Traditional Chinese medicine has a very clear and simple prescription for the postpartum period: the new mother should stay in bed for three months.
I was astonished to hear this from my traditionally-trained Chinese herbal professor. And it turns out, that’s literal. A woman who just gave birth is to stay in bed, have her food brought to her, and not even bathe for three months. Others in the family take care of the baby, and bring it the mother for feeding and sleeping.
When I tell this to people in my office, they usually burst out laughing. The contrast between that scene, and what is actually happening, is so stark. If you ask any parent, they will describe the first few months of their baby’s life as the time when it was least possible to attend to any of their own needs. Much less stay in bed resting for weeks on end!
Truthfully, I doubt there are many mothers in the history of the world who have had the opportunity to do this. (I also doubt that going without a shower for three months is a good idea at all!) But the idea behind it is really, really important.
The Postpartum Period in Chinese Medicine
Chinese medicine sees the postpartum period as an absolutely critical time for a woman’s health. The chemical, physical, and even structrual changes that take place during pregnancy and birth are so profound, they literally act as a reset button for the entire system. This is a time when everything is wide open, and the body, mind and spirit have to find their way back to a new equilibrium.
The postpartum period is considered a powerful and unique opportunity to make huge changes in a person’s health. If proper attention is paid, there is potential to change the baseline of energy, resilience, and good functioning of the body, even when it comes to lifelong problems. I’ve seen this happen with conditions like migraines, allergies, IBS, and even seizure disorders.
All new parents, whether they’ve given birth or not, experience an adjustment to the role of parent, including some degree of tiredness and sleep deprivation, and profound hormonal and chemical changes associated with bonding. Acupuncture has a beautiful way of soothing and normalizing the nervous system, so you can enjoy your baby, enjoy life, feel like yourself, and be the parent you want to be.
The single best thing you can do when you bring home a new baby is rest. It’s also a good time to let others help you (whether you think you absolutely need it or not). If you feel guilty about not getting things done, think about how you really deserve to nap for 3 whole months!
Support From Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine
Chinese medicine can be tremendously helpful during the first weeks and months of parenting. Treatments can help with physical and emotional adjustment, support breastfeeding, and address any health problems that may come up.
New mothers come in often for help with these things:
The whole process of pregnancy and childbirth draws deeply on a woman’s physical reserves. If the labor was especially long and difficult, or if there was significant blood loss, you may be especially depleted. And, of course — whether or not you gave birth — caring for an infant can be exhausting! Acupuncture and herbs can rebuild strength and help you feel like yourself again.
Healing from C-Section
If you’ve had a Caesarean Section, treatment of the incision area can help you heal faster, regain abdominal strength more easily, and keep you more comfortable as you recover from surgery.
Acupuncture and herbs can help increase milk supply, and deal with problems such as mastitis or breast engorgement. Milk supply is the most common issue I treat in postpartum women, usually with very happy results!
Some degree of urinary discomfort, urgency or incontinence is common after childbirth. Acupuncture and herbs can help strengthen pelvic muscles, even if the problem is due to tearing or a prolapsed bladder. In fact, bladder prolapse responds beautifully to herbal medicine, and the formula used is very gentle and safe even if you are breastfeeding.
It’s common to feel let down, low, or overwhelmed with a new baby in the house! And the sleep deprivation and sudden changes in hormones don’t help. Acupuncture helps normalize hormone levels and calm your jagged nervous system so it’s easier to sleep, relax, and enjoy your baby.
Neck, Shoulder and Wrist Problems
Lifting and carrying a baby, and positioning the baby for feeding, require using the upper body in new ways — ways that are often not exactly ergonomic. Many women experience pain and tightness around the shoulder blade and neck area. Wrist pain, numbness and tingling are also common. Acupuncture is super-helpful with these issues.
As an added benefit, coming for acupuncture gives you chance to relax and have an hour that’s all about you. You’re giving a lot to your baby; and babies also command attention from the people around you, who might otherwise be focused on you. It’s important to find times and places where your needs are cared for as well. I’d be delighted to be one of them!
Need More Help?
If you’re having a specific problem that’s not getting better; or you need some extra help with the day-to-day — it might be time to call in the professionals. These are resources that have been extraordinarily helpful to my clients:
Pre- and Post-Natal Massage
Pelvic floor and Urinary Issues
Women’s Health Physical Therapy at Mt Auburn Hospital