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Postpartum Recovery; a Chinese Medicine Perspective

Updated on September 26, 2015

A Quick History of Postpartum Recovery

Special care after childbirth is common to most traditional societies; such as China, Taiwan, Malaysia, India, Thailand, Mexico, Native American cultures, and Hasidic Jewish communities. As a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, my focus has been on adapting Chinese and Taiwanese postpartum practices for my postpartum patients.

Traditional Chinese and Taiwanese cultures displayed a near obsession with finding ways to improve health and longevity. Childbirth became a major focus as it profoundly affected two lives: 1. for the mother it would be the single greatest expenditure of her life to carry, give biirth, and nourish a new life, 2. for the infant this period would lay the foundation for future good heath.

We know postpartum recovery was practiced in Chinese culture at least as far back as the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD); for a good 1000 years. Traditional postpartum care, noun as zuo yue zi in Mandarin Chinese, was characterized by imposed confinement, where every detail of recovery was overseen by the mother-in-law. It often included eating bizarre foods and extreme restrictions. Depending on the mother-in-law it was not necessarily a pleasant experience for the new mother.

Times have changed, particularly in Taiwan. Now special birthing and postpartum centers offer round the clock support so new mothers and babies get ample rest and nourishment for the first month after birth. There is no housework. No taking care of other children or husbands. It is instead a time to rest.

Who Needs to Practice Postpartum Recovery?

Every woman who gets pregnant needs it; if the pregnancy results in a full term baby, miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion. In the latter three cases, postpartum care is even more important as they represent a disruption in the natural cycle.

Benefits of Postpartum Recovery

In China and Taiwan, proper care and rest after childbirth have multiple short and long-term health benefits for both mother and child:*

  1. Proper nutrition and a postpartum girdle help a woman's waist and uterus recover faster and better.
  2. Ample rest and support reduce chances of postpartum depression.
  3. A healthier mother means healthier breast milk to nourish her baby.
  4. A well-rested and nourished mom is more likely to recover hormonal balance.

*These claims have not been evaluated by the FDA.

Postpartum Diet

Postpartum tea and nourishing porridge.
Postpartum tea and nourishing porridge. | Source

What Are the Practices for Postpartum Recovery?

Postpartum recovery practices and restrictions can be summed up into the following categories:

  1. Rest
  2. Protection from the elements
  3. Support the return of the abdomen and uterus to normal

Rest

For the 30-40 days after childbirth, new mothers and their infants are to stay home (or at a postpartum center). The only visitors are there to help. The new mom and her baby are not there to entertain anyone. Birth has been a marathon for both of them and they need time to rest.

Protection From Cold

According to Chinese Medicine, postpartum women and infants are vulnerable to cold invasion. Cold invasion can take the form of colds and respiratory ailments, or joint pain later on in life. Mothers and babies should stay bundled up. They should not go outside in cold weather nor have air conditioning blasting on them. Women should not walk around with wet hair. Dry hair immediately after showering.

Restoring the Waist and Uterus

Abdominal binding and postpartum girdles are used in many traditional cultures after childbirth. Jessica Alba famously used one for 3 months after childbirth to get her figure back. However, postpartum girdles do more than offer aesthetic benefits. They support the abdominal organs during the process when the uterus slowly shrinks back to normal and lessen the chances of organ prolapse, and thus urinary incontinence.

Another important practice is pelvic floor strengthening, both before birth and after the birth canal has recovered after childbirth. This is enormously important to restore sexual functioning and prevent incontinence later on in life.

Tell Us About Your Recovery

How did you recover after your baby?

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Traditional Abdominal Binding

This is an example of a traditional Malaysian abdominal binding.
This is an example of a traditional Malaysian abdominal binding. | Source

Postpartum Nutrition

As you can imagine, eating nourishing foods supports a complete and speedy recovery. The traditional postpartum diet is cooked, bland, and high in protein. Easy to digest porridge, cooked vegetables, eggs, and fish figure prominently. Organic liver is excellent to recover blood lost during childbirth, if you can stomach it. Chicken also helps strengthen the body. Vegan postpartum moms will want to focus on high protein vegans such as lentils and quinoa and include superfoods such as go ji berries and black sesame seeds in their diet.

Placenta Encapsulation

Traditionally, women consumed their placentas to recover their bodies quickly. Nowadays, placenta encapsulation has replaced this practice. Placenta encapsulation is a process by which a licensed professional dehydrates and encapsulates the placenta using hygienic methods. The new mom then takes a few capsules 1-3 times a day for the postpartum month.

Note: you will need to make special arrangements beforehand with the hospital.

How Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs Support Postpartum Recovery

Top Postpartum Practices

  1. Mom & newborn stay home.
  2. Recruit family or hire help.
  3. Get 10 hours of sleep per night.
  4. Bind the abdomen.
  5. Keep covered.

How Long Should Your Postpartum Recovery Last?

Length
Condition
4 weeks
Healthy women under 35 who bring baby to term.
5 weeks
Everyone else: Mothers over 35, Weakened health, Difficult pregnancy, Miscarriage, Abortion
 
 

Postpartum Tea

Chinese herbs used to strengthen women after childbirth.
Chinese herbs used to strengthen women after childbirth. | Source

Modern Women Need to Rest

There have been many advances, particularly over the last 100 years or so. We are living longer. Deaths and complications during childbirth are far less. We are protected from many epidemic diseases. However, we have largely lost our sense of community and value for rest. It was the norm at one time for women to be there for each other during pregnancy and childbirth. Now this is a luxury. It is critical that we value our mothers and newborns enough to support them through this first month after birth. We need to organize extended family, friends, and hired help to allow women to rest. Even superwoman needs her 8 hours of sleep.

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      Patrician McCarthy 2 years ago

      Excellent! I'm eager to share this with everyone.