The 3 Pillars of Postpartum Traditional Care

Entering motherhood is a transition like no other. Getting to the point where you are physically, emotionally, and mentally whole again after the tremendous task of giving birth is quite a process. The three pillars of postpartum care for mother and baby are: diet, herbs and therapies and oleation.

In the early postpartum the key to regaining balance is to calm high and vitiated ‘vata’. Vata is the principle of movement in the body and it is essential and natural for vata to reach a mighty peak during the process of labor and birth in order to powerfully move the baby from within the womb to without. After the baby, placenta, membranes and fluids have been birthed the birthing person’s body is open and has space within that is vulnerable to fill with physiological ‘wind’ or vata that then becomes trapped. Trapped vata causes joint pain, a colicky baby, anxiety and slows down the healing process leading to a long, slow recovery that may even result in chronic conditions such as back or hip aches, nervous disorders or mood disorders in mother and/or baby.

During the postpartum state the body is said to be filled with mobile, light, dry, and cold qualities after the loss of energy and blood and fluid. Sleep deprivation, disrupted and interrupted schedule and fatigue that comes from caring for a newborn further bring a depletion of energy and loss of grounding and balance that is the hallmark of vata imbalance.

Most postpartum care practices focus on bringing the body-mind of the mother-baby dyad back to a new state of balance after birth. Therapies, foods, spices and activities are chosen to nourish, ground, heal and stabilise the body and mind of the mother-baby triad during the delicate and challenging fourth trimester allowing them to settle into a healed body and calming routine that will take them through the first few years of childhood.

Traditionally, the mother-baby dyad are cared for by a team of women; relatives, sisters, aunts and traditional postpartum practitioners who offer appropriate food, herbs, massage, and opportunities for parents to rest for the full forty-two days after delivery.

Companionship and experienced care cocoons the new-parents in support. This allows them to focus on caring for their newborn while their own needs are taken care of and their questions are answered, reducing stress and anxiety.

Infant care practices focus on creating routines that ensure that the newborn’s need for intake, sleep and elimination are met with minimal stress on the newborn allowing the newborn to build trust and confidence in their caregivers and in their own bodies.

Highly responsive and gentle care and attention in the newborn days lays a strong foundation for a relationship of mutual trust and care between child and parents. Care practices that intentionally include the baby receiving care from grandparents or relatives as well as experienced and caring members of the larger community introduce the newborn to the family, tribe and culture they are born into in a positive and nurturing way. This is considered good medicine.


Always start with diet before anything else. From the Ayurvedic perspective, the large depletion and vitiated vata that accompanies delivery removes the energy from the digestive tract and reduces the digestive fire (agni).

If the mother starts to go to town on pizza or a hamburger right after delivery, gas and bloating or other digestive issues may soon to follow. With after-cramps, bleeding, a bruised perineum and recovering urethra; gas, constipation, diarrhoea, or a stomach infection can lead to a very painful and exhausting few days after birth. It is a good idea to avoid this as much as possible and eat fresh and easy to digest meals for the first few days after birth. Cold in temperature foods further slow down and tax the digestive system and can cause cramps. And as we know in Ayurveda, if the digestion is weak, other ailments in the body are sure to come.

Once home from hospital, postpartum care practices begin with a careful diet.

Freshly cooked, warm meals of grain, vegetables and meat balanced with mild digestive herbs and spices and cooked in ghee are offered. These foods do not tax the digestive system and the body is able to assimilate meals easily and focus energy on repairing the tissues and making milk. These recipes are simple and unfussy to prepare while remaining fresh-cooked and safe.

Hard to digest foods such as raw foods, foods fried in fat, foods high in sharp or pungent spices, salt or sugar, foods that are old or preserved such as frozen foods, day old foods, preserved meats and cheeses, foods prepared in large commercial kitchens where ingredients are mixed and collated from a wide variety of sources – these are all avoided in the postpartum time to minimise the chance of stomach upset, infection, bloating, reflux and allergic reactions in mother or baby.

Foods are simplest in the first week including mono diets of soft cooked carbs, a single source of protein and fat. During the second week if recovery is going well and the mother is able to have regular stools a good appetite and increasing energy, greens and easy to digest cooked vegetables are introduced. Gradually each week, various forms of protein – commonly eaten by the family – are re-introduced one by one and the meals become more varied. Ideally, by week six the diet is a fresh, low chilli, healthy and balanced version of the family’s everyday diet. While an occasional indulgence in take-out during a busy week or as a special treat, will not harm the majority of families, returning to the usual healthy diet will maintain health and wellbeing. This can be great opportunity to set and maintain healthy new habits as a family that will yield long term good health!

Things that we use to gauge whether the mother is ready for the next step or not are agni and level of ama (by looking at the tongue). Look for signs to determine whether agni is strong or weak and needs more time before progressing to the next stage. If there is a thick white coating on the tongue, bloating, gas, or other digestive issues (or if the baby has any of these) for instance, it is a sign to hold off on progressing.

