Pregnancy and Ayurveda
Ancient wisdom for modern women.
From conception to prenatal tips and toddlerhood Ayurveda has something to say about all stages which make up the miracle of life. It should not come as a shock that pregnancy is a time of change, transformation and transition. All of these words are synonyms for the vata dosha. As an Ayurvedic practitioner I came into my first pregnancy knowing full well that I’d have to work hard to stay grounded physically and mentally. While all three of the Ayurvedic doshic constitutions Vata, Pitta, and Kapha are accumulated in a unique ratio in each and every human being, Vata which is made up of ether and air is in charge of regulating our connection to the divine, our reproductive system and our nervous system. As a result, Vata plays a huge roll during conception and pregnancy. For some women it means increased anxiety, joint discomfort, bloating, constipation, loss of sleep. Personally my vata manifested in lots of forgetfulness, restlessness, back aches and really weird eccentric dreams.
Since vata is responsible for upward, and downward movement as well as the retention of food in the alimentary tract any disruption in vata subdoshas will create an imbalance in the initial process of digestion. This is manifested as morning sickness for 70% of women. A smaller percentage will experience severe sickness that lasts all day and happens multiple times a day every day. I was one of the chosen that ended up in the hospital due to severe sickness and dehydration a couple of times. According to Ayurvedic texts this type of sickness can be caused when the body creates its own langhana therapy or detoxification process in order to better house the fetus. This can be avoided by doing a guided langhana pre-conception with a certified ayurvedic practitioner. If you are like me and experiencing morning sickness here are a few ayurvedic tips for preventing and easing sickness during pregnancy:
Oil pulling- as appetizing as swishing oil in your mouth may sound when you are already feeling sick, oil pulling has been used for thousands of years to balance the hormones.
Avoid emptiness- Keep your belly with food at all times. This decreases the abilities of enzimatic juices to increase in the stomach and create the sickness in the first place. Small bites throughout the day. Candy, saltines, ginger, and warm wet oily food (all qualities of the kapha dosha which is almost all opposite of vata thus very grounding) broths, steamed vegetables with butter or ghee on them.
Breathing techniques- These calm them mind and relax the nervous system also responsible for nausea. Be mindful of what you practice as some pranayama techniques are contraindicated for pregnancy. Nadhi Soudhi or alternate nostril breath worked great for my sickness and is recommended for pregnancy. 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes before bed are great to relax!
Along with breathing techniques meditation is also a life saver, listen to guided meditations, there are plenty catered specifically for pregnancy and a number of apps you can download. More on what I used later.
Oil, oil and more oil
Oileation or lubricating the body with oil is one of the most valuable forms of nourishments available to balance the vata dosha. Oils nurture dry, cracked and inelastic tissues inside and outside of the body. Externally, oiling the belly with butters, oils and creams has become a top staple in the beauty industry to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy, a technique that was long ago put into place through ayurvedic abhyangas and daily massage. Perineal massage is another great example of an ancient practice slowly making its way back into the modern world. Doing oil massage strokes a couple of weeks prior to labor in the perineal area allows the tissues to become more pliable and elastic, making the last part of the delivery more comfortable and with less tearing. Most hospitals are even implementing perineal massage during labor using a lubricant to maintain the area supple while the mom to be pushes and labors, it is significantly related to reduced episiotomies.
The big day
The term ‘scrunchy moms’ identifies mothers who are not hard core enough to be called crunchy granola moms or strict enough to be considered ‘silky’ (who makes these terms up?). Apparently wanting to know more about cloth diapers and baby led weaning but continuing to drink coke and eat french fries occasionally during pregnancy made it possible for me to be in the ‘scrunchy mom’ category. Stressing and dwelling as most moms do about the big day when my child would be born I searched high and low for loopholes around the whole giving birth and experiencing the worst pain anyone can describe fiasco. Through a yogi friend I’d heard about something called hypnobirthing, a technique that involved meditation and redirecting the mind to create a new kind of birth experience. After hours of going down the YouTube rabbit hole of videos, my partner and I decided to find a local doula and register for a private hypnobirthing class. 5 sessions, countless meditation sessions, language alteration by omitting words such as: pain and contraction we found that the method started to make sense. The meditations made me relax when baby was practicing karate at 4am, the breathing techniques helped the sensation of braxton hicks contractions, and even the reprograming made us feel a little more in control over a daunting day we both couldn't truly prepare for.
