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Ayurvedic Postpartum

Smiling african mother and baby

I love sharing the beautiful Indian cultural practice of postpartum “confinement” in which new moms and their babies stay home for 40 days after birth. I learned about this tradition because i was raised in a Sikh community and lived in India for 12 years. As a mother and a midwife who practiced in New Zealand for eight years, I am delighted about the resurgence of this postpartum practice in America, a tradition that is standard in most non-western cultures.

WHY 40 DAYS?

Although the time period varies, in most Indian communities confinement is forty days or roughly six weeks because this is the time during which most women establish breastfeeding. Also, physical healing is supported, and stamina is restored for normal life activities during the confinement. There is an Indian saying that ‘the first 40 days of life will impact the next 40 years of life.

Confinement allows the mother’s body to recover from the intensity of childbirth when hormone levels change dramatically, the uterus returns to pre pregnant size, milk production is established, and the perineum or caesarean section incision heals.

Women are becoming mothers (even if it is not for the first time) while processing the events of the birth, adjusting to a lack of sleep and responding to new bodily demands.This postpartum time is physically demanding but is also a precious window for bonding and offering the new baby a gentle welcome to the world.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE 40 DAYS?

I remember acutely the 40 days at home with my newborn daughter. While dealing with the challenges of engorgement, tender nether regions, and the wild roller coaster ride of hormonal changes, I needed the nurturance of others. The help my husband and I received facilitated our gaining confidence as new parents. Contrary to the sound of the word “confinement,” women who practice this tradition are not alone, which lowers the anxiety and stress of motherhood. In my experience, women who follow this practice—including receiving the help of others—have lower rates of postpartum depression.

The primary purposes of the 40 day seclusion are to provide the sensitive newborn physical protection and to allow the mother complete rest and recuperation. In India mothers are encouraged to abstain from chores, food preparation, cleaning or even hosting guests. Mothers are given the often underestimated need for deep rest and time with their newborn. Going out may include short walks around the block for mothers, but babies stay at home unless there is an urgent need to leave the home.

In Ayurveda, a 5000 year old Indian healing tradition, this period is considered a sensitive time for mothers, particularly for the digestive system—hence the strong emphasis on simple, digestible foods. Traditionally, mothers are given hot oil massages daily. They are fed very simple but special foods and a number of herbal drinks to promote healing and recovery, boost their immunity and improve milk supply.

HOW DOES ONE GET HELP?

Young Attractive Ethnic Woman Holding Her Newborn Baby Under Dramatic Lighting.

In traditional Indian culture wives live with their in-laws. After giving birth new mothers either return to their mother’s home or their mothers come to stay with them. Usually many female relatives are available to help during this special time. In our society postpartum arrangements require more creativity and planning.

Some moms do have one or several female relatives who can come for periods of time. For some, like me, the best option was hiring someone for cooking and cleaning and asking close friends for other kinds of support. It required a financial commitment on our part, but my husband agrees that it was well worth it. I view it as an investment in the rest of my life, and my child’s life.

SEEK OUT HELPERS

It’s important to choose helpers who can hold the sacred space of this time.Tasks may include fielding phone calls or visitors, helping with laundry, making a Badaam Milk (see recipe below), preparing special foods and teas throughout the day, or giving a foot massage—as one friend did for me while I nursed my baby for what felt like the thousandth time that day. Postpartum doulas can fill this role by offering both physical and emotional support during the 40 days.

In our Sikh community, a network of close friends and family bring simple and delicious meals every day of the forty days. A friend can be a point person to create a meal schedule for other friends who commit to making one meal a week for six weeks. This allows mothers to keep the forty day practice when no family is close by. Other community members often offer to care for other children, or even pets, which is very helpful during this time. Any support that reduces the pressure on a mother and her family is a perfect gift in these first weeks.

I know it can be challenging for new mothers to arrange for forty days of rest in the midst of busy and stressful lives. Some moms need to return to work or have other children to care for. Regardless of circumstances, however, I encourage women to ask for and be willing to receive the help needed for healing and bonding. These first weeks are like none other. Maybe the rest of life can wait for just 40 days.

AYURVEDIC FOODS RECOMMENDED DURING THE FIRST WEEKS AFTER BIRTH

lentil soup

Cooked vegetables (not cruciferous: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and bok choy)

Fruits

Legumes: yellow mung, red lentils, green mung beans

Warm food

Nuts/Nut butters

Whole milk dairy products

Whole grains: well cooked

Ghee (clarified butter)

Ginger (in small amounts)

Basil, cumin, fenugreek, fennel, dill

Milk puddings; tapioca, rice pudding (without eggs)

AYURVEDIC FOODS DISCOURAGED DURING THE FIRST WEEKS AFTER BIRTH

Caffeine (chocolate, coffee)

Cigarettes and alcohol

Raw vegetables

Yeasted breads

Chilies, onions, garlic

Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, brussel sprouts, broccoli)

Fermented foods

Cold/icy or crunchy foods

Sugar

Meat

Foods in the nightshade family: tomatoes, potatoes, sweet peppers, and eggplant, for example.

RECIPE FOR BADAAM (ALMOND) NURSING DRINK

Ayurvedic Postpartum-4

Soak 10 almonds overnight.

1 cup of warm milk

1/2 tsp of Ghee

1 tsp of honey or maple syrup

pinch of turmeric (optional)

Slip the skins off the almonds. Blend all ingredients together, strain out the pieces of almond as desired. Heat mixture on low heat. Serve warm.

POSTPARTUM CARE RESOURCES

After the Baby’s Birth: A Woman’s Way to Wellness…A Complete Guide for Postpartum Women. by Robin Lim.

