PART ONE: BEFORE CONCEIVING
Pregnancy is an amazing, challenging, and rewarding time for a woman. She will face many changes that she never thought possible – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. This time can be both exciting and scary, but it is definitely a time to cherish. Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine that is based on patterns and energy found in nature. This system of medicine provides a complete guide for pregnant women so that they have the support and knowledge they need to have a healthy pregnancy and the rest of their lives. With the guidance provided by Ayurveda, pregnant women can approach this time with care and confidence.
Within a seed lies the intelligence of the entire future plant. If it is in a nurturing environment, a single peach pit can grow into a ten-foot tree. Purusha, or pure consciousness, is represented by this dormant seed – unmanifest but with endless potential. The first step of creation is referred to as prakriti, also the word used to describe an individual’s constitution that is set at birth. Mahat describes the universal intelligence that brings prakriti into manifestation. The concept of prakriti, or the impulsive moment of creation, is essential to understand in order to grasp the importance of the sperm and ovum coming together in the moment of conception. Without that initial impulse, both the egg and sperm would simply die off without any result. But with that creative impulse, a new life begins, with innumerable processes beginning to unfold.
Balance Upon Conception
The creation impulse is an important moment, so it is important for both the man and woman to be in a state of mental and physical purity when fertilization takes place. Panchakarma, which means five actions, is a rejuvenation therapy that is recommended to improve the human body and eliminate waste that can damage health. When cleansing, it’s important to take rest both physically and mentally. They spend time in meditation and eat light, easy-to-digest foods. For example, they eat kitchari, a Japanese soup with mung bean and rice. You will also undergo daily body therapies, which may include massage, enemas, purgation therapy, shirodhara (a constant stream of warm oil on the third eye), therapeutic vomiting, and other treatments depending on your individual constitution and needs. This treatment will last a few days to a few weeks, and is recommended to be done each year – especially before trying to conceive. These treatments are known to cleanse the body of disease, regenerate cells and restore vitality at the deepest level.
PART TWO: PREGNANCY
Pregnancy and the Doshas
The Sanskrit term for a pregnant woman is garbhini, and the care of a pregnant woman is referred to as garbhini paricharya. There are many recommendations that she should follow during this time that are fairly consistent from woman to woman. For instance, although there are cases where a woman might need to restrict her diet based on her prakriti (constitutional makeup), or vikruti (current state of imbalance), for the most part in pregnancy, it is advised to include dravyas (substances) in her diet that might be avoided otherwise, due to the constitutional makeup of the growing baby.
Pregnancy is a very delicate situation because the doshas, or energies, are constantly changing in the body. The doshas are made up of two different elements, or mahabhutas, found in nature. Vata dosha is the energy of air and ether, pitta dosha is the energy of fire and water, and kapha dosha is the energy of water and earth. Because pregnancy is a time of such vast and abrupt change, it is primarily vata provoking. As the blood volume of the pregnant woman increases to 200% by her 7th month, the levels of hormones and body temperature also increase. This increase in Pitta dosha is the reason why a woman is advised to take a tridoshic diet and lifestyle during pregnancy, meaning things that will bring harmony to all three doshic energies.
The vata dosha is the main dosha that is aggravated during pregnancy, and it is further broken down into subdoshas. One of these subdoshas, called apana vata or apana prana, is especially important during pregnancy because it governs all downward motion in bodily function; menstruation, delivery of the fetus, elimination, etc. This subdosha is located in the colon and abdomen. Apana Prana helps to control the development of the fetus’s organs. It also helps to balance the mother’s own organs and systems. If Apana Prana is too weak or too strong, it can lead to miscarriage or problems during childbirth.
Pregnancy is a Special Time
Ayurveda teaches that a woman can reset her health during the childbearing year if she takes proper care of herself. However, if she doesn’t make changes to her lifestyle, such as eating a proper diet, getting enough rest, and relaxing mentally, she may not be able to correct the problems later on. Newborn babies have a lot of needs and their mothers are often too tired after giving birth. This makes it hard for them to keep up with everything. It’s important to take care of your health before and during pregnancy so that you have the energy you need during the childbearing process so that you can take care of your baby. For nine months, a woman’s body goes through incredible changes to accommodate a growing baby. The baby takes what they need from the mother, depleting her stores. It’s crucial to prioritize the health of the mother during pregnancy and in the years that follow, when they may be caring for young children.
