Have a blissful birth
When the expectant woman is showered with love, this filters through to the baby along with all other positive input. Hence, friends and family, especially the father, are encouraged to offer the pregnant woman any assistance and attention she needs, including help with domestic duties, massage, having fun or allowing her the stress-free solitude she may desire.
To reduce the chance of disturbances during pregnancy, Ayurveda’s art of obstetrics advises a regime for the pregnant woman to follow called Garbhini Paricharya. This reduces the risk of miscarriage, harm to the foetus and toxaemia.
The nutrient-rich soil of the mother’s body ensures the germinating seed receives optimal nourishment to develop into a strong and stable sapling. A well-fed mother will be able to feed her foetus all its requirements while accumulating reserves for abundant breastmilk.
Thousands of years ago in the cradle of civilisation, mother India conceived a natural Ayurvedic approach to nurture parents and babies through the journey of creation. Today, with the world’s second-largest population, India’s accumulated wisdom complements modern obstetrics, offering tips for a healthy pregnancy, smooth delivery and a contented baby.
For many, the time to have a child is thrust upon them rather than consciously chosen. Some say there’s never a perfect time to have a child but that fate schedules it, along with the moment of birth and death. Couples ambivalent about having children may be called up to parental duty by destiny rather than follow a calling. Others can eagerly prepare for a child who never appears.
Ayurveda sees children as a precious gift from the gods to be welcomed whether invited or not. They are gurus who can prompt parents to cultivate qualities that may have otherwise lay dormant; virtues like unconditional love. In many ancient cultures, becoming a parent is considered an enriching rite of passage, a momentous milestone presenting an opportunity for spiritual growth and deeper relationships.
Though the prospect of parenting may seem overwhelming, most couples would say that once they rose to meet the challenge and accepted the lifestyle adjustment, the blessings far outweighed the sacrifices.
With the intention of giving children a happy and healthy genetic inheritance, Ayurveda suggests parents observe a preconception regime called Vajikaranam. About six months before conception, an Ayurvedic physician prescribes a personalised purification and rejuvenation regime for the couple to ensure optimal ovum and sperm quality and quantity. This may include lifestyle changes, a nutrition plan, herbs, cleanses, yoga and meditation. The couple avoid chemicals such as those in food or personal care products and wean themselves off pharmaceutical medicines where possible. Energising exercises also increase fertility and virility, but must be done in moderation.
To prepare the "womb room" for the special guest, women can balance their menstrual cycle and take cleansing and fortifying herbs and supplements. Essential fatty acids, calcium, magnesium, folic acid, iron, B12, B6 and zinc are particularly vital to prevent birth defects. General female tonics include Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) and Ashoka (Saraca indica). Men are advised to take virilising herbs such as Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Sariba (Hemidesmus indicus) and Kapi Kachu (Mucuna pruriens).
There are also many compound formulations for optimum fertility. General reproductive tonic foods recommended include warm unhomogenised milk, ghee, yoghurt, black sesame seeds, urad dal, mung dal, honey, dates, almonds, ginger, garlic, onions and saffron. Hot spices should be avoided. Daily self massage and sufficient rest are said to charge the body with positive hormones.
Couples who share their expectations, excitement and fears about having a child will forge deeper bonds of understanding to sustain them through the experience. Spending time together around babies can also reinforce the realities and joys of the decision for both. Another way to build excitement is to think of their child’s character and envisage a fulfilling future for the family unit. Though this may not manifest precisely, it builds a positive expectation that inspires couples to maintain faith and enthusiasm through any trials. This shared sankalpa or powerful intention for a beloved baby also generates a powerful magnetic attraction for the soul to enter the womb. Love is the best libido booster to set the mood, according to Ayurvedic sage Charaka, who says "The best aphrodisiac for a man is a woman who loves him."
Another Vedic belief is that one can connect with ancestors to invoke their blessings and support for the child. Annual rituals to appease forebears also help to clear detrimental familial karma that may be passed on to the child. A modern method of clearing negativity and receiving blessings from the family tree is the Rayid Birth Order, developed by Denny Johnson. One can practise this easy process by ordering a booklet titled Global Gratitude from www.rayid.com.
Making a miracle
A relationship ripe with mutual love and commitment may naturally grow into the co-creation of a child. This is why the Vedas calls the married phase expansion, or garhastyam. The sacred ceremony for impregnation is known as Garbadhana samskara. Ideally, the field is fertile to germinate the seed through the preparatory purification, rejuvenation and emotional practices. The prime time for procreation is calculated by the woman’s ovulation phase. Women with regular menses and awareness of their cervical mucus changes and temperature shifts can often sense their most fertile time. Alternatively, one can purchase a pharmacy ovulation test or seek guidance from a natural fertility consultant.
An Indian astrologer (jyotish) can also advise the most auspicious time, called rtu-samaagam, for successful conception. Ayurvedic texts warn it’s detrimental to conceive at certain times, including after a heavy meal, within 96 hours of the menstrual period, during dawn or dusk, at midnight, on a full moon, new moon, fasting days and when the woman is bleeding. Days considered lucky for conception are the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 14th and 15th days after the end of the menses.
