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  • Writer's picture Geetanjali Chakraborty

Exploring Ayurvedic Wisdom: Pregnancy and Beyond

Earlier this year, we welcomed our second child into the world, marking another journey through pregnancy. With the experience fresh in my mind, I want to share some insights from an Ayurvedic perspective.


Embracing Vata


Ayurveda places significant emphasis on understanding Vata dosha during pregnancy. Vata dosha comprises the elements of air and space, representing the force of movement within the body. Throughout pregnancy, Vata dosha naturally increases, reaching its peak during childbirth. This elevation is nature's way of facilitating the intense process of labor.

Central to Ayurvedic philosophy is the principle of "like increases like." During pregnancy, heightened sensitivity to Vata - aggravating factors emerges as Vata dosha rises. While excess Vata is necessary for childbirth and isn't directly addressed by Ayurveda, it's crucial to moderate Vata - inducing foods and lifestyle choices during this time to avoid complications such as miscarriage.

Postpartum, Ayurveda intervenes to reduce elevated Vata levels and aid in the healing process, which we'll delve into later in this discussion.

Guidance for All Trimesters


Navigating pregnancy entails a conscientious approach to your Vata dosha. During this period, the choice of food becomes crucial. Opting for easily digestible options is paramount. Raw foods, such as salads and smoothies, while beneficial for some with exceptional digestion, pose challenges as they are inherently difficult to digest and tend to exacerbate Vata dosha due to their cold nature. Aggravated Vata not only heightens the risk of miscarriage but also hampers concentration, leading to a scattered mind.


Ayurveda advocates for the consumption of warm cooked foods throughout pregnancy. Interestingly, insights from evolutionary biology shed light on the significance of cooking in human evolution, as highlighted by Prof. Suzanna Herculano-Houzel in her TED Talk. Cooked foods are believed to have played a pivotal role in the development of our species, supporting the energy required for sustaining neural connections.

The Initial Trimester: A Gentle Approach


The first trimester often brings forth symptoms of nausea and fatigue for many mothers. It's crucial to acknowledge these changes in our bodies and take things easy. While maintaining a pre-existing exercise routine may be feasible after consulting with your healthcare provider, Ayurvedically, it's advised against adopting new forms of exercise during this period. One exception is gentle prenatal yoga, which is grounding and won't exacerbate Vata, thus proving beneficial for expecting mothers amidst the rising Vata.


Moreover, the first trimester is deemed the most critical phase for fetal development. Ayurveda strongly advocates minimizing travel during this period due to its potential risks. However, this advice must be contextualized relative to individual circumstances. If your body was accustomed to regular travel, maintaining a similar pace may not pose significant concerns. Conversely, if extensive travel wasn't a routine, initiating it abruptly during the first trimester is ill-advised.

The Middle Trimester: Revel in the Stability


Ayurveda views the second trimester as a period of stability within pregnancy. It's an opportune time for a holiday if you've been contemplating one. Additionally, introducing a galactagogue during this phase can be beneficial for lactation preparation. Shatavari (asparagus racemosus) is renowned in Ayurveda for its effectiveness as a galactagogue and its role in reducing the risk of suppressed lactation and miscarriage. Shatavari rootlets, processed into a powder, are readily available online.


When incorporating Ayurvedic herbs, it's essential to consider their Anupana, or ideal vehicle for ingestion. For Shatavari, warm milk is the recommended Anupana. If milk is unsuitable due to weak digestion, water can serve as a secondary option, though not ideal.


Shatavari is also available as granules combined with sugar and cardamom, marketed as Shatavari Kalpa. These can be added to milk in lieu of sugar but should be avoided by individuals with diabetes, including gestational diabetes.


During my first pregnancy, I consumed Shatavari Kalpa granules in warm spiced milk, experiencing no lactation issues. However, with weakened digestion in my second pregnancy, I opted for Shatavari powder mixed in room temperature water, again with no lactation complications. Moreover, I embarked on a memorable road trip with my family during this trimester.


Cravings often emerge during the second trimester, driven by the fetus's nutritional needs. While not universal, Ayurveda advises honoring these cravings, barring those for alcohol or smoking due to their known reproductive harm. Each craving signifies a specific requirement; for instance, cravings for meat in vegetarian mothers may indicate a need for earth element nourishment.


Enrolling in a childbirth education class is recommended during this trimester. Various options are available, including classes offered by local hospitals. We opted for classes from Blossom Birth, a non-profit organization aligning with our preference for a natural and holistic approach rooted in scientific understanding. Birthing from Within is another valuable resource, emphasizing childbirth as a rite of passage. Additionally, my spouse found Ina May Gaskin's book on childbirth highly informative. Just as it takes years to develop professional competence, educating ourselves about childbirth decisions requires time and reflection on our values and aspirations.

