The first 40 days immediately after childbirth is often referred to as the “golden period" in traditional Chinese medicine. During this period, the new mother has a unique opportunity to restore and reset her constitution. Provided she gets adequate rest and follows the traditional principles of post-natal care, not only can she ensure her future good health, but she can also resolve past health issues. If, on the other hand, she does not get adequate rest and nourishment during this period, a myriad of different problems can arise, including secondary infertility and difficult menopause.
During the post-natal period, women in ancient China were advised to follow the practice of “sitting the month". (zou yue zhi) This is a period of absolute rest and relative seclusion at home to allow for recovery after pregnancy and childbirth. Whilst in the West, the emphasis is on the baby, in ancient China, the emphasis during this period was on allowing the mother to regain her strength so that she can breastfeed her baby and face the challenges of motherhood. Taking care of herself at this time also benefits her reproductive health, enabling her to have more children and an easier transition into menopause later in life.
During pregnancy, the woman’s resources go to nourish the baby, so her Qi, and Blood, Yin, Yang and Jing are consumed. Yang Qi, which is warming and dynamic, is required as the motivating force during labour and protective Qi and Blood are lost. Consequently, the mother is left in a relatively weakened and Cold state, and open to invasion by pathogenic factors such as Cold, which can cause painful, clotty periods, secondary infertility and many other problems.
Traditional Chinese postnatal care offers many different practical, And some not so practical ways to help the new mother restore and replenish her energies and reset her constitution after childbirth.
Rest and Seclusion
The ancient practice of “sitting the month" advised that new mothers should stay at home in relative seclusion and rest in the period immediately after childbirth. The idea was to protect them from external factors that may present a challenge to their health, including emotions or pathogenic factors such as Cold, Wind or Damp. They were expected to get plenty of bed rest and sleep in order to regain their strength and allow their pelvis to heal. They were also advised to avoid reading as mental activity depletes the Qi.
During this “golden period" new mothers were expected to just focus on resting, feeding and bonding with their new baby. 🛏🛏🛏
Realistically, modern mums do not have the luxury of sleeping all the time. Chance would be a fine thing! And staying at home for several weeks would be anathema to many mums.
👉🏻However, the key principle is to get as much rest as you realistically can. Please don’t attempt to do the cooking and wash the dishes! Allow your network of friends and family to look after you and support you, and if you want to go out, make sure you wrap up warm!
Since Yang Qi is depleted during pregnancy and childbirth, you must take great care to keep yourself Warm and avoid Cold. During labour a woman pushes down and opens herself up physically and energetically, making herself vulnerable to invasion by Cold.
👉🏻Consequently, after childbirth, you should always keep your abdomen, lower back and sacrum warm in particular, as the Ming men fire, the body‘s physiological Fire, resides in the lower abdomen. 🔥🔥🔥
👉🏻New mothers have a tendency to feel hot in the first week after childbirth due to the adrenaline released during labour. However, in Chinese medicine this pattern is known as False Heat, True Cold. The true underlying condition is one of interior Cold, which is forcing the heat to the exterior, and you should not be tempted to cool yourself with air-conditioning or fans.
Food is the source of post-natal Chi and Blood and it nourishes and supports Yin and Yang. After childbirth, the emphasis should be on warming, nutrient-rich foods, not only to rebuild the resources lost during pregnancy and labour, but to ensure the mother’s breast milk is rich and plentiful.
👉🏻The most powerful way to tonify Chi and Blood is by eating meat, especially meat-based broth. This is rich in protein, and it also contains iron, calcium and magnesium, as well as gelatine, which is effective in healing connective tissue and helping to stop excessive bleeding.
👉🏻Traditionally, pigs trotters were the meat of choice for post natal soups and stews! They are warm and they tonify Qi and blood and nourish the kidneys, which are thought to be depleted by pregnancy. They are full of cartilage and boil down to a very nutritious gelatine, which is great for healing tissues, building blood and enriching the breast milk. Don’t worry if pigs trotters🐖 don’t sound very appealing - organic chicken or any other meat with bone will do the job!
👉🏻For those of you who are vegetarians, replace the meat with sprouted beans. Aduki beans are known to be particularly beneficial for Tonifying the kidneys after childbirth. 🌿🌿🌿
👉🏻Eggs are another important addition to the post-natal diet. They are effective in tonifying Yin and they benefit the kidneys, heart, liver and spleen.
👉🏻Black sesame seeds are also recommended in the post-partum period as they tonify the kidneys and benefit lactation. They are packed full of omega fatty acids, calcium, zinc, magnesium, and B vitamins.
👉🏻And finally, try to eat warm, cooked foods but avoid cold foods and drinks. This is an important principle to follow at any time, but it is especially important in the post-natal period.
Chinese Herbal Medicine
Chinese herbs can be added to your stews and soups to make them extra warming and nourishing!
👉🏻Fresh ginger is warm, sweet and pungent, and it warms the interior and aids digestion. It is a very important herb in the postnatal period and is included in most traditional post natal recipes.
👉🏻Cinnamon is warm, sweet and pungent. it warms the interior, clears cold, promotes the movement of Blood and aids healing.
👉🏻Huang Qi is warm and slightly sweet, and it tonifies and razors the Qi and benefits the lungs and spleen.
👉🏻Dang Shen is neutral and sweet and it also tonifies the Qi and benefits the lungs and spleen.
👉🏻Shan Yao is sweet and neutral. It tonifies Qi and Yin and benefits lung, spleen and kidneys . It also boosts progesterone.
👉🏻Dang Gui is warm, sweet and pungent. It tonifies and moves the Blood and boost the production of oestrogen.
Chinese medicine also has many classical herbal formulas such as “Women’s Precious“, that can nourish the Blood and replenish the energy in this "golden period”.
Acupuncture and Moxa
Acupuncture and moxa treatment is also advised about a week post partum. The aim of the treatment is to warm and aid uterine involution, tonify Qi, Blood and Yang, and relax and repair the ligaments. The ligaments will have been stretched during pregnancy and childbirth and this treatment will help the pelvis return to its pre-pregnancy shape.
This treatment is recommended regardless of the mode of delivery. In the case of C-section, it is recommended about two weeks after delivery, and needles will be added to benefit scar healing.
Even though some of these practices may not be compatible with our culture and our times, I hope you can draw from the wisdom of these time honoured traditions, to replenish your reserves, ensure your future good health and build a solid foundation for your motherhood. 🐣🐣🐣