If you have a gender preference, the Vedas states conceiving on an odd day will produce a daughter and an even day a son. To optimise the man’s sperm volume and motility it’s best if he can conserve his sperm for three to seven days before the conception day. Because the couple’s consciousness partially determines the type of soul attracted to them and imbues the zygote with its first subtle influence, it’s recommended that they elevate their spirits and connect with divine grace by meditation, offerings or rituals.
On this significant day they should feel contented and deeply connected. If either feels thirsty, hungry, fearful, sad or angry it’s better to wait. After preparing the "love nest", bathing, dressing in fresh white garments and applying essential oils and flower garlands, they can recite a prayer or focus on welcoming the child to its new home and on tender feelings for each other. If the man then breathes through his right nostril and the woman through her left, this is said to optimise conception chances. The man alights the bed with his right foot first and the woman joins him by placing her left leg on the bed. Intimacy infused with blissful abandon will instil the child’s initial cells with the same essence of ecstasy, giving it a positive start to existence and a sound foundation for a satisfied spirit.
First, they enjoy leisurely foreplay to stimulate the juices of arousal and establish an energetic connection. During intercourse the woman should not lie on her side or kneel, as disturbed vata (air and ether) will affect the genitals when lying on the right side and on the left side, pitta (fire and water) can overheat the sperm and ovum. Lying on her back with her legs straddling her partner promotes the upward flow of sperm.
After making love, the woman lies down for 30 minutes and for a comfortable duration she can rest her raised legs at a 45-degree angle to optimise chances of conception. To rejuvenate, they may then have a bath and eat sweet rice, saffron and honey. The woman takes it easy for the next three weeks and an Indian custom is to keep the news of conception a secret until the first trimester is complete.
Pregnancy is a time of great transformation, when the amazing changes experienced, though natural, can be stressful if not managed properly. Every woman has a unique experience of childbearing. The lucky ones find they thrive with the new life growing inside them and may feel healthier after pregnancy than before. Serious health conditions can even go into remission at this time as the body harnesses healing energy to support the baby. Others may struggle with symptoms such as nausea, acidity, body pain, fatigue, varicosities and depression, never quite recovering their former pre-pregnancy health.
Ayurveda encourages mothers to adopt a nurturing daily routine and diet so she blossoms along with the flower of love flourishing inside her. It also offers effective solutions to common complaints such as morning sickness, but these are safest when prescribed by an Ayurvedic consultant.
Everything that affects the mother impacts on the baby, thus she should surround herself with positive influences and avoid detrimental stimuli. The deep connection between the mother and child is called entrainment — a state where energies resonate in harmony. Hence, a contented, healthy, aware mother will send nurturing energy to her child while a disturbed mother will adversely affect the child.
A study illustrating this showed that an expectant mother in an abusive marriage had a 237 per cent greater risk of giving birth to a psychologically or physically damaged child than a woman in a secure, supportive relationship. This is an even greater risk than a mother smoking or having a severe illness.<+>1<+> Other studies showed that a mother with a positive attitude to her baby and childbearing was more likely to deliver a healthy, well-adjusted child.
When the expectant woman is showered with love, this filters through to the baby along with all other positive input. Hence, friends and family, especially the father, are encouraged to offer the pregnant woman any assistance and attention she needs, including help with domestic duties, massage, having fun or allowing her the stress-free solitude she may desire. Since a woman’s brain literally shrinks during pregnancy and she is under the influence of fluctuating hormones, those around her should be particularly sensitive and understanding of uncharacteristic mood swings or emotions.
To reduce the chance of disturbances during pregnancy, Ayurveda’s art of obstetrics advises a regime for the pregnant woman to follow called Garbhini Paricharya. This reduces the risk of miscarriage, harm to the foetus and toxaemia. Things to avoid during pregnancy include:
- Constipating, drying foods such as spinach, dried fruit, potatoes and bitter-tasting items.
- Heavy, hot, pungent or fermented (sour) food.
- Processed, artificial foods, nutmeg, saffron and ginseng
- Overeating, irregular eating or fasting
- Exposure to extreme emotions such as anger, excitement, fear and grief
- Excessive exposure to pollution and electromagnetic energy such as from computer and television screens
- Alcohol, drugs and caffeine
- Hot baths
- Deep bodywork
- Excessive sun and wind
- Heavy, jerky exercise, weights, wearing high heels
- Physical and emotional strain
- Exposure to sick people
- Excess of any taste
- Rough, rocky roads or trips
- Sitting on hard surfaces
- Sleeping regularly during the day
- Suppression of natural urges (such as sneezing or burping)
- Vomiting therapy and blood letting
- Sleeping supine with outstretched extremities as this may cause the umbilicus to tie around the baby’s neck
- Sex, especially in the first four months, as it may harm the foetus or strain the mother
- Vitamin C more than 1000mg (1gm) per day and Vitamin A (retinol) intake is dangerous for the foetus therefore should be avoided during pregnancy
- Some essential oils should be avoided during pregnancy including angelica, basil, clary sage, clove, cinnamon, cypress, fennel, lemongrass, marjoram, pennyroyal, peppermint, rosemary, sage and thyme
- Avoid cat and dog faeces as they can contain a toxin called toxoplasma which harms a foetus
Things to do during pregnancy:
- Sleep before 10pm and arise before 6.30am — women with regular sleep patterns have been found to have babies with similar habits.