Predominantly, steaming, braising and stewing until soft are preferred methods of cooking. Frying is avoided, but roasting or baking with the addition of a small quantity of ghee after roasting or baking is also an option. If the mother’s digestion is strong and the baby is not experiencing reflux, colic or eczema, raw salads prepared carefully can be included. Fresh fruit can be included.

Typical foods are broths, soups, khichadis, stews, whole grains such as rice, bulger, quinoa, proteins such as fish, whole chicken including organ meat, carefully prepared red meat in moderate/small quantities, legumes, nuts and seeds are favoured. Meals are eaten thrice a day with the largest meals between 10 and 2 in the day and a lighter dinner. Snacks are timed for exactly in between meals and could be a cup of spiced milk or herbal tea with fruit, nuts or dried fruit, a date and almond or fruit smoothie etc. Ghee is added to meals and those who eat meat are given collagen rich bone broths to heal and nourish tissues

Depending on the events of birth the care regimen may vary. For instance, if you had a cesarean, you want to add ghee to your diet a little later after the incision has healed. ‘Heating’ and sharp spices are avoided while astringent “drying’ herbs and foods are favored. Traditionally, it is recommended to wait to introduce ample amounts of ghee and fat because the tissues need drier qualities to adhere and regenerate. Too much oiliness can slow down the process, so it is best to wait until the tissues have begun to adhere – typically a few days to a week after surgery.

fennel seeds


Various herbs and spices are used carefully during the postpartum. Each region and family pass down their own rules and traditions maintaining an ancient lineage of mother-wisdom that is suited to the climate, diet, lifestyle and genetic predispositions within each community. Herbs and plants included maybe local medicinal plants, common kitchen spices or specific ingredients imported from other regions. Some herbs and plants are impossible to obtain outside the region in which they grow and modifications or substations must be made. If the climate and lifestyle which the new parents live in is very different from the one in which their traditions were founded or if families are from mixed lineage and have combined ancestry, modifications or substitutions can be made and plants and herbs that grow locally to the parents can be very beneficial.

A sample herbal regimen

An example of a herbal regimen for one mother that is outlined below may combine herbs in the following manner (often determined by mother, mother-in-law, and grandmothers according to family tradition). These herbs support the mother’s diet, and healing, shrink and tone the uterus, promote lactation, balance the mood and digestion in mother and baby and promote recovery. 

It is very important to make sure you check with your practitioner before taking any herbs that you do not usually eat. While most of the herbs are mild and used commonly in culinary quantities, these herbs are chosen based on the individual situation and will not suit everyone. If you are not under the care of a knowledgable practitioner, herbalist or your mother and grandmothers it is best to stick to the culinary herbs and spices you are already familiar with.

  • Fenugreek seeds soaked in water over night. Fenugreek is well-known to support lactation. It is said to be very helpful with vata and lower back discomfort.
  • Small laddu (energy ball) made of turmeric powder mixed with some ginger powder, jaggery, and ghee. This is to ​support healing and jump-start agni for the day first thing in the morning with the fenugreek water.
  • Water boiled with dill, cumin, coriander, fennel, and vakumba (Careya arborea). All of these herbs are great digestive aids and some (dill, fennel) also support lactation. Vakumba is bitter and cleansing to the blood and liver and also helps kindle agni. Mothers make a huge pot of this every morning and drink it warm throughout the day.
  • Ladoo (ball of herbs and dried fruit) with breakfast. Each family has their own blend of herbs and spices – some blends with as many as thirty-two herbs. Some of the ingredients are ginger powder, shatavari powder, ashwagandha powder, pippali powder, nirgundi powder, saffron, and cardamom powder. As you can see, there are many agni kindling and building herbs. This herb mix is combined with roasted whole wheat flour, ghee, coconut flakes, almonds, and golden raisins and formed into laddus .
  • A soup called raab, made of a spoonful of whole wheat flour, a cinnamon stick, a couple clove buds, and a pinch of ajmoda seeds sautéed in ghee, which is then mixed in with hot water that has some jaggery melted in it for a breakfast drink.
  • Afternoon sweet made up of roasted wheat flour and urad daal(black lentil) flour, jaggary, ghee, a pinch of saffron, cashew powder, almond powder, coconut powder, and herbs (ginger, pippali, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, gundar or a type of edible gum).
  • A spoon of panchakola (herbal) ghee to end the evening.


Massage is the third cornerstone to maternal care after delivery. Nothing calms vata and soothes the entire body like warm oil. A full body massage with Ashwagandha Bala Oil every day is ideal, if possible. The oil tones the body, provides oleation where there is a lot of dryness, helps the healing of tissues, and infuses strength and a sense of groundedness. It was my one hour of complete relaxation and allowing myself the gift of nourishment and love.

The massage is followed with dhupana. A tent is created with knees bent up and a towel covering the legs. Then some herbs such as guggulu or ajwain are placed on a piece of lit charcoal and put it in the tent. The mild, medicinal smoke supports the rapid healing of the perineum and strengthens the tissue in that area.

If you do not have someone available to give you a massage or even just a head and foot massage, try to incorporate a self-massage as often as possible. The littlest things can truly go a long way.

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