Holistic Post Partum Recovery
As we discussed in last issue’s article, Chinese Medicine has many uses in the world of women’s health. From menarache, the first period, through menopause, acupuncture and oriental medicine is known to help regulate every process. So when friends, family and patients ask if I can help with issues they are having from A-Z I can say with confidence, “Yes, there’s a point for that”.
What is acupuncture and how does it impact women’s health?
Acupuncture is one method of Oriental healing that consists of inserting hair-thin needles into the skin on areas called acu-points. Acu-points are located on channels or meridians which eventually, internally connect to organs. Traditional Chinese physiology differs from Western Medical physiology in that the organs hold holistic and multi-faceted roles.
An organ called the Spleen is the gateway to the body’s physical energy. Traditional Chinese medicine views the stomach and spleen as a cooking pot that breaks down the food that is eaten and turns it into energy and blood for the body.
The stomach is the cauldron and the spleen is the digestive fire that warms up the pot. The stomach cooks and breaks down the food, sending the pure part of the food to the spleen to be distributed to the rest of the body and eliminating the waste as feces and urine. It is important to maintain this digestive fire, however too many cold and raw foods can put out the digestive fire, weakening and slowing the digestive system.
Additionally the spleen is responsible for muscle tone, preventing organ and tissue prolapse and keeping the blood contained. Therefore issues of prolonged bleeding are said to be a weakness in the spleen. Chronic muscle aches and tiredness are also signs of spleen deficiency.
Post Partum Recovery
During pregnancy, the spleen was responsible for keeping the baby up and holding the blood in place. After birth the spleen is depleted. It has kept up the baby and then forced to counter- flow downward to push the baby out. Therefore most Traditional Chinese methods for healing new moms target the spleen and help mom gradually back to health.
I can not stress enough that post partum mothers need extra care, support and nourishment. The amount of energy and blood used to grow and then expel the baby which the body spent 10 months keeping up and holding is tremendous! The mother might be experiencing: Pain, hemorrhoids, anxiety, depression, soreness, cramping, poor sleep or difficulty and pain associated with nursing (or not nursing). Traumatic or unexpected delivery issues can also make a new mother feel disappointed or a “failure” (which of course she is not!).
In addition, she needs to cultivate attention and energy to keep the newborn (and siblings) alive. All of this is overwhelming at best. It can be devastatingly impossible and disastrous at worst (One in eight post partum mothers develop depression, a third of those have suicidal thoughts).
Oriental medical treatment focuses on nourishing blood (to prevent anemia) and revitalizing the spleen to restore mom’s energy. These protocols can help reduce anxiety and depression, ease hemorrhoids and make mom feel calm and happy in general. Certain acupuncture points help to encourage lactation while others are great for stopping uterine bleeding. Pain after c-section and other obstetrical procedures are soothed by acupuncture and herbs.
Some mothers plan ahead and make sure their placenta, which is full of nutrients and hormones, is utilized as pills or in other forms to prevent post partum depression and help nursing.
The ideal post partum diet according to Chinese medicine consists of cooked or lightly steamed food. Carefully avoid, when possible, dairy, greasy, cold or raw foods (even salads!), as these foods slow digestion because they require more energy to digest. Great foods for the new mom are lean red meats and salmon or red beans and lentils if on a vegetarian diet. Oatmeal, sweet potatoes and other cooked foods nourish the spleen and help rebuild blood.
The mother needs extra care during the first 6 weeks post partum. Through 3 months she should be focusing on getting enough rest and proper nourishment and making sure to not overburden herself with work, social responsibilities etc. At 6 months post partum mom should still be having a nap (even a short one) every day.
The family model in our community is built on big families. Baruch Hashem, having babies close together in age is the norm. Traditional Chinese medical texts discuss the importance of some space between pregnancies (and after a miscarriage) in order for the mother to regain strength. Today, ordinary girls are expected to turn into super mom overnight and some think that self rest and care is not that important to making her home perfect. However, ensuring a new mother is healthy will no doubt increase the health of the new born. Proper care at this critical time lays a foundation for a positive maternal situation for the next possible pregnancy, birth and post partum experience.