- Practise daily self-massage with warm sesame oil or herbalised oil such as Dhanwantaram Thailam. Massage should be done in a warm, quiet room with pleasant music playing. Use an open palm rather than fingertips and apply long strokes on long bones and circular strokes around the joints. Spend more time on painful areas but be careful to be gentle on the abdominal region where it’s best to softly stroke in a clockwise direction around the navel. This reduces stress marks, soothes the neuromuscular system, and aids assimilation and elimination while reducing leg swelling and varicosities.
- Wear loosing-fitting clothes of natural fibres and comfortable shoes.
- Enjoy at least 20 minutes of fresh air and sunshine daily.
- Practise gentle yoga, pelvic floor exercises and pranayama or Lamaze techniques, as guided by a qualified teacher. This promotes a peaceful mind and a strong, flexible body, preventing problems during pregnancy and delivery while hastening postnatal recovery.
- Practise daily prayer, yoga nidra and meditation. This unifies one’s physical, mental and spiritual self, creating a better biochemical environment for the child to thrive in. A relaxed mind supports a relaxed body, as proven in studies that showed meditation decreases the stress hormone cortisol significantly.
Studies have also shown that babies of mothers who meditated regularly through pregnancy experienced alpha brainwave states twice as much after birth as babies of non-meditating mothers.
- Take gentle walks or swims to ease muscle tension and assist circulation, elimination and assimilation.
- Wear calming, cooling sandalwood essential oil.
- Observe the personalised dietary guidelines as prescribed by an Ayurvedic physician or follow basic nutrition tips.
- Choose the location of the birth, whether at home, in a birth centre or at a hospital. Familiarise yourself with the setup and systems of the place.
- Develop a trusting relationship with the midwife and/or obstetrician. Discuss preferences regarding interventions such as inducement, forceps, suction, caesarian and pain relief possibilities. Also inform them of any special requests regarding the environment, support people, birth position and postnatal baby bonding.
- Check childbirth costs and medical insurance entitlements.
- Prepare the baby’s space at home.
- Establish a "bosom buddy" who is happy to supply you with breastmilk should something go wrong with breastfeeding.
- Ayurveda recommends regular baths in rose petals and pounded castor leaves.
- Read uplifting, enlightening material. Talking sweetly to the baby and playing relaxing music or specific classical tunes (ragas) has shown to benefit both mother and baby. Hearing is the first sense the foetus develops. From 10 to 12 weeks after conception, any stimulation causes nerve cells in the baby’s brain to transmit waves of neural activity, forming permanent neural patterns. The type of stimuli determines which synapses are formed and become dominant and if connections are not forged at this formative phase, the baby will not attain its full potential. Therefore it is important for the mother and father to talk or sing sweetly to the baby while in the womb as the neural pathways formed will allow the baby to recognise its mother’s voice and respond to her touch.
- Numerous studies show the use of music therapy successfully decreases anxiety levels, reduces negative expectations and relieves physical and mental tension in expectant mums. Music with guided imagery and in conjunction with such practised breathing technique can be an extremely effective cue for correct breathing as it becomes an almost natural physical response to the rhythm and tempo of the music.
Diet during pregnancy
The nutrient rich soil of the mother’s body ensures the germinating seed receives optimal nourishment to develop into a strong and stable sapling. A well-fed mother will be able to feed her foetus all its requirements while accumulating reserves for abundant breastmilk.
In general, a pregnant woman should eat fresh, organic meals containing all six tastes — sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent — in the right proportions. In the latter phase of pregnancy, the stomach is squashed, hence small, frequent meals are usually more digestible. She should avoid skipping meals, fasting and eating on the run or in stressful circumstances.
A mother will also instinctively crave tastes to balance her and the baby. This especially manifests during the fourth month when the child’s heart develops and the mother becomes known as "the one with two hearts" (dauhrudini). It’s said that the child’s desires are expressed through the mother’s cravings and the baby will be healthy if its desires are fulfilled with judicious moderation. Healthy alternatives may be substituted for unhealthy desires. For example, a craving for chocolate, which is acidic, may be substituted for alkalising carob. Sugar cravings can be managed with maple or rice syrup. General additions to the diet include wholegrains, butter, ricotta cheese, paneer, ghee, mung dal, blanched almonds, honey, bananas, dates, jackfruit, gooseberries, grapes, apples, raisins, fresh vegetables such as asparagus, okra and squash, and milk. Milk is strongly advised but it should be unhomogenised, organic and boiled with a little ginger, turmeric and cardamom to reduce mucus. Foods to avoid include meat, alcohol, carbonated drinks, caffeine, onions, garlic, mushrooms, fermented foods, leftovers, heavily processed and artificial foods. Keep in mind, however, that these general guidelines should be adjusted according to the individual’s digestion and health.
