Postpartum - What hospitals don’t tell you
It’s unfortunate that our society has lost touch with the importance of a restful postpartum period to help mama and baby bond, establish healthy breastfeeding habits, and allow mama’s body to rest up and heal after childbirth. In traditional societies, mama and baby usually spend the first 4-6 weeks at home, and friends and relatives help with the cooking, cleaning, and anything else that mama needs during that time.
That’s not to say that we need to restrict ourselves from ever leaving the house during that period, but we do need to recognize the importance of taking it easy, nourishing our bodies, and proactively healing our bodies with proper postpartum care.
This article will show you how to heal your body from Naturopathic and also Ayurvedic perspective.
Dylan, an Ayurvedic practitioner (details below the article) explains that after birth, the mother’s hormones are usually erratic. Vata, which governs the nervous system and movement (movement of body fluids, neurotransmitters, hormones, blood and lymph circulation, elimination of wastes) in the body immensely increases. This is because all of a sudden after womb evacuation a vacuum of space has manifested (vata is predominately space). In his article he also points out to leave the cord intact till it stops pulsating or delay the cord clamping.
Most hospitals prematurely cut the umbilical cord. This causes a loss of blood. Cord-blood is especially rich in containing precious Haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). These stem cells are responsible for maintaining blood production throughout our lives.
Scientific studies have confirmed the validity of delayed cord-clamping.
It is said in Chinese medicine, what you eat and how well you take care of yourself during this crucial time has the power to impact your health 20, 30 or more YEARS down the track.
Heal Your Body
The soreness and discomfort that you’ll feel after a vaginal delivery (especially if you had a tear or episiotomy) can vary from the very mild to the very extreme. Either way, don’t underestimate the power of a peri bottle, some witch hazel, and a soothing bath.
Your hospital or midwife should send you home with a peri bottle – a squirt bottle that you’ll use to squirt warm water on the perineum during and after urinating. This will help soothe any stinging and clean the area thoroughly.
Witch hazel pads are also great for soothing the wound. Place a chilled witch hazel pad between the wound and your sanitary pad. You can even try making your own frozen witch hazel sanitary pads beforehand and keep them in the freezer until you need them – this looks like a super cool project!
Taking soothing baths for the first week or two also helps promote healing and reduce swelling. Try adding some Epsom salts or baking soda and soak for 15-30 mins. You can also pick up a sitz bath from your local drug store and place it right over your toilet – much easier and more efficient than getting in and out of the regular bath tub.
Lizzy (contact detail bellow the article) the Shamanic Doula and also my own doula who is supporting me with a birth of my fist baby introduced me to these beautiful herbal compresses, poultices and post partum tips:
“I recommend using a post birth vagina healing spray, Jana has mentioned Witch Hazel above which is wonderful, and I would add Calendula, Chamomile & Lavender tea with Manuka Honey & Colloidal Silver all added together with some Witch Hazel into a clean sterile spray bottle and spray on your vagina after each time you go to the bathroom to promote healing, soothing and prevent infection if there has been a graze, cut or tear in the area. (I make this vagina healing spray of anyone is interested to buy some for friends or yourself after birth, my contact details are below)
Herbal Compresses can be a wonderful way to heal the vagina after birth as long as there has not been any tearing. They are also good for use after a Cesarean to heal the wound. Using organic herbs is very important!
1 cup of Calendula flowers, 1 cup of Chamomile flowers, ¼ cup of lavender flowers. Wrap them into some muslin and create a compress. Soak this in boiling water for about 5 minutes, squeeze out and allow it to cool before applying to the affected area. Once it cools down you can warm it again and reapply. These herbs promote deep tissue healing, reduce inflammation and are very soothing. If you can let the area dry thoroughly before covering again this will also help healing. Once finished the used flowers can go into the compost.
I also recommend making an organic fruit compote to use after birth to keep your stool soft and prevent constipation after birth as this can be very painful. Organic dried fruits are also very high in Iron and Magnesium and this is an old recipe from a midwife who told me it was a very good blood tonifying potion for after birth.”
Lizzie’s Recipe for Post Birth Compote
Equal amounts of organic figs, pitted prunes, brown Turkish apricots, peaches & pears.
Add all of the fruits into a pot and add purified water up to the top of the fruits so they are just covered.
