Q: “I just had a baby and can't seem to regain my energy. Are there any herbs or foods that might be helpful?"
A: The Big Picture, First
Postpartum mothers truely deserve unique and special supports to restore energy and vitality from the work of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. You have much invisible catching up to do in your system, from the physically wearing hard work. Your needs as well as Baby's are unusual and considerable. Childbearing is also a spiritual opening of intimacy from partnering, to parenting, engaging potentially all levels in our deep awareness and body/mind as we part the veil to bring another soul through our own body. It is a big change on all levels of our being deserving support for integration that benefits our baby, partner, and community.<
Are you resting when Baby rests at least twice a day? It takes not only biological down time but biological wisdom often overlooked in modern culture. The first 6 weeks or more are a time women – in older traditions around the world - are very reclusive with no extra responsibilites in the home or with other children. Some midwives forbid stairs for 2-3 weeks, and some mothers choose to stay in their nightgowns for 5 weeks or more so that everyone else remembers and honors their sacred window. We can't always do that, but knowing the big picture and being quietly open to the best gets us much closer.
We are a relatively new culture that did not bring roots with this knowledge. We take pride as a do it yourself culture, our "village" is spread over electronic space, and it is so easy to not hear our inner messages. The story about the Vietnamese women squatting in the fields and going back to work is not the wise-woman norm there, nor anywhere else, just in case you didn't know. Heart naturally is so wide open, and should flow in unconditional love and service to Baby. Yet this Mother-body is so wide open too; normal connections are stretched to fragile with many an inner "trail temporarily closed for reconstruction."
So your experience is not uncommon. Choices for food, herbs and lifestyle issues all have a much more dramatic effect "for better or for worse" than perhaps any other time in our lives. This is because the conditions of the body from the many ways we serve our newborn are so dramatically involved. Stimulants will also burn you out; you are in a natural state of depletion.
Forgetfullness and spaciness are common signs of dispersed energy. Warmth, oiliness, slow and simple are among the collecting balancers for your energy. Do you feel ungrounded? It fits that the focus is usually better now for physical plane rather than energy or psychological medicines1. Pregnancy and Birth as well as the 24/7 on call in early postpartum require so much from maternal physical body nutrients that the more electrochemical and subtle medicines, willpower, and psychology are not as effective or lasting, cost much more money and time than just nurturing Mom deeply.
The basics come first; do you need a shower, nourishing good meal, some tea or water, a hands free bathroom break, clean sheets, diapers, or a good nap? How about help with the rest of the family and home care, or doing a phone tree with good friends for a few hours and meals support? If energy is not coming up with those things – and truly in any case, we need to look at the food issues. Your heart openings are naturally full of bliss and unconditional commitment. This will grow if the body temple is properly cared for.
If you are not rebuilding the earth, water and fire elements directly and correctly, your energy will drag. Native Americans have shared that a mother's subtle senses go "way out into the Universe to bring all the best pieces in" for this baby's individual body/mind/spirit plan. Ayurvedic medicine speaks similarly, that Earth, Water, and Fire "elements" balance the resulting excesses and ground the benefits of Air and Space element activity which are so dominant in these subtle and powerful changes.
Many cultures speak of these principles of Earth (solidity), Water (fluidity and cohesiveness), Fire (transformation and heat), Air (movement and change) and Space (they all exist in). We need grounding, fluidity, cohesiveness, reconnections and rapid transformation ignitions after birth. The three Ayurvedic2 metabolic principles (vata, pitta, and kapha), in tridosha theory are combinations of the 5 elements, with vata asking for most balance, being the combined functioning of Air and Space, governing movement and change throughout the body, including childbirth.
In a nutshell, for the first 6 weeks or more favor reducing and balancing vata , with warm, moist, oily influences internally and externally; soothing, restful, integrating influences; more sweet, sour and salty tastes; and household support. Special attentions should include little known factors around the sequential emphasis for
1. rekindling digestive fires,
2. unique cleansing of uterus and body from pregnancy and birth's metabolic wastes,
3. rebuilding iron and other nutrients,
4. lactation support,
5. preventing colic, and
6. strength from rejuvenation processes.