Ayurvedic obstetrics (Prasuti Tantra) recognised the different phases of foetal development thousands of years before modern imaging techniques existed. To support each developmental phase of the baby, Ayurvedic doctors devised a regimen of certain herbs and foods to be taken each month of pregnancy. This includes a different monthly milk decoction recorded in the Sahasrayoga text which is made by combining 15g of the monthly herb with 200ml milk and 800ml water, then reducing it to one-fourth the quantity and drinking daily before bed.
The monthly therapeutic regime recommended is as follows:
In this initial phase the foetus is stabilised and fed through direct nourishment from digested liquids and blood. At this time more liquid substances such as sweet and ripe fruits, coconut water and milk are advocated. A traditional practice to ensure a healthy child immediately after conception involves taking for three consecutive mornings, on an empty stomach, eight fig leaf buds (Ficus bengalensis) boiled in milk and strained. For the rest of the month the milk decoction is with Bala (Sida rhombifolia).
During this time the baby starts to assume a shape with its limbs and head. The milk decoction taken at this time is with the herb Lakshmana (Ipomoea sepiaria). A tonic jam called Sonitamrtam for energy can also be started from the second month onwards at a dose of half a teaspoon twice daily.
The placenta is established by now and the baby’s motor and sensory faculties start to develop. The heartbeat can be perceived towards the end of the month and this is when the child lets its desires be known through the mother’s cravings. The mother can take more milk with honey, ghee and Shashtika shaali (rice grown in 60 days) cooked in milk. In Bengal they observe a ceremony called svada-bhaksana where after the first trimester and on the seventh month a woman eats with all her favourite neighbouring children to maintain her enthusiasm regarding the child’s arrival. The milk decoction taken this month is made with the herb Solanum melenginum (Bruhati).
Ayurveda advises the mother take more butter, milk, solid foods and shashtika rice with yoghurt at this time. Also, yellow- or orange-coloured fruits are advocated, such as mangoes, apples, carrots and gooseberries. The child’s tissues are growing now, so the mother’s appetite often increases over the entire second trimester. To help prevent intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) the milk decoction is made with Desmodium gangeticum (Shaliparni).
Blood, muscles, the mind and five senses develop at this time. Ghee, milk and rice soup is to be taken along with split mung dal or a preferred protein source. Milk with Amrita (Tinospora cordifolia) decoction is taken during the fifth month.
According to the scripture, the Srimad Bhagavatam, at the end of the sixth month the male moves to the right side of the abdomen and the female to the left. It is also during the sixth month that the fatty tissue is formed. Tribulus terrestris may be given if water retention is a problem, and the milk decoction is made with Solanum xanthocarpum (Kantakari).
In the seventh month most of the foetal growth is complete and the skin, hair and nails are forming. Fat, salt and water are reduced in the diet from the seventh month onwards. Rice soup with ghee can be a regular, easily digested dish. Small amounts of basil can also be taken as an anti-spasmodic. Hordeum vulgare (Yava) and milk decoction is taken during this month. In addition, a classical compound called Sukha-prasava ghee may be given to ease the delivery.
The child is well developed at this stage and the mother must be careful not to overeat as her digestion is weak and the stomach small. Sour buttermilk is added to the special diet as a digestive enzyme stimulant. A small dose of internal oil concentrates Dhanwantaram 101 or Ksheerabala 101 may be given after dinner to lubricate the reproductive channels in preparation for childbirth. The herb Maerua oblongifolia (Morata) and milk is taken as the eighth month decoction.
In this last, crucial stage, lighter food is advised, such as rice soup with ghee, split mung bean soup, stewed fruit and steamed vegetables. Oil enema is sometimes given every 10 days to promote a smooth delivery, along with daily dhara where warm herbalised oil is poured all over the body and forehead to relax the nervous system and open and soften the body for delivery. The perineum is massaged and stretched to prepare for labour and to reduce the risk of tearing. Thanka-shree ghee is sometimes given in the last month of pregnancy to aid complete foetal development and to ensure the pregnancy is a full-term normal delivery. The milk decoction is made with Asparagus racemosus (Shatavari) during this month.
For those who cannot follow all these monthly observances, a simple solution is to take Sida rhombifola with milk before bed and one teaspoon of Mahakalyanaka ghee before breakfast for the whole pregnancy. These assist the child’s physical and mental development.
Labour of love
If you want to make god laugh, tell him your plans, the saying goes, but it could be changed to "tell him your birth plans" in many cases. As anyone who has been present at a delivery can testify, it literally takes on an unexpected life of its own. However, when a pregnant woman expects the best while preparing for all possibilities, the journey will prove an empowering and enriching experience. With information and understanding she can take a responsible role in protecting the miracle inside her, knowing her input is vital while serenely surrendering the outcome to mother nature.
