Postpartum is the period after giving birth to the baby up to 6-8 weeks post-delivery. This time frame also holds a lot of importance and emphasis, especially in Indian culture. The mother and the newborn baby are completely taken care of by the family members and are not allowed to get out of their house. It’s usually thought that the mother and the baby will catch infections if they get out of their house. This is the period when all the physiological changes our body underwent during pregnancy will revert to the non pregnant state. Mainly the mother’s pregnant uterus completely shrinks back to its normal size by the end of 6 weeks.
Across India, certain practices are followed during postpartum, for the mother as well as the baby. They are :
A) Oil Massage and Bath :
For the Mother: Turmeric-infused oil is used to massage the mother every day. The significance of this is mainly for muscle relaxation, increasing blood circulation, lowering stress hormones, and bringing some relief physically and emotionally to the mother after a tiring delivery. This massage goes on for about 15-20 minutes, followed by a hot water bath. This oil is usually prepared at home by heating naturally extracted coconut oil and adding a potion of turmeric to it. Turmeric has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties.
For the Baby: A special oil is made with the roots of ‘Dracaena terniflora’ (also known as Kempina Beru in Karnataka). A small piece of this red root is added to the freshly extracted coconut oil and heated until the root leaves its color into the oil, giving it a red hue. The roots of Dracaena terniflora are highly used to treat skin diseases. The baby is massaged gently for about 10 minutes every day, followed by a hot water bath.
The mother and the baby’s hair is then dried using ‘Sambrani Dhoopa’. It is a type of incense made with an herbal ingredient like Sambrani (also known as Benzoin Resin, extracted from a tree), Neem leaves, etc. Along with drying the hair, it also purifies the air and with its fragrance creates a serene ambiance. The fumes and fragrance that comes from burning dhoop relieve headaches, and migraine and ensures better sleep for the baby and the mother as well.
After a long, pampering process of massage, bathing, and drying hair the mother puts the baby to sleep, and she is asked to sleep as well whenever the baby is asleep.
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B) Nutrition :
The mother is usually fed with a lot of dry fruits, nuts, and savories made with them. To increase the breast milk supply sesame seeds, dry nuts, fenugreek seeds/leaves, garlic, drumsticks, drumstick leaves, and flowers & carom seeds are given to new mothers in different forms (sometimes as a curry or khichdi, etc). Gassy vegetables like potatoes, cauliflower, and cabbage are usually avoided during this time. Almost every dish/curry made will have black pepper and red chilly (instead of green chillies) as it is said to help in the involution of the uterus.
Ayurvedic tonics like Dasaamoolarishtam are to be consumed daily. Proper hydration, and drinking a glass of curd/milk twice every day is recommended.
I was also served ‘Gond ke Laddu’ (in Kannada Antina Unde, in English Babul/Indian gum Arabic tree) which was prepared using the resin of Acacia tree. This tree has medicinal benefits according to Ayurveda. The gum resin of this tree reduces ‘Pitta’ and ‘Vata’ doshas. It helps in reducing the swelling/inflammation in the uterus. The stem bark and the pods act against the intestinal worms and help in blood coagulation. ‘Gond ka laddu’ is made with gond, dry fruits, dried coconut, a pinch of cardamom, and jaggery. These laddus( sweet balls) are to be consumed once daily.
C) Abdominal Binder :
Post Pregnancy our abdominal muscles are so stretched out and weak, hence wearing an abdominal binder provides support to the abdominal wall and also minimizes movement in the abdominal wall while walking or moving. In India, we usually use our mother’s cotton saree as an abdominal binder. But now it is available commercially as well in medical stores.
The rectus abdominis runs vertically along the front of your stomach. It is also called a ‘6 pack abs muscle’ in layman’s terms. It’s divided into left and right sides by a band of tissue called the linea alba that runs down the middle. During pregnancy, our uterus increases in size so much that the rectus abdominis muscle is stretched along with the lines alba.
Post pregnancy the linea alba heals as it is highly elastic. But, if it loses its elasticity from being overstretched, the gap between the right and left abdominal will not close completely. This condition is called Diastasis Recti. So to prevent this from happening pregnant women as well as mothers post pregnancy are advised to a healthy weight gain during pregnancy. They are asked to always roll onto their side while sitting up or while waking up from the bed. Avoid activities like crunches, sit-ups, or lifting anything too heavy as it may push your abdominals outwards. Using an abdominal band will not heal diastasis recti.
I am very lucky that I have my mother, mom-in-law, and grandmother who have passed on these age-old traditions over to me. It may seem not important if the scientific reason behind them is not known. So I’ve tried my best to put together the science behind these traditions.