This translates to warm most and oily foods and drinks, warm rooms, hot steamy baths, hot water bottles on belly and lower back (or wherever else!), warm oily massage (self or gently given, not deep dig style) gives grounding steady energy even if it puts you to sleep.3 This is among the top three4 daily routines for MOM as well as Baby! Avoid parties, cleaning house, entertaining guests, showing baby off at friends', loud music/movies, or going out on errands or "get aways". It is wise not just ok to ask for help!
No matter how organic and fresh our foods, if we aren't accessing the food intelligence, it doesn't give energy or vitality. We need special digestive supports even to gain from the vata balancing foods and herbs for best breastmilk, highly called on energy, and our body restructurings. We soak up nourishment also from softness, warmth, quiet, simple, slow and steady, and creamy things. If taken warm or room temperature, many antioxidant fruit drinks are great, if not mixing with vegetables.
We don't do well with influences that are cold, airy fairy, more empty spaces, dry, rough, quick, too much detail5 or in general lots of sensory and social input. We don't do so well with sharp, bitter or astringent tastes or such cleansing herbs, hard boundaries, dry fiber, lots more change or movement, or sudden/penetrating effects including heavy on the intellect.
Innards are tender and we are hesitant to eliminate; backed up means sensory confusion, energy inneficiency , gas and pain. Keep bowels lubed with dietary fats and warm moist foods (avoid colonics, favor a few 1/3 cup warm sesame oil retention enemas after first 7 – 10 days), and use moist not dry fiber or harsh laxatives. Soothing and lubricating gives connected energy as well as calm.
Western alternative circles focus so much on energy and rejuvenative health with vegetable juices, protein drinks, salads, unsaturated fats, avoiding dairy, eating soy, and vegan options. Though lightness can be energyzing, these for various reasons actually tend to increase ungroundedness, emotional swings, hormonal and muscle weakness, gas, and colic for babies, however much they may serve.
Fast foods, toast, straight out of the fridge, quick blood sugar boosts and other such foods imbalance similarly. Busy moms will also accept what they can get! Then it is easy to crave the soothing heavy, grounding influences from fries, meats, leftovers, New York cheesecake, grilled cheese sandwiches, burritos, and twice baked potatoes smothered in sour cream. They taste so good, and make us feel slowed down and constipated. The instinct is good – heavy, oily, warm, easy, sweet, sour and salty, but these forms too complex now for the weaker digestion.
Enzymes are not just for food digestion, but for digesting life intelligently through hormones and many other transformative chemistries, all called agni. Every mother's digestion after birth is unusually weak and needs extra babying. Our food digestion and others shut down, as they do also when we are feeling stressed and the cortisol puts us in fight or flight response. In this case, the body is prioritizing for stresses of labor and /or surgery.
Normally 28 days is required for a healthy system to digest, energize and rebuild, in the sequence from food to nourishing all tissues including the body's deepest (reproductive). To rebuild perfect functioning of bowels and urinary tract, digestion, vitality, hormones, immune strength and glow after childbirth it is slowed down to about 42 days and at least 10 days longer with a C birth6. Not just what you eat but how, such as food combining, cooking, rushing, arguing or multitasking during eating, and emotional things can unfortunately seed energy and health challenges, sometimes sooner and sometimes later.
Ayurveda speaks in terms of foods to favor by approximate 2 week blocks, starting the first 3 days with selectively extra spicy, hot temperature, moist to the point of thin soups and puddings, extra oily, iron rich, and sweet comforting tastes. Gradually increase food density of nourishment (from soup and mush to moist or oily solids) over 6-8 weeks or more.
AyurDoulas cook, spice and plan to support the agnis to function in good sequence. The first 3-4 days need extra extra TLC on digestion, with simple warm puddings, hot milks, hot moist steamy rice, thin mung type soup broths, leaning on asparagus, okra, dill weed, fresh fenugreek greens, beets and carrots, 2-3 tablespoons of ghee or sesame oil per meal, ample iron rich sugars, stewed fruits, and generous spices like ginger, black pepper, roasted garlic and clove to help the body burn toxins and start digesting food.
Gradually serve more quantity, thicker soups, grains and stews and more distinct foods, well cooked beyond aldente and continuing to favor the principles above with more variety from the foods to favor and how they are prepared list7. Fish or chicken are best eaten first in soups, ideally after 10 days. Meats (especially red) constipate and create fussiness in a baby who cannot yet use that drive energy it gives.
