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Ayurveda and Post-Partum Care
It’s said in Ayurveda that carrying and having a baby can be the most rejuvenating experience in a women’s life—literally every cell is said to be transformed! Sadly, in the West this is not the typical experience.
After decades of practice, I see an inordinate number of moms who tell me that since having their babies they feel like they have no energy or are always in a funk or have slowly become constipated and have issues digesting foods they never had issues with before.
The problem in the West is that there’s basically no post-partum care, which in Ayurveda is a critical part of the birthing process. Logically if the mom is not feeling well, that will affect the baby too. Delivering a child requires a huge amount of energy or prana, leaving moms depleted and in need of rejuvenation. In Ayurveda, the theory goes that the vata, or wind, energy required to move the baby out not only exhausts the mom but puts out her digestive fire as well. Digestive strength must be rekindled after delivery or the mom’s health and digestion can struggle for years to follow.
See also Ayurvedic Pregnancy Preparation Tips
Post-Partum Symptoms Can Last for Decades
Recently, a patient (let’s call her Alice) came to see me complaining of chronic constipation and fatigue. While telling me her medical history, she also mentioned that these issues started after delivering her two boys—almost 30 years ago! She had been an athlete prior to childbirth and had never experienced digestive concerns before, nor did she ever lack energy. When I asked her if there were any foods that she could no longer tolerate, she told me she can’t eat fatty foods, wheat, and dairy, and that some foods, like tomatoes and spicy foods, give her heartburn. When I asked her if she ever had difficulty breathing (read on to understand why I asked her that), she responded with “wow, funny you should mention that, but in the last few years I’ve had trouble catching my breath and when I try to exercise, I have no wind at all and it’s starting to worry me.”
In this article, I want to share how mismanagement of post-partum care is directly linked to three major health concerns that can lead to an innumerable number of issues, and how to start addressing those concerns now.
- Trouble breathing
- Fatigue and moodiness
- Irregular digestion and elimination
Post-Partum Breathing Reset
During the last stages of pregnancy, the baby takes up a lot of room and starts to push up against digestive organs, including the liver, gallbladder, stomach, and pancreas. All these organs live in close proximity to the diaphragm, which is the body’s main muscle of inspiration and lymphaticflow. As the baby grows and pushes upward, the digestive organs press up against the diaphragm, making it difficult to take a full inhalation. This feeling is super common during pregnancy. Normally after delivery, these organs fall back into place, but sometimes the stomach in particular stays pressing against the diaphragm. This pressure alters the diaphragm’s function and slows its normal emptying time. Plus, the diaphragm cannot fully contract, forcing breathing to gradually become more shallow. This is called udvarta, or upward-moving digestion in Ayurveda, and gastroparesis in western medicine.
Shallow breathing, also called overbreathing, results in a faster breathing rate, which is linked to anxiety, fatigue, snoring, and sleep apnea. When you overbreathe, you release carbon dioxide (CO2) at a higher-than-normal rate, which actually prevents oxygen from leaving red blood cells and moving into tissues and organs. Over time, research has shown that this can lead to tissue hypoxia and the risk of greater concentrations of mutagenic stem cells.
Post-Partum Breathing Exercises
In bhastrika, or bellows breath, you inhale and exhale completely through the nose, using the whole ribcage to move the breath in and out. This is a great practice for starting to slow down the breath and free the diaphragm. When you add breath retention at the end of the inhalation, you deepen oxygen intake and slow carbon dioxide release, helping to maintain a healthy balance between the two.
Note: Before starting any breathing exercise or pranayama with breath retention, it is important to check with your primary healthcare provider to make sure the practice is safe for you.
Start with 10 to 30 bhastrika breaths, followed by a comfortable breath retention after your last exhalation. This completes one round. The breath retention should be comfortable, without any strain. As soon as there is an urge to breathe, start your next round of 10 to 30 bhastrika breaths. Complete three rounds daily.
Pratiloma is another breathing technique that can help you strengthen your diaphragm. Learn more here.
Post-Partum Digestive Reset
Shallow breathing into your upper chest also neurologically turns off your ability to digest food well. Upper chest breathing activates receptors that trigger a fight or flight, do-not-digest-your-food response. The lower lobes of the lungs are predominately innervated with parasympathetic, or “rest and digest,” receptors. After pregnancy, if you become a chronic shallow breather, it’s common to also suffer from weak digestion.
In its normal position, the stomach touches the diaphragm. When you are pregnant, or suffer from digestive issues, upper digestive pressure can cause stomach herniations through the lower esophageal sphincter of the diaphragm—called a hiatal hernia. The stomach normally hangs off the diaphragm, so for it to herniate through the diaphragm you may have to experience years of udvarta, or upper digestive pressure.
This may explain why, according to John Hopkins Medicine, 50% of folks over the age of 60 have a hiatal hernia and as many as 20% of pregnant women get them. These commonly go undiagnosed, as most only have mild symptoms of heartburn and are treated with medications.
It takes years for this imbalance to manifest into more severe health concerns.
Learn a breathing exercise that frees the stomach from the diaphragm here.
If your stomach is chronically pressed up against your diaphragm, it also won’t be able to fully contract and empty its contents. This allows stomach acid to linger in the stomach over time causes bouts of occasional heartburn for many women that can linger for years after pregnancy.
The stomach responds to excess acid by not producing as much acid, in order to protect the stomach lining from ulceration. It may take years, but this cancause a host of food intolerances—most commonly wheat and dairy. Low stomach acid leads toheartburn because now-undigested foods linger in the stomach, allowing undesirable bacteria, like H pylori, to thrive and further irritate the stomach lining, according to studies.
Once the stomach shifts to maintaining a low-acid stomach pH, the two major buffers for stomach acid, bile and pancreatic enzymes, are no longer required, which causes further digestive imbalances. Once you pancreas reduces digestive enzyme production, you begin to depend on supplemental digestive enzymes. Without adequate bile flow from the liver and gallbladder, the ability to break down fats becomes compromised. Basically, once stomach acid is reduced, liver, gallbladder, pancreatic, and duodenal digestive function weakens.
A host of digestive symptoms can follow, including:
- Food intolerances
- Bowel elimination issues
- Malabsorption of nutrients
- Lymph congestion
- Gas and bloating
Learn an at-home stomach pulling exercise to free your stomach from your diaphragm and improve your digestion here.
To further understand how low stomach acid can trigger a cascade of digestive imbalances, download my free Digestive Troubleshooting Guide.
Post-Partum Energy and Mood Reset
And you guessed it, our energy, mood, immunity, and ability to detox are all linked to a healthy digestive system.
Chronically low stomach acid will allow undigested proteins, like those found in wheat, dairy, beans, grains, and other foods, to enter the small intestine and then the blood stream. They will eventually be guided by the lymphatic system through the digestive system. Once the lymphatic system becomes congested, we begin to see signs of lymph toxicity in the brain that can cause fatigue, moodiness, and immunity concerns, as well as lymph-related skin, respiratory, joint, and digestive issues. Over time, the brain’s glymphatic system can become congested, which is linked to both cognitive decline and emotional ups and downs.
There is an Ayurvedic breathing technique geared toward supporting healthy brain lymph drainage, called brahmari. Studies show that this technique increases the production of nitric oxide by a factor of 15 and supports healthy brain respiration.
Download my Free Miracle of the Lymph ebook to more deeply understand how digestive concerns can cause a host of lymph-related health issues.