Add a cinnamon stick or 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
Add the juice of 1 orange
Add the juice of 1 lemon and cut half of the lemon rinds into thin slices and add to the mix as well (this adds vitamin C)
Bring to the boil, lower heat to simmer and then cook for 1 hr, stirring occasionally.
Then sterilize a few jars with boiling water and once the compote has cooled slightly add to jars.
Refrigerated this can keep for up to 6 months.
I encourage my new mothers to have 1-2 tablespoons daily.
It is delicious on muesli or porridge or with some yogurt.
Giving babies a swab of vaginal fluid after they’ve been born by caesarean section gives them a different, and possibly beneficial, set of gut bacteria.
The dramatic transition from womb to world is the time when a baby ingests some of the first bacteria that will colonise its guts. But babies born by C-section miss out on this process, and end up with a different set of bugs – including some from the hospital environment.
Ayurveda also offers immunisation program for baby (contact Dylan for more details, reference list). Swarna Prasa: Honey, Ghee* and Gold purified ash (swarna bhasma) is prepared and processed in a highly complex method using high-quality ingredients. This is given to the baby after being born to imbue immunity actively through the senses. This immunisation may be continually be administered once a month according to astrology (on pusyami naksatra).
Homeopathy is safe and gentle energetic medicine used to support our bodies, minds and spirits from the inside out safe in Pregnancy and breastfeeding. Homeopathic remedies are available at local health food stores including Whole Foods and local co-ops. Over the counter dosages of the following remedies (at 10x to 30x) can be used to treat issues that may arise after birth (follow directions on the bottle or given by a care provider).
Here are some homeopathic remedies samples that may help women after birth, as they heal physically and adjust to the intense transformation they’re undergoing. Many of these are great for mood disturbances that can come after birth as well as healing.
Arnica is commonly used for bruising and can aid in healing the perineum and other tissues after birth. It can also be used for afterpains and uterine cramping that can occur with nursing.
This homeopathic remedy can be helpful for issues arising with breastfeeding, including engorgement, painful nipples, and plugged ducts.
This remedy can aid women who are feeling emotionally sensitive and prone to tears in the postpartum. These women may feel needy and insecure, wanting constant affection, reassurance, and nurturing. Getting fresh air and avoiding warm stuffy rooms can help. Finding a way to express/release the emotions in some way also greatly assists women experiencing this heightened sensitivity in the postpartum.
Sepia is one of the best remedies for assisting women experiencing hormonal changes, making it great for the postpartum period. It can be especially helpful in women experiencing the baby blues or even postpartum depression—those who may feel irritably, apathetic, resentful, or burdened. Women who benefit from this remedy may also feel indifferent to the birth experience and have trouble bonding with the baby. This remedy can also help with pelvic weakness or uterine prolapse.
I like to recommend product from company called Heel Traumeel – it contains most of the homeopathic for bruising and soft tissue trauma/injury and speeds up your post birth recovery. Take 1 tab 3-4x daily dissolve under your tongue.
Feed Your Body
A new breastfeeding mama needs to pay extra special attention to her diet, especially in those first few weeks when she’s establishing her milk supply. Also important is keeping your energy levels up, so eating multiple smaller meals throughout the day is best. A good, healthy breastfeeding diet includes lots of proteins, calcium, iron-rich foods, leafy greens, fruits and veggies, and lots of DHA-rich foods (like wild salmon, sardines, and eggs) to promote baby’s healthy brain development. If you are vegan, make sure to include good oils such as nuts, avocado, flax oil, chia seeds, hemp oil….
Dylan’s suggestion from Ayurvedic perspective are two most important foods for mum to balance the vata are ghee and garlic.
Garlic - remove inner green sprout and fry in ghee, then use in cooking.
Ojas increasing foods like hot milk, dates, coconut, warmed cooked fresh foods.
Cumin seeds and fennel seeds. Ajwain seeds if C-section occurred.
How about herbal medicine?
Herbs are excellent for supporting lactation, whether you don’t have enough or you’re making way too much milk. I often recommend herbal teas, as not only do you benefit from the diluted herbs, drinking tea regularly also increases your fluid intake.
Herbs such as Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), Goat’s Rue (Galega officinalis) and Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) can be very helpful for mums with low milk supply. These herbs are known as galactagogues and help to increase milk production. They are often used in combination with adaptogenic herbs, such as Withania (Withania somnifera), which help to balance stress and energy.
Here is some simple breastfeeding cookie recipe if you are coming to visit a new mom or are a new mom. Brewers yeast, flaxseed/linseed meal and oats help your milk supply as well so enjoy and experiment with these.