As with any life challenge, preparing for labour mentally and physically will bolster a mother’s confidence and capabilities. Though an amazing event, it isn’t called labour for nothing. Bearing in mind that women have been having babies since humans came into being, and that they are purpose-built for the honour, can make the process more bearable. The toil of labour can seem more tolerable if the mother keeps in mind the sweet fruit of her sweaty labour — a cherubic child. Many times I’ve witnessed the trial of agony turn to ecstasy as a mother first holds her bundle of bliss, tears of pain transforming into tears of joy.
Though Ayurveda ideally promotes natural labour it also recognises the role of caesarean delivery and modern obstetric support where necessary. With thousands of expert midwifes in India, called dais, natural childbirth remains common in village areas, but in cities the rate of intervention has risen alarmingly over the past decade. Ayurvedic advice on delivery (Prasava Kala Paricharya) emphasises the benefit of having the support of an attendant who has many children, is good-hearted, hard-working, service-oriented, experienced in conducting a delivery, affectionate, cheerful, has good endurance and is able to keep a pregnant woman happy. Whether the husband is also present is a matter of individual preference.
The place where you choose to deliver should ideally be easily accessible, hygienic, comfortable, peaceful, gently lit, well ventilated, spacious and have a bath. Studies have proven that women having water births have less pain and fewer epidurals, so it may be an option to have handy. The positions chosen for each stage of labour will vary according the position of the baby and the mother’s instincts. Squatting and resting on all fours enlists the help of gravity for the foetus’s downward movement.
Once labour has started the mother can visualise a smooth delivery, or the yantra in fig 1 (often drawn with red paste on a metal plate). This transports the mother’s focus to her inner power as she traces it with her mind from the centre to the periphery.
Music is also a useful distraction, relieving anxiety, triggering breathing techniques and relaxing the mother. Mothers in a study by Hanser et al (1983), found that music took their minds off pain and also helped to focus attention more than Lamaze-practised visual focal point techniques. Relaxation is crucial to ensure adequate oxygenation through the body and to minimise physical and psychological fatigue; conversely, a tense mother releases more stress hormones, making labour difficult.
Hanser et al (1983) produced a report on the relaxing effect of music on women experiencing labour where 70 per cent of participants felt the music aided relaxation and 100 percent displayed fewer pain responses during labour while music was playing than when it was not. Ayurveda recommends certain sedating classical ragas to be played at a low volume in the background during labour, including Ragas Kalavati, Nayakikanada, Malkauns, Jayjaywanti, Jaunpuri, Asawari and Kalawati.
the breath with contractions is a technique emphasised by all midwives. As Frederick Leboyer, author of Birth Without Violence, says, "In childbirth, breathing and contraction get completely attuned. It is a matter of becoming aware that breath and contraction are one and the same movement, in time with the cosmic breath, the breath of the universe."
He also advocates breathing deeply into the belly and chanting any Sanskrit mantra on the exhalation, waiting at the outbreath for the contraction to complete before inhaling. This method of chanting with contractions is consistent with Ayurvedic advice. As Leboyer says, "With Sanskrit mantra you can touch absolute perfection. You need to let the sounds open and awaken within yourself. If women can connect with this level of themselves, the experience of childbirth has another dimension."
If the cervix is slow to dilate, Ayurveda suggests that one massage the area with sesame oil. A herbal enema is also given to promote the downward flow and make more space for the baby. Traditional remedies to hasten the delivery include giving a warm bath with a few drops of clary sage essential oil, taking a milk and garlic drink, inducing vomiting, a decoction of palm sugar with ajwain and milk, and massaging castor oil over the navel. Another tribal ritual to encourage the foetal descent is to pound grain with a big pestle — not particularly practical in a hospital labour ward!
When the grand entrance occurs, the time the baby’s head appears should be noted as this is the accurate moment of birth used by jyotish astrologers to calculate the horoscope. Directly after delivery, the child’s respiratory response is triggered by either flicking water on its face, ringing a low-pitch bell, hitting two stones together by its ear or fanning it with a natural reed fan. Mucus can be cleared from the baby’s mouth by swabbing it with a corner of unbleached cotton and wiping the inside using a finger dipped in ghee and fine sea salt. Waiting until it has stopped pulsating, the umbilical cord can be tied eight fingers length from the belly button, looping the other end of the string around the baby’s neck then severing it above the tie.
If it is comfortable, the baby may be placed on the mother’s left breast to be reassured by the mother’s smell and heartbeat. The child is then washed in a purificatory bath and wrapped in pure silk or cotton. A cotton pad soaked in ghee, Brahmi ghee or Bala oil can be dabbed on the baby’s crown fontanelle, keeping it in place with a hat or tie. This can be left on for an hour each day over six weeks to help the baby recover from the delivery, to promote brain development, strengthen the hair and prevent cradle cap.
In Kerala, India, they then recommend a pre-lacteal feed to provide extra nutrition and boost immunity. There are many tonic combinations but a common one is a mix of ghee, honey, powdered gold, brahmi, calamus and Clitoria ternata (shankapushpi). The father administers this on the tongue with a gold object such as a ring then gives the baby to the mother to suckle first her right breast, then her left.
