Over the last couple of years I have been able to grow my understanding of Indian philosophies, with reference to yoga and birth. There is a true beauty in the principles behind much of Indian philosophy, and I find myself naturally drawn to Ayurveda specifically. If you haven't heard of Ayurveda, it is an alternative system of medicine originating from India, using natural measures to restore and keep balance in the body.
As I began my pre and postnatal yoga and doula studies, it became evident that the philosophy of Ayurveda was deeply weaved through postpartum culture and traditions. I believe that in Australia, our Westernised culture could adopt a few principles as a means to improve postpartum care for women. There is much richness and beauty in the practices and care of Indian culture for women after birth. Ayurvedic practices are some of the core traditions of postpartum care in India; the first 40 days that follow the birth of baby may also be referred to as the sacred 40 days after birth. In these 40 days, the mother remains at home to rest and be cared for while she bonds with her new baby. The tradition arose from the need to protect the mum and baby from infection and support her to recover from exhaustion of childbirth. Some of the practices of these 40 days include belly binding/wrapping, warm oil massages for mum and also baby, and Ayurvedic inspired foods.
Belly wrapping (also known as abdominal binding) is often practiced with a cotton saree/sari or cloth, and is typically implemented for a minimum of 5 or 6 hours a day. It can help to support the abdominal muscles, reduce backaches, can assist organs to return to their natural position in the body, and aids the balancing of Vata (air constitutions) in the body. In Ayurvedic beliefs, it is said there are 3 constitutional types of Doshas and that each of us have a mixture within us; some more dominant than others. The 3 Doshas are Kapha (earth/water), Pitta (fire) and Vata (air). During pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period, the dominance changes. Pregnancy is considered to be Kapha dominant, birth is Pitta, and postpartum is generally Vata imbalanced. After giving birth, the woman’s body is
left with a vast amount of air constitution – emptiness upon giving birth. Hence, belly wrapping is believed to support the body to rebalance.
Oil and Massage
Other ways to reduce the amount of Vata include oil and massage. These common Indian practices are derived from the Ayurvedic principles of Doshas, as the body can be brought back into balance by using oil and massage to release Vata and ground the mother back into her body. Massaging warm oil into the mother’s body is believed to support recovery after birth - nurturing, stabilising and grounding her. This may involve Indian full body oil massages daily for the first 40 days after birth, or until recovery. Often an experienced Maushi will be hired for this care in India, however, the massage can be performed by a partner, doula, or loved one as well. Nourishing natural oils such as coconut, olive, and sesame oils are generally used.
In Ayurveda there are 3 energy types in the world – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas – and they are known as the 3 Gunas. Everything in the world is made up of any of the Gunas, and Sattva is considered the most pure and true. Food has energy too, and the Indian postpartum traditions incorporate warm, oily, nourishing Sattvic foods for the mother. These include lentils, soups, rice, porridges, traditional Indian foods, Dahl, vegetables, ghee, wheat, millet, parathas and ladoos, herbal teas and more. Cold foods are avoided, along with salads and refined sugar, as they can draw water from the body and be hard to digest, causing gas (Vata) and constipation, when the aim is to reduce Vata constitutions and rebalance the Doshas.
I am so drawn to the Indian traditions for postpartum care, and I feel a strong connection to many of the principles and philosophies behind the practices. I can’t wait to keep learning about different cultural beliefs and deepening my understanding of many worldly postnatal practices.
Love, Alicia Xx