The Concluding Trimester: Embrace the Deceleration


As pregnancy nears its end, it's time to embrace a slower pace. Introducing a meditative grounding practice during this phase, if not already initiated, can be profoundly beneficial. Ayurveda views childbirth as a multi-dimensional event encompassing physical, emotional, and spiritual facets. Allocating space for each dimension honors the entirety of the childbirth experience.


Addressing the emotional aspect, hiring a doula proved invaluable for us during our first childbirth journey. Navigating the intricacies of the medical system felt less daunting with her guidance. In Ayurveda, midwives hold profound reverence as custodians of ancient wisdom. While opting for a hospital birth, we engaged a midwife as our doula, transparently involving her in our decision-making process. Effective communication between doula and medical professionals is crucial for seamless collaboration.


Preparedness significantly eased our second childbirth experience, despite our initial desire for a home birth thwarted by insurance limitations. My partner's comprehensive preparation, influenced by his background in Decision Analysis, played a pivotal role. Encouraging partners to attend childbirth classes fosters emotional support and active participation.


Emotional sustenance extends beyond the immediate family, embracing a community of support. Gratitude fills our hearts for friends who provided postpartum nourishment and companionship during the third trimester, epitomized by delightful outdoor gatherings and nurturing gestures.


The spiritual dimension invites introspection, facilitating a profound connection with parenthood. My spiritual journey intertwined with pregnancy experiences, from a Vipassana meditation retreat during our first child's anticipation to embracing Ayurveda teachings and Vedic spiritual studies for our second. Regardless of individual beliefs, pregnancy serves as a poignant juncture to explore spirituality's essence.

Childbirth and Postpartum: Embracing the 40-Day Rule


Reflecting on both childbirth experiences, credit goes to my partner for accurately recognizing my labor onset, a moment I initially denied, hoping for a few more days of pregnancy. The significance of treating childbirth as an educational journey cannot be overstated. Hopefully, my partner will soon compile his insights into a decision-making guide for this phase. For now, a gentle reminder to mothers: refrain from self-blame regarding childbirth outcomes. I've witnessed mothers crushed by unexpected cesarean births despite their efforts to maintain health. What truly matters is the well-being of your child and your own recovery. Ayurveda offers a practical approach adaptable to individual circumstances.


Transitioning to postpartum healing, immediate attention is vital. Following childbirth, ongoing contractions facilitate placental delivery, warranting prompt abdominal massage with warm compresses by nursing caregivers to initiate healing. These massages should persist upon returning home, a topic I'll delve into shortly.


In the immediate aftermath of childbirth, prioritize light, healing meals. Personally, I favored khichdi generously cooked in ghee, an Ayurvedic superfood harmonizing all three doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Hospital meal options were bypassed (my spouse sampled those).


 

Khichdi Recipe


Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup rice

  • 3/4 cup yellow mung lentils

  • 1.5 cups water

  • 1/2 tsp pink Himalayan salt

  • 2 tbsp ghee

  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds


Optional: Seasonal vegetables (e.g., spinach, opo squash)


Instructions:

  • Rinse the rice and lentils thoroughly.

  • In a pressure cooker, combine the rinsed rice and lentils with 1.5 cups of water and 1/2 tsp of pink Himalayan salt.

  • If using seasonal vegetables, add them to the pressure cooker. If cooking on an open stove, simmer until the water has almost disappeared and the rice and lentils are tender.

  • While the khichdi cooks, prepare the tempering. In a separate small pan, heat 2 tbsp. of ghee over medium heat.

  • Once the ghee is hot, add 1/2 tsp of cumin seeds to the pan.

  • When the cumin seeds start to splutter, immediately remove from heat. Be careful not to burn the seeds.

  • Pour the tempering over the cooked khichdi.

  • Stir gently to incorporate the tempering into the khichdi.

  • Serve hot and enjoy the comforting goodness of khichdi!