India has a wonderful tradition in which a pregnant woman stays with her parents three months before and after having the baby to ensure that she gets abundant rest, support and nurturing. This enables a woman to recover from the extraordinary mental and physical stresses placed on her by childbearing, allowing her the relaxed time and assistance needed to bond with the baby.
The 90 days after delivery are considered a vital cleansing, recuperative period during which the mother should take complete rest to regain the strength and health of her pre-pregnancy state. This will give her the mental, emotional and spiritual resources to cope with the demands of motherhood as well as protect her and her baby from common health disorders associated with this time, such as colic, insomnia, irritability and postpartum depression. Even modern medicine acknowledges that it takes a women’s body at least six weeks to return to normal after childbirth, hence the standard six-week post-partum checkup. Mothers who aren’t able to recover properly run the risk of suffering long-term depletion and chronic childbearing-related weaknesses. Many times in my practice I’ve encountered women who trace their complaints back to this pivotal phase. Women are particularly vulnerable to postpartum depression if they lack proper rest and support at this time. The many challenges they face may include fatigue, sleep deprivation, pain, anxiety, breastfeeding, worries about weight gain and general overwhelm regarding the responsibilities of motherhood. Childbirth and new motherhood tends to unbalance the elements of air and ether (vata) due to mental and physical strain, sleep deprivation, irregular eating and weak digestion after delivery. Vata is cold, dry and active, hence the approach to rebalance it is with warm, unctuous and restful therapies. If the mother is unhappy or unhealthy this affects the baby and their developing relationship. Conversely, a nurtured mother overflowing with joy and health showers that energy onto her child. Ways to restore the mother’s balance and reduce her stress are as follows:
- The mother should rest as much as possible for at least one month. Having a baby may be the beginning of the greatest love affair but the end of sufficient sleep. To guard against exhaustion she can try to go to bed by 9pm or earlier and do minimal exercise. Practising yoga nidra is also very rejuvenating.
- To promote a peaceful lifestyle and reduce stimulation, she can restrict the number of visitors, reduce talking, remain in a warm, quiet environment sheltered from the cold and wind, avoid travel and delegate domestic and work duties to caring helpers. Soliciting someone’s help with the shopping, laundry, cooking and cleaning for at least a month will allow mum time to focus on her recovery and the baby’s needs without feeling swamped and depleted.
- The mother’s digestion will reflect the baby’s digestion, so special care should be taken to provide food that is lovingly prepared, light to digest and rich in nutrition. Meals should be regular, warm, cooked, organic, liquid and gently spiced. Foods to favour include wholegrains, stewed fruits, non-gassy vegetables, mung dal, basmati rice, milk, ghee, almonds, raisins, dates, figs, palm sugar and plenty of warm fluids such as chamomile or fennel tea. Digestive spices such as basil, bay leaf, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, ginger, hing, mustard seeds, pepper and turmeric are good to stoke the digestive fire. Foods to be avoided as they can disturb the mother’s digestion and make breastmilk more gas-forming include cold, raw or fermented food, leftovers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, capsicum, cauliflower, eggplant, garlic, onions, green peas, potatoes, sprouts and most legumes except mung dal.
- The new mother is massaged daily with warm herbal oils and then left to sleep for an hour. She then takes a bath with the therapeutic leaves of tamarind, jackfruit, castor and neem. All these have anti-microbial, anti-viral properties. An aromatherapy bath alternative employs an elixir of rose, rosemary, lavender, cypress and geranium essential oils. Jasmine is also good to prevent postnatal depression. The mother’s tummy is then bound with a cotton cloth to support the abdomen and the uterus’s return to normal. Postnatal massage helps the mother’s body to reorganise itself, relaxes her, promotes circulation, boosts immunity, conditions skin, soothes the nervous system and returns muscles, ligaments and bones back to normal. Another specialty treatment given after the normal massage daily for the first week is a herbal leaf poultice massage (Ila kizhi). The poultice containing the leaves of the castor plant, tamarind, Vitex nigundo, lime and rock salt reduces body aches and improves muscle tone.
- Herbal tonics given at this time to restore the mother’s energy and immunity and to promote quality breastmilk may include Chyavanaprasham jam, Asparagus racemosus (Shatavari) and Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha). Other classical preparations given to ease vata and promote digestion include Dhanwantaram decoction plus tablets, Dasamoolarishtam or Jeerakarishtam.
- Many women suffer from constipation after delivery for which castor oil may be taken before bed to lubricate the bowels and encourage complete evacuation.
- Intercourse can be avoided for at least three months to allow the reproductive system recovery time. Pelvic floor exercises and yogic Moola bandha can assist vaginal elasticity. To shrink the size of the vagina, a douche of gooseberry (Amalaki) decoction or fig leaf paste is used.
- Ayurveda considers the milk from the breast best, custom-made for the baby’s specific needs. As soon as possible, the baby should be put on the breast as the initial colostrum, though heavy, is considered to be nectar. To increase milk production the mother can take fenugreek, fennel, shatavari, milk, drumsticks and ghee. If the baby is reluctant to drink breastmilk, honey is put on the nipple to encourage it.
