After months of waiting, you now have a little one who has taken center stage. Your baby is naturally the superstar right now, but there is another person who needs a lot of attention too – you! After delivery, you may be tempted to get back on your feet and return to your former busy (and frenzied) self as soon as possible, but it’s important to pace yourself. Your body has just been on a months-long roller coaster ride, and it needs plenty of time and care to be brought back to its full strength.
During the days and weeks after the delivery of your baby — the postpartum period — your body will undergo a phenomenal transformation as it heals and renews itself. Physical, hormonal, and psychological changes will happen, but these can vary drastically, woman to woman, and even pregnancy to pregnancy: For some, the impact is low; others may find extreme imbalances in their nervous, endocrinal (hormonal), or immune systems, which could lead to health conditions such as anxiety, depression, hair loss, weight gain, lowered libido, and constipation. The susceptibility to such health complications after childbirth increases with maternal age.
The amount of time it takes for healing after childbirth will depend on your general health. According to Ayurveda, the first three months after childbirth is very important for the effective recovery of the mother. Neglecting yourself at this postpartum stage can lead to many health problems, not just immediately, but also later in life. If the body does not recover properly, it can lead to more serious, chronic issues.
Ways To Enhance Healing After Childbirth
Healthy, Balanced Food
During the postpartum stage, you should avoid or minimize food that could increase digestive discomfort. Choose fresh whole foods that are rich in the following nutrients:
- Protein: Protein is essential for the healing process and to promote growth of new tissue. Protein-dense foods include fish, chicken, eggs, nuts, dairy, and legumes.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C plays an important role in fighting infections. Boost your levels of Vitamin C with oranges, melons, strawberries, and papayas.
- Iron: Iron boosts the immune system and is crucial for hemoglobin, which transports oxygen in the blood. Loss of blood during childbirth will greatly decrease your body’s iron stores, so it’s essential to build those back up with foods like red meats, beans, and dried fruits.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Your body will need an adequate reserve of these healthy fats not just for you but for your baby, whose brain development depends on them. This means you’ll need to consume an adequate amount of Omega-3s as you breastfeed, with foods like fish, seafood, and nuts and seeds. Studies have also shown that omega-3s from seafood can actually help with postpartum depression.
- Calcium: During breastfeeding, your milk is loaded with calcium to help your baby’s bones develop, but it’s just as important for you to have enough calcium. In addition to providing vitamin D, protein, and B vitamins, dairy products are one of the best sources of calcium.
According to Ayurvedic principles, during the first few weeks after delivery there is an increase in vata (gas/air), so the mother should also eat food that decreases or balances vata. These include foods that are warm, oily, moist, and cooked, like whole grains, simple soups, or porridges made of lentils, rice, and vegetables (konji or kitchdi), as well as nuts, clarified butter (ghee), ginger, and spices such as basil, cumin, pepper, cinnamon, fenugreek, and fennel.
Ayurveda also suggests following a vegetarian diet, and avoiding caffeine (chocolate, coffee), cigarettes and alcohol, cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli), and refined sugars and flours. Cold, icy, or crunchy food is also discouraged. Restricting these items can help decrease symptoms such as bloating, constipation, postpartum depression, and insomnia.
Warm Massages And Baths
Ayurvedic practices also promote warm oil massages or “abhyanga” for new mothers. Oil massages are best followed by a hot bath that covers the lower abdomen and the pelvic area. Massages can be enhanced with the following nurturing oils:
- Mustard Oil can speed up the healing process during postpartum recovery by increasing blood circulation and decreasing joint pain.
- Sesame Oil has cooling properties and is believed to help control stress and blood pressure.
- Coconut Oil is also cooling and hydrating, and works as a natural moisturizer to reduce stretch marks.
- Olive Oil is great for the skin and hair.
Warm massages after childbirth can help regulate hormones, alleviate swelling, promote better sleep, and improve lactation and breastfeeding.
Note: If you’ve had a C-section, you need to give the wound some time to heal before you start massages. It is advisable to consult your doctor first.
Rest, Relaxation, And Exercise
Sleep deprivation and the fatigue and irritability that follow are an inevitable part of the postpartum period. Make sure you take time out to rest and relax. Catch a few winks whenever possible (you usually end up on your baby’s sleeping schedule!), and don’t be afraid to ask for extra support.
For exercise, studies have shown that low-intensity workouts can reduce postpartum fatigue and depression. Giving birth can also put a strain on your urinary system, which means you may find it harder to control the flow of urine. Kegel exercises can help control urinary incontinence.
Practicing yoga, meditation, and pranayama breathing can also help relax the mind and body and relieve symptoms including fatigue, low energy, mood swings, and postpartum depression. Yoga can be safely practiced after three months of normal delivery and six months after a C-section. After consulting your doctor, you can begin an asana practice to regain body strength and shape. However, it is advisable to avoid strenuous poses that put excessive pressure on the abdomen
Even sooner, you can start practicing pranayama and meditation once you are fit enough to sit. Meditation and yoga nidra (yogic sleep, a relaxation practice) can even be done while lying down.
Taking Care Of Your Perineal Area
You are likely to experience perineal discomfort, pain, and even numbness if you’ve had a vaginal delivery (especially if there are stitches). The following tips could be helpful to alleviate this discomfort:
- Sitting in a few inches of water several times a day can help soothe any pain and keep the perineal area clean.
- Ice packs can be placed in the area to reduce swelling.
- To avoid straining the stitches, sit squarely on your bottom and do Kegel exercises.
Additional Care After A C-section
If you’ve had a C-section, be sure to take additional time and care to allow for proper healing:
- Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weightlifting, and aerobic exercise, for at least 6 weeks.
- Avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby.
- You may have some vaginal bleeding. Wear pads. It is best to avoid tampons as your uterus is still healing and is at greater risk of infections.
- Keep the Cesarean incision dressings clean and dry.