As you get into the third or forth week, you will handle heavier rebuilding and energizing foods better, including Ayurvedic comfort foods such unleavened tortillas (not corn), moist dates, a little nut butter, Indian halvas, warm bar cookies with lots of butter, fresh (not fermented) cheeses, and more solid and distinct forms and colors on your plate! Your body is still "rekindling" its fires, but should be taking better care of not just lymph and blood, but muscle and hormonally important fat type tissues, and by 5th or 6th week perhaps rejuvenating on schedule your nerve, bone and reproductive tissues from foods eaten weeks before. You should have a strong appetite right after birth to meet these special nutritional needs weeks later, as well as for extra calories to burn.
Avoid thick or sour dairy at night Grilled cheese and other fermenteds clog channels too, especially eaten at night, and don't convert to useable energy easily. But their creaminess and dairy protein can be a blessing found in unfermented cheeses like ricotta, cottage, kefir and fresh goat after the first 10 days or so. Minimize yoghurt except thinned with at least half water with lunch. After a few days fresh yoghurt or kefir (without ice or fruit), water thinned, served sweet or savory spiced (such as the Indian Lassi) feels great taken with lunch, not dinner, and a "gentle lentil" well seasoned soup.
Draw mostly from a vata balancing (reducing) list. The modifications include emphasis on sattvic foods8 and minimize tamasic foods9 during this intensive rebuilding window even if easily digested, due to their degenerative drag on energy. Avoid raw foods also for this 6 weeks or more except sweet fruits when desired. (www.sacredwindow.com/articles.)
A wholesome pure balanced diet familiar to you is standard, favoring unprocessed fresh organic foods richer in easy to digest sattvic proteins10, good cholesterol and EFA3 fats, succulent green vegetables, sweet root vegetables, dark leafies after 5-10 days, antioxidant and vitamin C rich sweet fruits, rice, wheat, oats, quinoa and similar among the less vata increasing grains.
Cream of rice or wheat is often cooked with generous ghee, iron rich sugar and special seasonings such as ginger, cardamon, clove, fennel, anise, black pepper, and some cinnamon are favored to support digestion. Cook grains with at least one extra part water (3 cups water to 1 cup basmati rice, for instance). Thin into a long-cooked congee for first meals, if tongue is coated (sign of incomplete products of the ever significant digestion) for low/irregular appetite and digestion.
Surprising supports –
Women tend to need food about 5 times a day, plus often hot milk or almond milk at bedtime.
Roasted garlic, cooked in clarified butter till gently browned or baked to sweetness in the oven gives special grounding, immune, lactation, digestive support. Avoid raw, undercooked, marinated or dry garlic or onion, which is to sharp, promoting restless energy and possible gas.
Ayurvedic doctors speak of ingesting 1.25 kg of ginger in 42 days to avoid middle aged pains, swelling and depletions11 (Pitta moms would favor fresh ginger, kaphas the dried more, vata both, and don't be rigid about it!)
Forget low-fat. Indian grandmothers advise eating "30 lbs of ghee in 3 months"12 demonstrate how serious we are about taking extra quantity of fats13 in what's called the postpartum oleation therapy.
Enjoy an emphasis on generous clarified butter, sesame oil or occasional other organic fats in nearly all your foods. Good fats do multiple things including lubricating tender/dry bowels and other tissues, neutralizing metabolic wastes from birthwork and collecting them from the tissues for easiest elimination thru lower digestive tract, and building hormones. You have probably studied EFA3s and their benefits; take care around the ones that are vata increasing, like flax and borage; they can be balanced with …ginger!, honey (energetically warms) and other things.
Fresh sweet milk as well as fresh almond or other nut milks are very rejuvenative properly taken. Please see www.sacredwindow.com/articles for the interesting Ayurvedic discussion on milk, and delicious hot milk tonic recipe.
Energy from spices and herbs
Certain nutritive tonic herbs are wonderful if the agni can digest them (usually roots, stems and barks). These serve your needs in stages . Minimize use of capsules and tablets due to moisture wicking on delicate inner tissues. Leafy green herbs give minerals and other benefits, but usually need a pungent and demulcent with them to warm and smoothe. Herbal teas, tinctures or herbal wines in some conditions, herbal jams, powders in honey paste, ghee or sometimes aloe gel give best delivery. Ayurveda gives herbs in combination rather than singly; each person is different for best formulation.
