, when feeling stronger they should try to find time for regular but moderate activity such as walking. In China, during the first month after delivery, strict limitations are set so that few visitors are allowed to disturb the new mother and her immediate family, except to drop off meals.
- Digestion tends to be somewhat weak after delivery and because there is a great demand for nutritious food in order to produce good breast milk, warm, nourishing and easy to digest foods are recommended. Traditionally, soups are particularly emphasized, along with attention to eating enough protein and vegetables, leafy greens and root veggies. Raw or cold foods and drink should be avoided as these can deplete the digestive qi and result in fatigue, problems with breast milk production, and the stagnation of qi and blood.
- Postpartum women should stay warm and take care to avoid exposure to cold or damp through environmental factors. Acupuncture used in conjunction with moxabustion ("moxa") treatments is a traditional part of health care at this time. Burning moxa (mugwort herb) over the lower abdomen and low back creates a sensation of gentle, penetrating warmth that deeply relaxes, energizes and helps return uterine tone.
- Heavy lifting should be avoided for the first four months in order to minimize the risk of uterine prolapse and to allow the pelvic tissues to completely heal and renew. Heavy physical work or exercise such as weight lifting should not be resumed until the 4th or 5th month after delivery.
- Nourishing Chinese herbal teas and soups are highly recommended in the period after pregnancy and delivery. They can be particularly useful in order to:
- Strengthen the digestion
- Support the production of breast milk
- Treat mastitis
- Treat postpartum depression and insomnia
- Assist the healing in cesarean section
- Restore vitality and energy
From top and moving clockwise, herbs are Dang Gui, Gou Qi Zi,
Shan Yao, Da Zao, Shitake mushrooms, Lian Zi (center)
Below is a simple soup recipe to help nourish the qi and blood, support uterine healing and help restore health and vitality.
Nourish Blood and Essence Soup
30 grams Dang Gui (Chinese angelica)
20 pieces Shan Yao (Dioscorea)
30 Lian Zi (Lotus seeds) - soaked and drained
12 Da Zao (Red dates) - soaked and pitted
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 cups chopped greens (kale, chard, spinach, etc.)
whole chicken (about 3 1/2 lb)
1 yam or winter squash, diced
5 black or shitake mushrooms, slivered (if dry, soak first)
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup rice vinegar
All herbs in this soup are edible after cooking. Break dioscorea into small pieces and simmer for about I hour in soup stock along with the lycii berries (red "goji" berries), Dang Gui (angelica - sliced), lotus seeds, chicken, and rice vinegar. Add ginger, dates, yam, mushrooms, and any other vegetables and simmer for another 45 minutes. Add leafy greens and cook 5-10 minutes more. Season with salt to taste. Serve hot.