Digestion, Shukra Dhatu, and Ojas
According to the principles of Ayurveda, digestion is the root of all health. While in the West it is commonly said that “we are what we eat,” in the East it is believed that “we are what we digest.” All of the bodily nourishment and energy that sustains our physical structure as well as our emotional wellbeing comes from the food we consume. This is especially important during pregnancy because the baby’s quality of food will directly depend on the mother’s intake and digestion of food during pregnancy.
Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine that provides guidelines on how to maintain a strong digestive fire, or agni, for optimal health. These guidelines include eating in a pleasant environment, not overeating, taking the biggest meal at lunchtime when the agni is naturally at its peak, and waiting several hours between meals to eat until the previous meal has been digested (3, pg. 88). The quality of foods that improve digestion will be discussed in the diet section. The importance of agni and digestion lies in the nutritive fluid. This is the digested pool of nutrients that will begin to circulate throughout and nourish the entire body.
The dhatus represents the seven main structural tissues of the human body. They are formed from the nutritive fluid created by the digestive process, and each one is found in smaller quantities than the one before it. It takes 5–7 days for each layer of dhatu to form, with the first one taking only this time to produce, and the last one requiring about a month. The dhatus, rasa, rakta, mamsa, meda, asthi, majja, shukra/artaja correspond to the western concepts of plasma, red blood cells, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow, and sperm/ovum respectively. Dhatus plays an important role in maintaining the structure and function of the human body. They provide support and strength to the body and help protect against disease. Shukra dhatu is the tissue layer of reproduction, and it isn’t just responsible for sperm or ovum. It also controls the reproduction of cells, which is why it’s so important before and during pregnancy. Shukra is said to lie within every cell of the body, with that reproductive quality.
The seventh and final dhatu of the body, shukra, is nourished by the digested nutrients last. Out of all the dhatus, it is found in the smallest quantity in the body. If there isn’t enough nutrition to support the previous six dhatus, shukra will be lacking in strength. For this reason, it’s important to have a strong agni and consume a nutrient-rich diet. In cases of infertility, both the woman and the man need to nourish their shukra dhatu. Shukra dhatu is responsible for healthy sperm, ovum, and overall production of fetal cells. If it is strong and balanced, pregnancy can be achieved.
Ojas is the juice of life according to Ayurveda. It’s responsible for immunity, strength, enthusiasm, and is the foundation of life. Without enough ojas, people can become dull, lifeless, weak, and fall ill frequently. The pool of ojas is filled only after each of the seven dhatus has taken from the nutritive fluid in the digestive process. This is why there’s importance in having a balanced diet and eating foods that will be very nourishing to the dhatus.
In pregnancy, ojas plays a special role. During the eighth month, ojas is passed from the mother to the baby through the placenta. It will return to the mother, and then fluctuate back and forth throughout this month. Ojas is responsible for happiness and inspiration, so when the ojas is given to the baby for a long time, the baby will feel happy and sad at the same time. This month, the ojas is unsteady, so it’s more important than ever to take extra care of the fetus. The eighth month is the most crucial time to surround the mother with love, avoid stress and strain, and refrain from travel.
Psychology in Pregnancy
In Ayurvedic psychology, the concept of the gunas is discussed. The gunas are three qualities, tamas, rajas and sattva. Tamas represents stillness and darkness. Rajas represents movement and stimulation. Sattva is the quality of knowledge and purity. In psychology, the gunas represent different states of mind.
It is important to pay attention to the gunas in pregnancy because one should always try to move closer to a sattvic lifestyle in order to live a more pure life. A pregnant woman should try to give her baby as much sattvic quality as possible so that they can have a more pure and peaceful life.
The gunas, which refer to the three qualities of nature, can be influenced by a variety of things such as diet, activities, and even our train of thought. Because of this, it is not recommended for pregnant women to watch violent or distasteful films, or focus on similarly negative subject matter. By doing so, they run the risk of adversely affecting their baby’s development.