Natural Health after Birth: The Complete Guide to Postpartum Wellness. by Aviva Jill Romm.

Traditional Confinement Foods for New Moms.

For more information or recipes for the 40 day period, please feel free to contact me directly at info@mynurturingsolutions.com.

And, here’s a great introduction to Ayurvedic cooking in general:

Ayurvedic Cooking for Westerners: Familiar Western Food Prepared with Ayurvedic Principles. by Amadea Morningstar.

The Joy of Toddlers

Real People: Black African American Mother Talking to Toddler Boy

I recently had a conversation with a mom of a two and a half year old who asked for advice about discipline and getting her son to cooperate at naptime. As I asked questions about the specifics of the nap routine and other details of her situation she made a comment that stuck with me. She said, “We’ve had a great few days, I’ve been in a really good space but today he started testing me again.”

What resonated with me was that she said that it had been a couple of good days because she had been in a good space. It seems that we often pin the label of a “good behavior” or “bad behavior” on our children when it may have much more to do with the glasses through which we are viewing their behavior. The deeper we dug down to the source of her son’s good days the more my friend admitted that it had more to do with her than with him.

TODDLERS ARE SUPPOSED TO CHALLENGE US

It’s pretty common for parents of toddlers to feel overwhelmed. Many parents describe feeling they are forever policing their little one and are constantly correcting behavior in an endless battle of the wills. Fortunately, this is normal and toddlers are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing! Not comforting? Well rest assured, it is a legitimate developmental stage and is a crucial stepping-stone for autonomy and for learning more advanced skills later on.

This phase of development (18 to 36 months) is known as the autonomy stage according to the Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. His book, Childhood and Society broke ground when it was published in 1963. This stage requires children to actively and physically explore the world (and your boundaries) in order to develop a strong sense of independence (‘No!’) and of ownership (‘Mine!’ ‘Me!’). According to Erikson, if children are shamed while learning these important new skills, they may doubt their capabilities and have poor self-esteem.

A big part of appreciating toddlers is having appropriate expectations for this age group.. I’ve found that focusing your attention on the actual skill your toddler is learning rather than on what you see as defiant behavior, can shift your experience in a more positive direction. For instance, when a two-year-old is insisting on ‘doing it herself’ despite her obvious need for assistance, she is actually practicing the critical skill of learning self care. It’s tempting to get frustrated with her stubbornness when you are just trying to get out the door, but it won’t be long before all that practice pays off. That insistent independent behavior will lead to incredible feats that will make your life much easier: dressing herself, toilet training, brushing her own teeth, and feeding herself, among other exciting milestones that are on their way. (I promise!)

SET THEM UP FOR SUCCESS

Joy of Toddlers-2

Have you ever noticed that when a two-year-old gets excited he feels it in his whole body? He squeals, jumps around, waves his arms. Toddlers do pretty much everything with their whole bodies; they experience life on a physical and emotional level rather than a cerebral one, unlike older children.

 

Gentle physical guidance is the way. The most effective way to communicate with a toddler is by guiding in a gentle but physical way. Have you noticed that an 18-month-old struggles to follow your verbal instructions to put the toys back in the box, but is able to understand your direction better when you hold her hand and demonstrate what you want her to do. This age group needs lots of connection with you and lots of physical activities. Toddlers respond very well to hands-on activities that satisfy their strong need to learn by touch, feel, sight, taste and smell.

Anticipation is the key to sidestepping the many potential power struggles with toddlers. Pay attention to the most frequent ‘fights’ and think about how to prevent them. For example, if your child loves to climb on the couch and jump off the back, find an alternative such as piling the couch cushions on the floor to create a makeshift jumping platform that has a soft landing and is not dangerous. Child proofing your house and creating safe spaces to play both help to avoid conflicts.

Pick your battles. It’s completely normal toddler behavior to test limits so there will inevitably be some minor disagreements during any day. A good way to avoid a full-blown power struggle is to be specific about what you want your child to do rather than what you want him not to do. For example, instead of pointing out what you are unhappy about, “I told you not to jump on the couch!” you could suggest, “Why don’t we pull the cushions off the couch and jump on them on the ground instead? Here, I’ll help you.”

Create projects that let them use their hands. Toddlers typically need a lot of outdoor physical activity so when you can’t be outside its useful to find other ways to keep their minds engaged and their bodies stimulated. Basic art projects, puzzles, cooking and baking, art projects and pretend play are all ways that toddlers learn important skills.

SET YOU UP FOR SUCCESS

Joy of Toddlers-3

So how can we keep the joy alive in our everyday lives? What I suggest to other parents of toddlers has worked for me. At the end of each day, think of three to five joys you’ve experienced with your toddler that day. Do this for 40 days. It could be something small like getting her shoes on without protest (or perhaps that’s considered a big one this week), maybe it was a moment you both shared during bath time, or something funny he said that day. It could be anything; the point is merely to take note of the special moments we experience all day long that are often overshadowed by the tougher ones.

A great way to open the space for more of those special moments is simply being affectionate with your little one. Cuddling can give both you and your toddler the fuel to carry on with the day and also sets the stage for more positive interactions.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

Lastly, a good way to help keep us in that patient, loving place with our children is to have some time for ourselves. Since we all know that time can be tough to get, I suggest reassessing what qualifies as “me time.” If it traditionally meant getting a massage or an afternoon off, that may not be in the cards on a daily basis right now. Instead, think about savoring the little moments that are available everyday and making those count. Your ritual cup of tea or coffee in the morning or perhaps a quiet moment in the car listening to music if your little one happens to fall asleep—these all count.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the battle of the wills but pay attention to the joys and you may be surprised how many you find and how you can change your mood.