125 g organic butter or coconut butter
1 cup coconut sugar
1/2 cup coconut
1 cup self-raising flour (or gluten free flour and ½ tsp of baking powder and pinch of bicarb soda)
2 tbs golden syrup
2 tbs golden flax meal
1 tbs water
1 cup uncontaminated oats
1 cup dark cacao nibs or add dried fruits your choice
3 tbs yeast
1. Preheat oven to 180C.
2. In a saucepan melt together butter, golden syrup and water. Cool slightly.
3. In a separate bowl, mix together, flour, oats, coconut, coconut sugar, cacao nibs/dried fruits, flaxseed/linseed meal and bakers yeast.
4. Add butter mixture. Mix until combined. If mixture is too crumbly, add a little nut milk or oil.
5. Drop spoonfuls of mixture onto a greased or lined baking tray.
6. Bake for 8-12 minutes, or until cookies are golden.
For mums who are producing more than enough milk, herbs such as Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and Sage (Salvia officinalis) can be useful for slowing the flow.
Mastitis, which causes breast tissue to become sore and inflamed, is most common in breastfeeding women. Despite patchy scientific evidence, mums all over the world swear that slipping cabbage leaves in the bra can work wonders. So how do the leaves work? The cold helps, especially when alternated with a warm compress. But the key may lie in the fact that cabbages contain glucosinolates. Enzyme action converts these to pungent isothiocyanates, collectively referred to as mustard oil. And mustard oil has long been used as a home remedy for swelling. Phytolacca cream, non-alcohol Echinacea internally with Vit C and zinc, can also support inflammation, lymphatic and immune system.
Support immune system depletion! Preventing trash! Rest, rest, rest…don’t overexercise or return to work too early, it will lover your immune system even more!
It is not unusual for only one party in the breastfeeding relationship to develop symptoms of Thrush, but it is important to treat both mom and baby simultaneously to prevent re-infection.
· Specific probiotic strains of Lactobacillus species have been shown to inhibit Candida growth. Acidophilis is a popular probiotic strain found in yogurt that is effective. However some studies show that L. rhamnosus and L. casei exhibited stronger antifungal activity than other probiotics. Some practitioners recommend applying yogurt directly to mother’s nipple. Others recommend applying a probiotic powder with these Lactobacillus species directly to mother’s nipple – “paint the nipple” – or inside baby’s cheeks.
· Gentian violet: Research studies show gentian violet (not from Gentian or Violets) has strong anti-fungal activity against candida species. It is an inexpensive remedy that is applied topically inside baby’s cheek/lips and to mother’s nipple. Patients should be aware there is also evidence in the scientific literature that it acts as a carcinogen in mice. Be careful with use – the purple liquid can stain clothing.
· Topically, Calendula officinalis is an herb that has been shown to promote wound healing in the skin. This is a useful remedy to use topically on mother’s affected nipples. Calendula succus (pressed juice of Calendula) or ointment is often used by naturopathic doctors as a natural alternative to the potentially carcinogenic Gentian violet. It is used similarly to Gentian violet, meaning it is applied topically (“painted”) on the baby’s cheek, tongue, lips and mother’s nipple. (Note: a one-page Calendula herb guide, including medicinal constituents, uses and brief dosing guide is included in the 6 month well child guide.)
· As a naturopathic doctor it may be common for me to recommend dietary changes or restrictions to explore potential food sensitivities in many of my patients. However, particularly with breastfeeding mothers, I am always very careful about recommending any elimination or restrictive diets. The last thing I want to do is decrease a mother’s nutritional intake that may negatively impact breast milk production.
Other herbs to support immune system ~ always consult your practitioner before using these:
Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica) - whilst not strictly a TCM herb, this is a nutritive herb (high in iron), rejuvenator, and overall tonic. Susan Weed, one of the great modern herbalists and women’s health advocate, strongly recommends nettles for all aspects of motherhood. I make herbal infusion of nettle by adding a few tablespoons of dried herb to a teapot and steeping overnight in boiling water. The next day I strain and sip throughout the day instead of drinking plain water.
Astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus) or huang qi is a warming adaptogen and immune modulator. I add astragalus to soups, about 10 grams to a big pot of chicken broth.
Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) - antioxidant and immune modulators. I add a handful of sliced, dried shiitake to a big pot of soup, or soak in hot water for 10 minutes then and add to stir-fries for serious flavour and of course for their immune boosting activity!