The mind of a pregnant woman can seem like another world at times. Between the aggravation of doshas, rampant hormones and all the changes she is facing, a lot of fear, anger or depression can be experienced. The effect of emotion can be very powerful, and a pregnant woman’s increased senses can sometimes be overwhelming to her and her family. That is why regular meditation should be practiced. In examining thoughts and emotions, it is easier to keep perspective and to label thoughts as just that – and nothing more. It’s important for expectant mothers to release their emotions and not dwell on them for too long. If there are specific issues that come up consistently, it’s a good idea to seek counseling to find a way to resolve them. Emotions can shed a lot of light on what’s going on in the body, and by paying attention to which emotional tendency (e.g., anger, sadness, etc.) is prominent, you can take steps to reduce it and improve your health. This will be discussed in more depth.
According to classical Ayurvedic texts, the gradual development of a growing baby in the womb is described in detail. A major component of the physical formation of the fetus is the dhatus, or bodily tissues. These tissues play an important role in holding the structure of the body together.
1st Trimester: During the first 14 weeks of development, a fetus undergoes a lot of growth and change. Most of this is general growth, as the fetus is in a jelly-like state during this time. The rasa dhatu, or tissue of plasma, serum and lymph, begins to develop during this time, along with the fetal growth organs. The sense organs and limbs also begin to develop during this time.
The beating of the heart is another important milestone that occurs during pregnancy. In Ayurveda, the heart is considered the seat of consciousness. The fetus’s heart is connected to the mother’s heart through arteries and the placenta. It is through this incredible link that the baby’s feelings are said to be felt by the mother during this period. It is widely accepted that pregnant mothers should be given anything they desire during the third month of pregnancy, in order to prevent any mental or physical suffering of the child. This includes paying close attention to cravings, desires, and a state of love and happiness. Any deprivation the mother feels, the baby will inevitably feel as well. The mother’s feeling of contentment and connection with the baby helps to ensure proper development of the baby’s heart.
During the fourth month of fetal development, the various dhatus (tissues) begin to rapidly form. By 18 weeks, the rakta dhatu (red blood cells) and mamsa dhatu (muscle tissue) begin to rapidly form, which are given nourishment by the rasa dhatu (lymph fluid). Because of the increase in the baby’s strength, the mother may lose some vitality during this month. By the sixth month, the meda dhatu (fatty tissue) as well as the upadhatus (minor tissues) become the main focus of development. The upadhatus are the minor tissues of each dhatu, including body hair, tendons, blood vessels, skin, to name a few.
3rd Trimester: The seventh month of gestation is a critical time for fetal development. Organs are finely tuned and refined, and weight gain rapidly increases. The eighth month is one of great significance, as it is when ojas is transferred from the mother to the growing baby. Ojas has no western equivalent, but is the most refined product of digestion. It is said to be a person’s essence, vitality, immunity, and what gives a person luster and glow in the skin. It is what gives a feeling of contentment and pure consciousness (2, pg. 84). Pregnant women should take it easy, focus on their diet and digestive health, and stay close to home to deliver a healthy baby. During the ninth month, the baby’s organs continue to grow and mature. By the last few weeks of pregnancy, the baby should be in a head-down position, facing the back of the mother, to prepare for delivery.
Agni, or fire, is essential to process the fuel that is given to the body. But just as important is the quality of food that is consumed. The diet should be as sattvic as possible – pure of body and mind – in order to sustain prana, or life force. Warm, moist food encourages the abundance of rasa dhatu, which is needed for the increase of blood during pregnancy, the production of each dhatu in the mother and fetus, as well as the preparation for lactation. When food is not fresh, it will spoil and taint the quality of the mother’s and fetus’s physiology. To sustain energy and prevent hindrance of digestion, the diet should be light.
It is said that mothers-to-be should be given anything they crave, within reason, as their cravings are likely what their body and the fetus need. It is also important to remember to include all six tastes in the diet, to ensure that each of the five elements are included in the food. For this reason, the mother should not eat according to her constitution alone. Because the baby is of a different constitutional makeup than the mother is, emphasis should be placed on a very abundant and various diet. When it comes to pregnancy, diet is extremely important. All colors of food should be included in a pregnant woman’s diet for various reasons (3, pg. 75-84). To ensure a sattvic quality, the diet should be vegetarian, but in a vata person, extra emphasis should be placed on unctuous, warm, protein/iron-rich, and grounding foods. Ghee is one sattvic food that should be taken regularly by expectant mothers. In addition to creating ojas, ghee increases agni. The specific food recommendations to focus on during each month of pregnancy are as follows:
1st-3rd Months: Sweet tastes, lots of liquids, fresh fruits, fresh fruit juices, cold drinks, milk, and raw butter are what you should focus on consuming during these months.