Keep a thermous of weak fennel (2 parts) and fenugreek (1 part) tea (1 tsp per 2 quarts water) and drink fresh thru the day without having to keep making tea; this recipe hydrates and cleanses while supporting lactation, digestion and reducing gas.
1. Igniting the digestion
2-3 days of strong ginger or black pepper with aloe gel, honey or ghee, enough to make a paste. Take 1 teaspoon after meals.
Or ½ - ¾ tsp each black pepper, ginger and clove with 1 T ghee and 2 Tsteamed basmati rice. Eat 1-2 tablespoons before the meal.
If appetite is not strong within a few days or you and Baby have gas, use more ginger, black pepper or cayenne (minimize chiles) cumin, caraway, dill, fennel, roasted garlic (avoid raw garlic or onion), salt, do only warm drings, squeeze of lemon or lime - these type things to help it along.
A special roasted garlic chutney for postpartum mothers is used in India and will be in the upcoming postpartum cookbook.
2 cups strong fenugreek tea for first few days, to help uterine release of retained fragments and encourage lactation (2 tsp seeds - bring to boil 2 cups water, turn off heat and steep, covered, 5 minutes).
special vata pacification and toning for lower abdominal organs – 42 days – dashamoola (10 roots ancient Ayurvedic formula) or cedrus deodar (variety of cedar bark). 2 tsp powder, boiled in 2 cups water to ½ cup. Drink warm am and pm.
Minimize or balance for vata influences herbs like raspberry leaf, hibiscus and ashoka.
3. Vata pacifying rejuvenative strengthening herbs, pain support and grounded energy
Enjoy special use of saffron daily, in rice, soaked almond/date smoothie, or other preparations.
Ayurvedic herbs bala and ashwaghanda14, taken in combination with other suitable herbs such as piper longum or ginger, ½ tsp or as recommended by your practitioner, are orften used after a week or 10 days, and taken twice a day. Hydrated in hot water, milk or almond milk; sweeten to taste and add 1 tsp clarified butter, or take with hot water and aloe gel if liver is at risk.
Minimize bitter and astringent herbs that dry, constipate and deplete like golden seal, dandelion leaf and many others. We favor organic essential oils when strong immune supports are needed and for other specific needs, and avoid this type of cleansing.
4. Lactation support
Especially just before and during the 10 day, 3 week and 5 week growth spurts, favor nourishing/rejuvenative and milk production herbs. Best is usually wild asparagus root ("shatavari") and goat's rue; ashwaghanda and wild yam often support well.
Include fennel, fenugreek, caraway, dill and basil in teas or cooking.
Minimize bitter, astringent and cooling herbs (milk or blessed thistle, dandelion, nettle, borage) even though enhancing milk production unless you know how to balance.
Rebuilding/rejuvenation is enhanced by digestive supportive seasonings.
A few more notes must satisfy the limitations here. As Ayurveda is controversial in the west, around use of not only certain dairy foods, but fats, salt, leftovers, frozen foods, raw foods and sweets, we take time to educate our clients in the very important correct use of each. AyurDoula graduates take a minimum of 120 hours AyurDoula training.15 Please see article on correct use of milk after birth including why it gives problems to so many, at http://sacredwindow.com/node/42.
Postpartum maternal care is more important than what goes on in pregnancy!16 – for mother and through her, baby, her partner and other children, for the next "42 years"17. Your biological nature has built-in software, giving opportunity in the early weeks after birth for a deep, profound reset in the direction of more integrated, all systems, tissues, meridians and chakras too, ability to serve. It is so beautiful! It is also a big Y in the road for so many mothers. When we don't attend to your needs alongside Baby's, it is natural to feel low energy and emotions, and so divided inside.
These ancient recommendations are confirmed with our clients consistently, and used around the world in cultures which statistically don't have problems after birth. The simple practices of many older traditions around the world are your options too. They enhance lactation, digestion, hormones, rejuvenation and balance and they reduce mood disturbances, gas and colic. Yes, they also enhance energy, the quiet, steady rebuilding type you need and rightfully can expect. Support your ability to listen to yourself and rest when you get the chance, validating these simple solutions. Honor the depth of your giving from whole body, heart and mind, to strengthen your ability to serve your family well in health and natural lovingness for perhaps the next 42 years!