- For mastitis, warm cabbage leaves can be put in the bra and cracked nipples are eased with calendula and turmeric ointment.
The baby may be weaned off breastmilk after the teeth appear or continued, according to the mother’s preference. To dry up milk the mother can apply neem or jasmine leaf paste to her breasts externally.
Though it may seem unrealistically idyllic to practise these mothercare rituals, since 1985 hundreds of mothers in the west have benefited from the Mother and Baby Program offered by Maharishi Ayurveda. American obstetrician Rebecca Douglas, who experienced the Mother and Baby program after the birth of her third child, now recommends it to clients, believing it is "for the baby’s well-being; it’s not indulgence", having observed that for new mothers who follow the recommendations "enthusiasm seems much more predominant and the fatigue seems to be much less".
Former Mother and Baby Program director Sharon Thomas saw the benefits to hundreds of mothers: "I never saw an instance of postpartum depression in all the years I worked with this program … Mothers looked healthier, more supported, more rested. Their ongoing good health seemed to continue for years."
The initial six months of a baby’s life are considered a crucial phase during which the foundation of mental and physical fortitude is established. The transition from the womb to the world should be as gentle and tender as possible. The situation babies have been in could be likened to spending nine months in dark, solitary confinement, hence they need time to adapt to sensory input.
To make the adjustment as easy as possible, the newborn is protected from any intense sensory stimuli. This includes wind, strong sunlight, rain, loud or jarring noises, strong scents, hard surfaces and sudden or excessive movement. Everything should be soft, warm and nurturing. According to Vedic tradition, the child doesn’t even go outside until it is 14 days old — a ritual known as Niskramana samskara, whereby the father takes the child out under the sun and recites a mantra for its wellbeing. Also at three months, the child may be placed briefly at the feet of the temple deity for divine protection while receiving the priest’s blessings and a sprinkle of holy water.
Three practices to enhance bonding with the baby include breastfeeding, massage and baby wearing. Modern medical research has established the benefits of breastfeeding over bottle feeding. Breastmilk has 70 ingredients not found in formula and is an important source of immune-building antibodies. The baby is weened onto solids once the first teeth appear. The first grains are given to the baby by a priest in a ceremony called Annaprasana. After 56 days the baby can eat semolina soup, which is prepared by soaking semolina in water overnight, draining the water the next morning and cooking it with palm sugar and milk. Dried, seeded and powdered green banana is also given with buttermilk as a stomachic digestive aid. Ragi or red millet water, rice and cow’s or goat’s milk are also administered, but salt is withheld for the first six months.
Massage is integral to the mother/baby daily routine in India. It is particularly advantageous for premature babies, who have been shown to gain weight and leave hospital stronger than those who weren’t massaged. Ayurveda advises that due to the delicate skin of the newborn, a small dough ball should be used for massage in the first month. This can be made from atta flour and water then rolled in a little boiled organic coconut milk or sesame oil and turmeric. Baby massage enhances circulation, expels toxins, sharpens reflexes, aids digestion, reduces colic and, most importantly, gives the baby a deep sense of security.
By the second month, massage in a warm, quiet room with boiled organic coconut milk or Lakshadi oil is used, applying gentle hand strokes and incorporating some sensory-motor co-ordination exercises. Use light, long strokes on the long bones, circular motions on the joints and gentle pressure in a clockwise direction on the abdomen to help expel gas. At two months, oil such as Brahmi oil may be applied to the scalp, stopping the initial ghee pad placed on the crown fontanelle from birth. This acts as a brain, neuromuscular and hair tonic as well as preventing cradle cap.
The massage can last from 10 to 20 minutes and is best done at least 30 minutes away from a feed. If the baby suffers from colic, a washer dipped in warm water and a pinch of hing can be placed over its abdomen for a few minutes at the end of the session. The massage may be followed by a bath and a sleep. Massage should be avoided if there are signs of a fever or cold.
Babies thrive from this tender touch and relaxing time with their parent. The ancient paediatric text Kashyapa Samhita> says massage is very important for the baby’s neuromuscular and central nervous system development as well as for weight gain, pain relief, improving skin tone, sleep, vision and digestion. Massage sessions also provide a mother or father with a unique opportunity for quality time with their baby.
Though you can learn good techniques from Ayurvedic baby massage videos, the best massage flows from love rather then logic. A good video to get you started, though, is Baby Massage by Elly Leduc from www.paccomfilms.com.
The saying "I slept like a baby" must have been coined by a parent fortunate enough to have mastered the art of baby whispering. Indians have always used hammocks to lull their babies into a deep, cocooned slumber. These hammocks, now available in Western designs, are simple constructions of a spring hanging from the ceiling attached to a strong triangular frame from which a folded cloth hangs. The hammock is very comforting for the baby as it’s like the womb environment with the snugly, secure shape and the range of movements similar to sensations in utero. The baby’s slightly slanted position also prevents reflux and colic. Conventional cribs, being firm and flat, don’t provide the same swaddling comfort and can also lead to the baby developing a flat head. Babies also wake more peacefully in a hammock as their own movements initiate a reassuring bouncing action.
