There is a long documented history in traditional Chinese medicine of women using diet, herbal medicine, and acupuncture to encourage recovery after childbirth. In China, the four to six weeks after a birth are termed ‘The Golden Month’ and it is believed that the care a woman receives at this time will influence her health for years to come. During this time, a new mother is not expected to do anything more than rest, feed, and bond with her baby. For some women this might take four weeks, for others six, and some may need twelve. It all just depends on the needs of the woman. I’m going to talk about how acupuncture is being used postpartum and offer some tips to keep in your pocket if you just had or are getting ready to have a baby.
A Traditional Chinese Medicine Viewpoint
From a traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) viewpoint, the three days post-birth are seen as a time of elimination. The lochia (the normal discharge from the uterus comprised of mucus, blood, and uterine tissue) starts to flow, and is aptly called the postpartum period. Usually around day three the first bowel movement will occur. After these three days, tonification of the mother is important for the next 30 days or more to ensure proper recovery. What does this mean?
Postnatal Tonification Treatment
During childbirth the mother has been depleted of qi and blood. Replenishing these important substances will not only give her more energy and help her recover more quickly, but will help avoid future health issues. As a holistic medicine, TCM emphasises the importance of maintaining good health and preventing disease – rather than treating a symptom when it arises. It is unfortunately common for us to see women later on who are presenting with health problems that are the result of not getting the right care after childbirth. By tonifying her qi and blood we can help to avoid some of these issues.
“Mother warming” is a type of warming moxibustion treatment that we give on day four or five after childbirth. During a mother warming treatment, we burn dried mugwort over the abdomen for tonification of qi and blood. It helps to energize and aid in recovery, and is something that can be done at home after the initial treatment.
After the mother warming appointment, a follow up visit can be scheduled where acupuncture, moxibustion, herbal medicine, and dietary therapy can be utilized to facilitate the body in building good quality qi and blood.
Postpartum Issues Treated with Acupuncture
Apart from using tonification methods to treat moms after childbirth, there may be other issues that are treatable with TCM. Here’s a list of common things that we see in the clinic:
Trouble with breastfeeding/Insufficient lactation
Anxiety and depression
What Your Acupuncturist is Going to Tell You
Many people have heard that it’s important to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’. This can sometimes be difficult especially if it’s not the mothers first baby. During pregnancy, it’s a good idea to think about how to get help so that there’s enough time for you to rest during your Golden Month. Are there grandparents around who can help with older babies? Can you hire a cleaner to help with household chores? Are there friends who are willing to prepare some nourishing meals?
Nourishing foods are important for rebuilding strength. During postpartum, soups and stews are great for helping the mother to heal. Steer clear of cold foods such as salads and raw vegetables. And as mentioned, get some help with meals either from friends and family or cook things to be frozen for later in your last month of pregnancy.
You’ve probably already thought about who you want at the birth of your baby, but you should also think about who you want around afterwards? Do you want to have visitors? Who can you count on for emotional support? Think about someone who can be supportive in your needs in the way you wish to be cared for.
Warmth is an important component in restoring health and vitality. Traditionally, a new mother would not shower or wash her hair in case she caught a chill. Today, we have the ability to heat our water and our homes. Hot showers and baths are great for warming the body and improving circulation. You can also use heat packs and have hot drinks to help keep your body at a good temperature.
By mothering the mother during her Golden Month, she can better bond and take care of her newborn. Take time to rest, eat well, and accept help after your baby is born. The benefits last well beyond the postpartum time and you will be healthier in the future.