Traditional Indian Postpartum Series – Herbal Bath

Avagaha Swedhana

What are postpartum herbal baths?

Herbal baths with specific medicinal herbs are an ancient practice found in many cultures across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. Both mother and baby are treated with healing and medicinal herbs in a warm bath and it is an important and treasured post-birth care practice. Traditionally, herbs for the bath are gathered freshly by knowledgable elders or trained traditional midwives and are unique to each culture and region. Nowadays, as natural areas and wild lands are reducing around the world and women move into urban areas away from home, the medicinal herbs maybe gathered, dried and prepared into bath teas that can be used.

Complete documentation and study of the herbs and plants used in maternal care is lacking unfortunately, but this ancient mother-wisdom is passed on and well preserved and maintained by many families. Baths are intended to alleviate and prevent many conditions postpartum.

How are baths given according to Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is a 5000 year old formal system of medicine from India that is still practiced widely today. Ayurveda prescribes very specific herbal baths postpartum. (Traditional Chinese Medicine is another ancient system makes use of herbal baths postpartum.)

One of the traditional postpartum treatments in India is the Ayurvedic “Avagaha” or Bath.

The word “Avagaha” translates as dipping or immersion and Swedhana as sudationsweating or steaming. This healing herbal bath is part of the daily care ritual in the first 40 days after birth.

Typically the birthing person sits or lies in a warm water medicated herbal decoction, typically with the body completely immersed in a bath tub. The avagaha may also be a ‘sitz’ bath (a shallow bath) with herbs or oils that help heal sore tissues after birth. When baths are contraindicated avagaha is done by gentle low temperature steaming.

The treatment is usually preceded by an Abhyanga Oil Massage done with specifically chosen warm oils, but it can be done as a stand alone treatment on occasion.

Benefits of the bath are alleviation of postnatal problems around the external genitals i.e. vulva, the anus and perineum, alleviating piles (hemorrhoids), fissures, skin irritations, pain from episiotomy stitches or perineal tears. Herbs chosen for the bath promote balance of the postpartum body as it goes through rapid hormonal and metabolic shifts postpartum, soothe muscles that are sore after labor and birth and promote deep rest and the body’s capacity to self-heal.

Apart from the above, Avagaha Sitz Baths are also used as a general means of re-energizing and relaxing body and mind. Additional benefits can be relief of painful urination, easing of muscular and joint pain, supporting general rejuvenation, alleviating afterpains from uterine cramping after birth, relief from sore joints, promoting easy let down of milk, helping with neuralgia, insomnia, and low-back pain.

The treatment usually takes about thirty to forty-five minutes and is repeated daily starting from the 4th day after birth continuing as long as needed during the traditional postpartum confinement period which lasts about forty days after the day of delivery.

Care must be taken so that the bath is prepared in an absolutely clean container with water that has been well-boiled and then cooled to a luke-warm temperature.

As with all care practices be sure to reach out to knowledgable elders in your family for guidance or consult an experienced traditional practitioner to receive treatments appropriate to your situation.

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