4th-5th Month: In addition to the sweet tastes and liquids, you should try to eat more meat. You should also try to eat more rice, wheat, and milk.
6th Month: Same as above, but include ghrita cooked with gokshura.
7th-9th Months: Boiled milk and rice should be your focus during these months (4, pg 15).
According to Ayurveda, some sattvic and very nourishing foods for the fetus are dates, raisins and blanched almonds. Kitchari, grounding vegetables such as yams and carrots, whole grains/breads, and warming spices are also beneficial (2, pg. 79). It is important to satisfy hunger; however, in order to sustain a healthy agni, meals should not be too large. The rule of thumb in Ayurveda is to have three meals a day, with no more than one meal every 4–5 hours or until the previous meal is digested. However, pregnant women should eat smaller portions more frequently to prevent indigestion and fatigue.
Body Therapies During Pregnancy
The Abhyanga massage is a traditional Ayurvedic practice that uses warm oil and gentle strokes to massage the body. This type of massage can be done daily by yourself or professionally by an Ayurvedic therapist and is very beneficial for several reasons. Abhyanga massage, for example, helps to move lymph throughout the lymphatic system into drainage sites. These sites then remove toxins from both the blood and lymph. In addition, this type of massage also enhances circulation and calms the mind through touch, which is especially helpful in soothing the vata dosha. Abhyanga, otherwise known as daily self-massage with oil, is a Vata-Pitta dosha pacifying routine that is perfect for use during pregnancy. It is the opposite of the vata qualities, as it is warm, moist, and smooth, and heavy. It can be used to bring the mind and focus inward, but it is not good for the body. The oil is lubricating to the dhatus and will nourish dry skin. Massage oils are herbalized, and vary in indication; however, for pregnant abhyanga, a vata balancing oil is most commonly recommended. The abdomen area is where stretch marks are most commonly found. When massaging the area with oil, it will help to create tone and elasticity in the skin. It’s just as important, if not more, to do abhyanga during the postpartum weeks, which will be mentioned again in part three of this paper.
Shirodhara, also known as “bliss therapy,” provides a calming effect on the mind that is so profound, all worry fades away. This can be a very beneficial treatment for pregnant women who tend to worry excessively, are fearful, or have restless minds. Shirodhara is performed with a warm stream of oil dripping over the third eye and running back over the crown chakra constantly for several minutes.
Performing a herbal oil enema (basti) made of cured sesame oil once per week during the 8th and 9th month of pregnancy helps to balance Apana Prana, prepare the body for delivery, lubricate the intestinal tract, and ensure a clean bowel.
Performing perineum basti regularly during the last month of pregnancy can help to tone and elasticize the perineal tissue, making it more resilient to stretching and tears during labor. This can be done by massaging the perineum with warm oil, or by placing a new oil-soaked tampon inside the vagina each morning.
There are many Ayurvedic preparations that can help with the proper development of the fetus and ensure a normal pregnancy and delivery. However, unfortunately, most of the recommended formulas are not available in the United States. It can be difficult to find a practitioner who is familiar with Ayurvedic prenatal herbs in many parts of the country. For many women, a wholesome diet is all that is needed, but depending on the individual, many herbs can be very helpful. Ashwaganda, shatavari, and amalaki can be taken from the onset of pregnancy. Gokshuru and Jatamansi are two of the most commonly recommended herbs to support a woman during pregnancy. These herbs work together to help prevent anemia, high blood pressure, fatigue, low immunity, and prenatal complications. Starting in the sixth month of pregnancy, these herbs can be taken in the form of powder. Always consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner to get specific doses, and be very careful when administering any substance during pregnancy.
PART TWO: POSTPARTUM
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of medicine. It tells us that the 42 days after a woman gives birth are the most important time for her to be healthy. In our fast-paced western culture, it’s easy to get caught up in the pressure of doing everything ourselves and running until we burn out. However, it’s important to take the time to recover after childbirth and get to know our new babies. This can be a difficult balance, but it’s so important for our overall health and well-being. As a new mother, it’s important to take every measure to rest when the baby is resting. This can be a difficult task to manage, especially if you’re also trying to keep up with household duties. It’s important to ask for help from friends and family before the last few weeks of pregnancy so that you can transition without feeling overwhelmed. If you don’t get adequate rest, you’ll likely feel fatigued and depressed, which will make it even more difficult to take care of your new baby.