The 40 day old mom
There are mother-care traditions in many cultures with remnants of memory about postnatal care practices, but much of this important information has been lost to modern thinking.
Kaya kapa the ayurvedic practice of rejuvenation is strictly implemented postpartum. The 40 days or 42 depending on the tradition, are almost more emphasized than the pregnancy itself. The main culprit of disease in this postpartum stage is still vata but more specifically the quality of space that occupies vata. Including the space that is being created for this new being created in the life of the parents more specifically the mother, additionally the new empty space created in the uterus with the evacuation of the fetus. Balancing that vata aggravation becomes a full time job. Caring for the physical and emotional needs of the mother as well as the newborn becomes the responsibility of everyone around her. Personally this was one of the hardest aspects of embracing motherhood. Coming from Colombia both my mother and in law were very strict about our own culture of the ‘40 day diet’ including not leaving the house for 6 weeks, eating chicken broth soup and all chicken related things, wearing a tight uncomfortable ‘faja’ aka body shaper-girdle EVERYDAY to reshape the uterus and being absolutely forbidden from doing pretty much anything at all therefore having to be followed around all day. In allopathic medicine, the six-week follow-up appointment also marks the end of obstetric care for most mothers. Without the proper care during this time of massive transition, vata (the physical manifestation of the mobile, light, and dry qualities) will linger in the body for years, causing all sorts of ailments down the line.
Following your unique constitution
While many pregnancy experiences are shared by a large number of moms, there are also individual cases that need specific attention and care. Finding a local Ayurvedic Dr or certified practitioner to schedule a consult and uncover your dosha will allow you to individualize treatments, therapies and gain the best results. I sought to find someone that would allow to feel some authority over the experience and that would still grant room for medical intervention should it be necessary. My partner and I trained in hypnobirthing and met with a certified doula during the pregnancy, we sought a doctor that would allow us to take the ayurvedic and natural route whenever possible without judgement and although we opted for a hospital delivery we had a birth plan that included me wearing headphones to meditate, a medicine ball, essential oils, delayed cord clamping, and placenta prints among other scrunchy mom decisions. I found it most important to dedicate time to myself during the pregnancy, I was a bit startled to realize that all the doting happening during pregnancy is only related to the health of the child, this becomes very alienating and at times infuriating to the mom to be. During my pregnancy I made sure to dedicate plenty of time to myself and my self care, yoga classes, meditation, massage, sensory deprivation tanks, acupuncture, anything I felt would relax me and easy any discomfort I was open to try during my weekly day of self care. After all the months, little details and innumerable advice the priority is that the mom to be is happy and healthy. A happy mom will be more relaxed, more confident, feel supported and have a more enjoyable pregnancy and easier labor, just follow your gut trust your natural instincts and know that you have all the wisdom you need within you. Remember your child knows how to be born and your body knows how to give birth.
Reproductive tonics- dates, figs, cardamom, pistachio, seeds, pomegranate and asparagus great when mixed together in a smoothie!
Morning sickness- Try ginger, lemon juice and mint. Also drink plenty of coconut water to maintain hydrated and keep your electrolytes high.
Postpartum- Remember to continue with the qualities opposite of vata— heavy, warm, mushy, smooth, dense and oily. Slowly introduce agni building foods starting with light clear broths of root vegetables, and agni building herbs like pipaly and ginger. Don’t forget the ghee!