This is the time to make major interventions to reduce your Vata and heal your uterus. As we have already mentioned, like increases like. Therefore, to reduce Vata, we must increase the opposite -- Kapha, or the force of stability. We bring the earth into our body in multiple ways. One of the most important ones for the rapid healing of the uterus is the consumption of wheat laddoos (balls) that are created using the following recipe:


​​Wheat Laddoos Recipe (Makes about 15 pieces)


Ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour, dry roasted

  • 1/2 cup nuts (mixture of slivered almonds, black raisins), dry roasted (can also be roasted in a little ghee later)

  • 1 tsp Gond (edible resin), dry roasted

  • 1/2 cup sugar, finely ground (adjust to taste)

  • 1/2 tsp cardamom, finely ground

  • 1/2 tsp ginger powder

  • Ghee, enough to bind the laddoos (use warm ghee)


Instructions:

  • Dry roast the whole wheat flour, nuts, and Gond separately until fragrant and golden brown.

  • Grind the Gond into a fine powder after roasting.

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry roasted wheat flour, nuts, ground Gond, finely ground sugar, cardamom, and ginger powder.

  • Heat ghee in a pan and add the ground edible gum, roasted nuts, roasted wheat flour, and all the remaining ingredients. Mix well and roast for a little longer on low heat.

  • Let the roasted mixture cool down.

  • Once cooled, take small portions of the mixture and roll them into round laddoos using your hands. Ensure your hands are dry while rolling.

  • Cool the laddoos completely before transferring them to an airtight container. Store them at room temperature.

  • Enjoy these nourishing wheat laddoos for their healing properties. They can last for at least 6 months when stored properly.

1 or 2 of these balls should be consumed every day (depending on your digestive fire). It is important not to overdo it. Nursing mothers tend to crave more sweet-tasting things. This is not always the case, but when this craving arises, the wheat balls are a great option compared to other desserts. If you don't have the time to make these wheat balls yourself, consider requesting someone from your community to follow the recipe and make them for you. I had them from day one.

 

Homegrown Methi: Cultivating Fenugreek in My Garden


Methi (fenugreek) from my garden

This is also a great time to introduce methi (fenugreek) in your diet. This is an herb that is somewhat bitter and a known post-partum galactagogue. In the United States, this can be found in Farmers Markets (the Chinese farmers tend to carry it). It can also be found in Indian grocery stores. In my first pregnancy, while I had no lack of milk supply, I did experience pain in my breasts (engorged breasts) due to channel blocking. Consuming methi helped alleviate that. I cooked every meal with methi in some form. If I was having chapatis or parathas, I would mix methi in the dough. If I was having lentil soup, I'd cook the lentils with methi. A favorite dish was aloo methi (potatoes sautéed with methi).

Post-partum warm oil massages:


Post-partum warm oil massages are great for reducing your Vata and a strong recommendation from Ayurveda. These massages are very liberal with the quantity of oil to be used. I used Dhanwantaram oil. Sesame oil works best. Heavier oils (like Dhanwantaram also sesame based) are better than lighter ones as they have more earth. The stroke of the massage should always be clockwise on the belly to aid digestion. In Ayurveda, metabolism is not limited to what you eat. Even your skin digests. So the oil is rubbed into the skin with the intention of absorption by your body. I did the massage every day for an hour for the first forty days. For babies as well, oil massages are therapeutic because their Vata is also high, and also because an oil massage strengthens their bones. However, for babies, the oil massage should begin only after the umbilical cord falls off. My son continues to get a 15-20 minute massage every day. His massage is gentle (don't pull baby limbs!) with extra care taken around the neck.

Ayurvedic Recommendation for New Mothers:


Finally, Ayurveda emphasizes a strict recommendation for new mothers to stay at home for the first 40 days, as exposure to outdoor air is deemed a significant Vata aggravation. Ayurveda cautions that neglecting adequate rest during these initial forty days may result in severe bone weakening later in life, potentially leading to conditions like early onset arthritis or osteoporosis. For both of our babies, I adhered to this directive and prioritized rest during the first forty days. The only exception was attending doctor's checkups for our babies, where we minimized our exposure. Throughout this period, the support of my spouse was invaluable. He ensured that everyone understood our intention to nest during these 40 days, politely declining visitors. We resumed socializing only after the completion of the first 40 days. Gratefully, our understanding friends respected our decision and provided significant support during this crucial time. time.

Here are additional resources to explore:


  • Ayurvedic Parenting Recording - A recording of my discussion at a Vedika Sangha session focusing on preparing for childbirth.

  • Ayurveda on Pregnancy Recording - Listen to a talk by visiting Professor and Vaidya Dr. Mahesh Sabade, delving into month-by-month Ayurvedic recommendations during pregnancy.

  • Self-paced Mother Baby Workshop Recording - This recording captures a workshop held at Vedika, led by mothers (including myself) who have embraced Ayurvedic principles. Explore a holistic approach covering everything from conception preparation to baby care.

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