Angelica root (Angelica sinensis) or dong quai - known as female ginseng, dong quai is warming, improves blood circulation, nourishes the blood and strengthens the female reproductive organs.
Do NOT give your child any nutritional supplements or medications without consulting a naturopathic doctor or other licensed healthcare professional first.
Here is a basic chicken soup using the blood strengthening and uterus tonifying herb dong quai as well as the classic ginger and garlic for warming.
New Mama's Chicken Soup
1 kg organic chicken - whole or parts
3 litres filtered water
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
3 celery sticks, chopped
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
30 grams Dong quai (Chinese Angelica root)
3cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely sliced
Garlic cloves (as many as you like), crushed and roughly chopped
Rinse chicken and add to water in a heavy stockpot with the dong quai. Bring to the boil. Simmer for 1 hour.
Remove chicken from broth and shred the meat into small pieces. If you don't want to fish the dong quai out of your bowl of soup when eating, you can strain the broth through a sieve and pour back the soup into stockpot along with the shredded chicken, however I usually leave it all in because I'm lazy and don't mind chewing on it in my soup.
Add the onion, celery, carrot, ginger, garlic, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 20 minutes more then turn off heat and serve with sliced spring onions and soy sauce if you like.
In Ayurveda as Dylan describes in his article, A particular fermented herbal preparation (asava) called Balant Kadha is taken once by mum for thirty days to balance the vata, hormones and more.
This tonic relives weakness, body ache, constipation and cough. Increases appetite, energy, strength and nutritious milk. Tones up blood circulation and helps for the formation of new blood cells.
Time to take: This decoction is ideally taken the day of or the day after giving birth. Even if mum missed that (ie. is reading this article post-delivery), this herb is still highly beneficial and can performs similar action if started up until the baby is 6 months old. This is probably the most important and crucial herb.
Balance Your Mood
It’s very common for mamas to get the “baby blues” in the first days and weeks after childbirth. The hormones that helped your body grow that little bean for the past 9 months can become really out of whack during the postpartum period as they work themselves back to normal levels.
Keep your hormones balanced and in check can help you avoid the worst of the blues and postpartum depression. Essential oils like Lavender, bergamot and geranium are known to be uplifting and balancing oils. They can also help regulate and balance the hormonal system and soothe anxiety and depression. Diffuse the oils in the room or add a few drops to a small spray bottle and spray in the air. Red raspberry leaf tea, which you may have already been drinking during pregnancy, is also great for balancing those hormones.
The very first thing we should talk about is some lab work. So when we talk about treating postpartum depression naturally I really want to know why someone has postpartum depression, and not to just treat it presumptively. (In other words – is it really postpartum depression?) So the first thing I want you to talk to your doctor about is getting some basic blood work done. Check for Iron levels, size and shape of red blood cells –if you have too little, it can cause fatigue and depression. I like to check for Thyroid problems too and levels of Vitamin D.
The next thing I do for women with postpartum depression is to check their gut. I’m not totally sure why this is, but I seem to see a lot crossover between gastrointestinal symptoms/abdominal pain and depression and anxiety, which I think is pretty interesting. So you if have any symptoms like gas, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation (or alternating diarrhoea and constipation), fatigue or brain fog – these may be symptoms of gut dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is simply the overgrowth of abnormal bacteria.
Look after your baby:
Only use immunisation, which is necessary.
Dylan also mentions that according to the aboriginal culture, similar to the Ayurvedic view, the newborn is always held close to the mother's heart to promote belonging. This prevents blueprinting anxiety on the child, which can occur after taking the baby away from the mother like in some hospital circumstances.
According to aboriginal culture, the newborn stays "glued" to the mother for a few days, and only after then does mum introduce the newborn to the immediate family for it to smell, hear and feel it's intimate family.
For the first 21 days, new born wears clothes of other babies that have good karma.
Dylan Smith is a certified Ayurvedic Practitioner and holistic health educator based in Sydney, Australia, where he runs and operates the Vital Veda clinic offering patients consultations, body treatments and detoxification programs:
Lizzy Criner specialises in womb clearing, preparation for birth, natural birth support and post partum recovery. She practises as a Shamanic Midwife from The Healing Shed in Coogee, Sydney.
For appointments or inquires please contact her directly on her mobile: 0414 629 295
Instagram “The Healing Shed”