Pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum recovery are undoubtedly some of the most taxing times in a woman’s life. Huge postpartum hormonal changes, weight gain, pain, and stressors affect every aspect of the mind and body.
Zuo Yue Zi, the postpartum recovery period in Chinese medicine, is a critical time for the mother as childbirth leaves her in a weakened state at a time when the baby relies on her most for nourishment. When a woman is allowed to fully recover after the birth of her child, she is able to give more to her baby and develop a stronger bond. “Sitting or Doing the month” refers to this recovery and bonding time in Chinese medicine. This postpartum recovery period typically lasts 40 days and is considered a time when the mother is very vulnerable and needs care.
Pregnancy and Childbirth in Chinese Medicine
From the point of view of Chinese medicine, childbirth leaves the mother extremely blood deficient. During pregnancy, a woman’s blood levels actually double in order to nourish the growing baby inside. The act of giving birth – and Cesarean sections in particular – involve a lot of blood loss. Breastfeeding also reduces blood and fluid levels in the mother’s body.
Postpartum Recovery and Qi (Life Force)
Since blood carries the Qi – or life force – blood loss can also force the body into a state of cold. A cold uterus can develop, prompting menstrual irregularities, clots, and potential problems with future pregnancies. This condition can also lead to blood stasis, which is linked to postpartum anxiety and depression.
A mother’s Spleen Qi will weaken as her body prepares for childbirth to help the baby descend and be pushed out. If the Spleen Qi does not strengthen after birth, the mom can experience hemorrhoids or prolapse of her uterus. Nutrients aren’t fully absorbed, resulting in the undernourishment of mom and baby.
Postpartum Recovery and Jing (Vital Essence)
Pregnancy and childbirth also severely affect a mother’s Jing, or vital essence. This essence is your natal energy, a set amount received at birth to sustain life. Jing is tapped into as we age and is rapidly depleted during stressful events on the mind and body. Birthing is considered the primary cause of Jing depletion.
Postpartum Recovery and Yin and Yang (Universal Energies)
Yin and yang are universal energies in Chinese medicine that balance each other. Yin is dark, cold, female, earthy, and relaxing, whereas Yang is bright, warm, male, and energetic. Yin is below the waist and connected to bodily fluids, hence childbirth can leave the mother in a state of Yin deficiency. She can also develop Yang deficiency if she does not eat adequate food or get enough rest.
It can take some women up to six months to build their Qi, blood, Jing, yin and yang energies back up; for others, this process can take up to two years.
The Key to a Successful Postpartum Recovery
New mothers need nourishment in order to successfully recover from childbirth. This nourishment comes in three main forms: food, rest, and warmth. If you are a new mother – or soon-to-be mother, keep these keys in mind:
The first thing you will want to do is make sure your digestion is strong. This is the time to consume easily-digestible foods such as well-cooked whole grains, soups, and stews. Eat small, frequent meals with warm water or tea. Bone-based broths are a rich source of protein, iron, magnesium, calcium, and contains gelatin to repair tissue. Broths can also help stop heavy uterine bleeding.
Warming spices such as nutmeg, clove, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, and fennel support your digestion. Taking a high-quality probiotic or some digestive enzymes can also help.
Foods that build up Qi and blood include clean animal proteins and egg yolks, black beans, lentils, whole grains, beets, and red fruits such as cherries. Dandelion, nettle, and goji teas can boost iron and calcium.
Yin nourishing foods include clean seafood, tofu, dark-colored beans, asparagus, barley, string beans, and dark fruits such as blackberries and blueberries.
Foods such as lamb, quinoa, chicken, garlic, onions, walnuts, pistachios, and goji berries are good for building up your Yang energy.
Lastly, pigs’ feet are believed to build up a mother’s milk supply.
Here’s a recipe for Silkie (Black Chicken) Soup:
Silkie fowl – also known as black chicken in Chinese – is a breed of chicken with black bones. This chicken is rich in Vitamin Bs, protein, and amino acids, making it a perfect tonic for gynecological issues and postpartum recovery. Below is a delicious version from the blog chinasichuanfood.com.
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 50 mins
Total Time: 1 hr
Calories: 131 kcal
- 1 silkie chicken
- 3~4 liters water
- 10 to 12 red dates
- 1-inch root ginger, smashed
- 1 small cup of wolfberries (or gogi berries), optional
- salt, to taste
- chopped green onion and coriander, as needed
- Wash the silkie chicken carefully to remove the impurities.
- Add chicken in a pot, along with ginger, red dates and wolfberries. Load with 4 L water.
- Bring the content to a boil. Remove any fats that float on the surface (skip this step if you are using a high pressure cooker). Slow down the fire and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add around 1.5 to 2.5 teaspoons of salt. You can also serve the soup hot with chopped green onion and coriander as aromatics.
- You can add other ingredients such as corn and mushrooms; it is delicious served with a side of egg fried rice.
- This soup is best prepared in a clay pot, cast iron pot, or high-pressure cooker.
In traditional culture, rest is key to recovery and helping preserve a new mother’s Jing. Care should be taken to get as much sleep as possible, avoid stimulants, and refrain from intercourse during the menses.
After childbirth, the uterus is said to be cold and empty; keeping covered and warm can help prevent future menstrual issues or depression. A new mother can wrap her abdomen which, in addition to helping her keep warm, also helps the internal organs go back into place. This has been found to also help reduce the baby “pooch” and prevent uterine prolapse.
A Word About Postpartum Anxiety and Depression
In Western culture all eyes are on the mother when she is with child, but once the baby is born the new mom is expected to bounce back to her pre-pregnancy body and activity levels.
This pressure to bounce back or morph into a “supermom” can create anxiety and depression in a new mother who already has her hands full adjusting to her baby and trying to get her own physical, mental, and emotional needs met.
Postpartum depression (PPD) occurs in up to 20% of new mothers anytime from birth to the baby’s first birthday. Widely fluctuating hormones levels compounded by societal expectations, sleep deprivation, and exhaustion are the main drivers behind PPD.
The majority of women with this condition typically exhibit symptoms by their third week after birth. These include:
- crying easily with or without anxiety or fear
- moody, depressed, restless, or easily irritated
- difficulty concentrating
- loss of interest in social activities
- feelings of apathy or disconnection to their child
- feeling insecure with their child
- wanting to harm themselves and/or their child
First, it is important that the new mother’s family and medical team understand that a new mom is just as vulnerable as her newborn, in that she also needs attention and care. Supporting the new mom by lending an ear, making sure she has adequate nourishment and rest will go a long way toward helping her to adjust to her new body and baby both physically and mentally.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are wonderful for balancing hormones and calming down the nervous system. They can help build up blood and energy within the body, boost lactation, and alleviate anxiety and depression.
At Wellnest, we are here and ready to help you through all your phases of pregnancy. Call us today!