A woman can lose up to 15 pounds of weight from her abdomen within a few hours of giving birth. This is because the baby takes up a lot of space in the womb, and after it is delivered, there is only air and space left behind. In addition, during pregnancy, the mother’s body goes through a lot of changes. These changes come to a head during childbirth, which can be very hard.
That is why it is important to pay special attention to reducing vata in the mother’s physiology. Incorporating the qualities of moisture, oiliness, warmth, heaviness, routine, and stillness will help to soothe vata and nourish the new mother.
Ayurvedic Postpartum Therapists recommend that postpartum abhyanga (self-massage with oil) be performed daily on women after giving birth. The practitioner comes to the woman’s home, and the baby can be nearby in case she needs to nurse at any point during the treatment. More oil is applied than a typical abhyanga for its hydrating and vata-reducing quality, and herbalized oils like Bala and Ashwaganda can help to soothe soreness and add vitality. The element of touch can be very soothing for aggravated vata, so this is an important part of postpartum healing. It can get expensive to have these massages daily for the full 6 weeks, so anything that can be done will be beneficial. The massage is usually followed by a warm bath and deep rest.
It’s important to eat a vata-balancing diet during the postpartum period, for the well-being of mother and baby. Some symptoms of vata excess is gas (expressed in the infant as colic), disrupted sleep, fatigue and constipation.
Agni is at its lowest following labor because so much energy was put into childbirth. This is a critical time to kindle the digestive fire, so be patient when adding foods back into your diet.
The quality of food after delivery should be soupy, warm, sweet and easily digestible. The best foods to eat are kitchari, sweet grains, sweet vegetables, fruits, milk, ghee, oils, avocado, soaked nuts, warm cereals and warming spices. It is important to avoid vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, garlic, onions, chilies, peppers, greens and fermented cheeses as these increase the air element. After a few weeks you can slowly introduce white meat soups and soft cheeses.
This ojas-increasing energy drink is extremely beneficial for lactating mothers. The ingredients are as follows: 10 blanched almonds, skinned, 1 cup of boiled milk, 3 dates, a pinch of cardamom, and a thread of saffron. Simply blend these ingredients together and enjoy!
It’s important to emphasize rekindling the digestive fire (agni) after childbirth, as it’s dramatically reduced post-delivery. A great way to improve agni is to steep cumin, coriander and fennel in hot water, and drink it first thing in the morning. Warming spices in general will aid in digestion and help make the digestive fire stronger.
Mothers should also know that in the earliest days after giving birth, their bodies will first produce colostrum followed by breast milk. The quality and quantity of breastmilk is directly tied to the mother’s rasa dhatu, as breastmilk is an upadhatu of rasa dhatu. To ensure ample and nutritious breastmilk, new mothers should not only eat foods that build rasa dhatu but also take galactagogue herbs, which support healthy milk production. Shatavari is a great postpartum herb that helps promote vitality, strength and healthy reproductive organs in women. Fenugreek is another great lactation-promoting herb that can help sustain healthy milk production.
Ashwagandha is an amazing herb that can help your body and mind feel more rested, balanced, and energized. It’s often taken to help reduce stress levels, support a healthy immune system, and improve energy levels. Ashwagandha can be taken in conjunction with other herbs like shatavari to promote deep rest at night and more energy during the day.
Containment of the Uterus
A scarf is wrapped around the abdomen of the postpartum mother to prevent excess space from being trapped within. It is done to a comfortable degree for the first week or so, and it should feel relieving for the woman to have this restraint on her belly. This is not done on a woman who has had a cesarean delivery; however, because the abdomen is exposed to the outside world, other ways to reduce blood pressure are needed.
Ayurveda is an ancient wisdom that can provide a great deal of knowledge and support to women during the childbearing years. With a mindset of moderation and contentment, the principles from this wisdom can give much-needed guidance and comfort. In whatever circumstances a pregnant woman may find herself, it is important for her to take care of herself and find happiness before her baby comes into the world.