Another aid to sleep is music. Special songs act as sleep signals to the baby, triggering the relaxation response. A very effective style of music has been developed from womb sounds by Dr Fred Schwartz, an intensive care doctor in Georgia (US), who found that the sound of blood flow in the placenta plus the mother’s breath and heartbeat in the womb reaches the noise level of around 80-95 decibels — almost as loud as a nightclub — and suddenly stopping this music can be stressful to the child. So using sensitive microphones, Dr Schwartz recorded the sounds in his pregnant wife’s womb and added gentle music and women’s voices. After seeing that this composition put his child to sleep immediately and for longer, he played it to neonates who then spent an average of three days less in intensive care.
Babies can also be soothed if carried close and moved. Rather than strain the carer’s arms and back, a carrier can be positioned so it gives the mother good symmetrical back support and so the baby is positioned diagonally or horizontally rather than vertically inside. The trend for vertical baby carriers is contrary to the Ayurvedic ideal that a baby should be kept horizontal or with its weight evenly supported along its spine while the backbones and muscles are developing. A baby sling holds the baby in a natural foetal position just as they were inside the womb. If comfortable, it’s also the perfect position for breastfeeding and at other times allows the mother to carry out two-handed tasks while still comforting the baby.
Slings are also helpful for babies who are slow to gain weight as they have been shown to gain more rapidly if carried in a sling for several hours a day, the proximity to mum encouraging more regular feeds. Carrying a baby also reduces restlessness and colic, promotes cognitive development, motor skills and speech and builds a solid sense of security and self-esteem.
The Vedic culture has prescribed rituals and rites of passage at various phases of an infant’s development. When the child has lived for a full lunar phase (28 days) this is celebrated by tying a protective yantra, or blessed charm (tali), around the child’s waist with a string, which may be changed to a gold chain after six months. Another auspicious item that may be used is an ornament made of five metals (pancha-loha), which protect the child from malefic planetary influences.
Also, from the 28th to the 56th day after delivery, a special ceremony called Dasandhya uzhiyal is conducted for the child. The simple procedure occurs at sunset when the grandmother or mother offers a flame first to a lit lamp three times clockwise chanting "om namahshivaya" then to the baby three times. She then places the wick in turmeric and lime water, touching the water to the baby three times. Finally, the baby is fed a paste of calamus, triphala, gold, butter, rudrakasham, chandana and brahmi water to boost physical and mental wellbeing.
The name-giving ceremony Nama-Karana isn’t conducted until some time after the baby’s birth. In some castes the formal name isn’t given until the child is six months. In the meantime, names like "little goddess" and "little jewel" are used. This gives the parents time to observe the child’s character in order to select a name that’s really apt. In choosing the name, an astrologer, priest or guru may be consulted to ensure it has a beneficial sound vibration. An auspicious-sounding name that’s constantly repeated over the person’s life then acts as a mantra, attracting positive energy into their life. The astrologer calculates the best first syllable and the family agrees on a name they like starting with that. For the three ways of ascertaining a name through astrology consult the do-it-yourself webpage http://jyotisha.00it.com/bhava.htm. Once the name is selected, the uncle or father whispers it into the child’s right ear first if it is a boy and the left ear for a girl. Only then may the name be spoken aloud.
The ear-piercing ceremony called Karna vedhana samskara is performed by some castes at the sixth, seventh or eight month. A jeweller generally performs this nowadays. The right ear is pierced first for a boy and the left ear for a girl. This immediately induces a cell-mediated response to boost the child’s immunity, though the earrings may be taken out after a week if desired.
Because a baby’s hair is considered too fine it’s generally shaved off before six months to promote healthy, thick regrowth. This ceremony, called Mundana, may be conducted by a priest or barber. After shaving the hair a soothing balm of sandalwood and saffron paste is smeared over the head. This protects against infection and adds to the world’s most sublime scent — baby’s head! May we all appreciate these precious souls and the loving parents who hold the future in their hands.
1. M. Lukesch in T. Verny, with J. Kelly, The secret life of the unborn child, New York: Summit, 1981, p49
2. R Jevning, A.F. Wilson and J.M. Davidson, Adrenocorticol activity during meditation, Hormones and Behaviour, 10 (1978) pp54-60 Other references available on request.
Caroline Robertson is a naturopath, homoeopath and Ayurvedic consultant who teaches and practises from Ayurveda Elements, Sydney.W: www.ayurvedaelements.com.au
Ayurvedic medicines and herbs should be taken only under expert supervision and herbs should have been tested for heavy metal content. Some recent American studies of Ayurvedic herbs have found that some products originating from India and Pakistan have been found to have significant levels of lead, mercury and arsenic and that individuals have developed lead poisoning as a result of taking them.
Source: The Health Report, ABC Radio National, Monday, 24 January 2005 Saper RB et al. ‘Heavy Metal Content of Ayurvedic Herbal Medicine Products’. JAMA, December 15, 2004;292;23:2868-2873
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