Chinese medicine postpartum care. Acupuncture Nowra

TCM postpartum care: Nourishing a new mum

What’s covered in this article?

  • Zuò Yuèzi – The period of total rest after childbirth
  • Chinese medicine advice for postpartum recovery
  • Essential foods and herbs to boost energy levels and replenish Qi and blood
  • Dietary suggestions to combat postpartum constipation and sluggish bowels
  • A tasty lamb shank recipe to replenish yang and blood
  • Chinese medicine practices to increase lactation
  • And much more!

Zuò Yuèzi / the sitting month

Chinese Medicine posits that the month following childbirth is a crucial period that can significantly influence a woman’s health, contingent on her postpartum care. The Chinese term Zou Yuezhi, or “sitting the month”, is the first 40 days postnatal period in which a new mother is advised to fully rest to restore her strength and spend time bonding with her newborn.

In today’s world, much of the emphasis is directed towards the newborn with the expectation for the mother to ‘bounce back’. However, in Chinese culture recuperation and recovery of the mother takes precedence, which is considered essential for her health, the newborn, and that of the wider community. So lets, explore some of the core ideas of Zou Yuezhi and postpartum care for better health and postpartum recovery.

An open vessel / a vulnerable body

After the nine months of pregnancy and rigors of child birth, a woman’s body will lose a significant amount of blood, qi, yin and yang, leaving her susceptible to fatigue, low mood and decreased immunity. In fact, the classics in Chinese medicine considered the mother to be like an open vessel after childbirth, and were advised to avoid being exposed to elemental energies such as cold and wind. Other suggestions included avoiding strenuous exercise and sweating or experiencing strong emotions, as these can lead to further imbalance between Yin and Yang and deplete the body.

Postpartum care TCM. Acupuncture nowra

Stay indoors and keep warm

The postpartum period is a vulnerable time for both the mother and baby. Maintaining warmth is essential. Keep the indoor environment warm to facilitate bonding and increase milk supply through skin-to-skin contact. New mothers and newborns are susceptible to cold, wind, and noise. While staying indoors for a full lunar cycle is challenging today, minimising exposure to the outside environment or staying bundled and warm when venturing out is crucial. Covering the neck and shoulders, helps protect the wei qi (defensive qi) and prevent the onset of cold or flu symptoms. These practices are especially important in the colder autumn and winter months.

The use of moxa / drive out the cold

Moxibustion (moxa), the heating of the herb Artemisia Vulgaris, is a traditional channel warming ‘mother herb’. Applying moxa over the lower abdomen warms the lower Dan Tian, also known as the sea of qi, to help close the cervix, heal the pelvic floor, and support the uterus’s return to its pre-pregnancy size. Alternative heat sources like hot water bottles, heating pads, rice packs, or infrared lamps can also be used at home.

Moxibustion postpartum care. Moxibustion fertility. Acupuncture Nowra

Sleep when bub sleeps

According to Chinese medicine, sleep is essential to prevent postpartum depression and foster better bonding with the baby. Pregnancy fatigue, rigors of childbirth, and demands of a newborn can quickly result in chronic burnout and anxiety. Hence, new mothers should take every opportunity to rest when the baby sleeps. If night sleep is challenging, then acupuncture and gentle Chinese herbal formulas can be prescribed.

Diet / focus on internal warming

Chinese Medicine advises against consuming cold foods and drinks postpartum as they can dampen the digestive fire and stagnate blood circulation. Cooked foods with a warm thermal nature should be consumed to nourish the uterus, increase healthy breastmilk, and prevent future menstrual issues. Foods cooked with rice wine, which enhances warming actions, can be added to dishes (unless dealing with histamine issues). Avoid raw vegetables and cold drinks, and opt for well-cooked, soft, soupy, and brothy foods.

Postpartum healing foods

Warm cooked food in chinese medicine. Acupuncture nowra
Congee:

Also known as rice porridge, congee is a traditional healing asian dish which is simple, easy to cook, hydrating and deeply nourishing. Often cooked with chicken, which tonifies the Qi, and ginger to warm the Spleen and Stomach, congee has been traditionally used to aid recovery after illness, calm digestion, and boost energy levels. You can read more about congee here, including my personal favourite recipe using the instant pot method.

Bone broth:

Bone broth is another traditional healing food which is deeply nourishing and perfect for postpartum recovery. Chinese medicine considers the bones to be connected to the kidney Qi and Jing essence, which is the deepest source of our constitutional energy, vitality and longevity. Drinking bone broth daily will help to restore kidney Qi and aid in recovery after the loss of Qi and blood through the birthing process, as well as continual breastfeeding. If you’d like to know more about bone broth, check out this article here, which includes an easy recipe to cook at home.

Root vegetables:

We often recommend cooked root vegetables in Chinese medicine because they directly nourish the Spleen and Stomach, which are responsible for our digestion and nourishing Qi and blood. A perfect example is the humble sweet potato, which is considered sweet/neutral and internally warming. Other root veggies which can be eaten regularly include carrots, turnips, Chinese yam, yellow squash and pumpkin.

TCM postpartum food. Acupuncture Nowra.
Porridge / gluten-free oatmeal:

A simple breakfast choice which can soothe the gut and help lactation, is porridge made from gluten-free oats. To increase the digestibility, soak the oats overnight in water. The following morning, drain away the water and add fresh water and/or nut milk and cook until they reach a desired porridge consistency. Stewed pears are a wonderful addition to porridge because they are considered moistening, making them an ideal food choice for dryness and constipation.

If experiencing digestive upset, loose stools and bloating, consider adding warming spices such as cinnamon to the stewed pears. Cinnamon is used in Chinese medicine for its internally warming, Yang tonifying properties. Other warm spices include, cloves, cardamon pods, nutmeg, and star anise. Remember to always choose what resonates and tastes good! If you’re interested the benefits of stewed pears in Chinese medicine and an easy recipe, check out this article.

Soups and stews:

In Chinese medicine, soups and stews are highly recommended as postpartum meals due to their ease of digestion and internal warming properties. These dishes are gentle on the digestive system, which can be particularly beneficial for new mothers whose bodies are in a delicate state after childbirth. Lamb, often cooked in these preparations, tonifies yang and replenishes liver blood, addressing the depletion of yang energy and blood loss that occurs during childbirth.

TCM postpartum nutrition. Nowra Acupuncture.

Soups and stews are nutrient-dense, providing essential vitamins, minerals, and proteins that support recovery and strengthen the body. They also help to maintain hydration and can be enriched with various herbs to further enhance their therapeutic effects, making them a cornerstone of postpartum care.

Hemp seeds & kiwi fruit:

In Chinese herbal medicine, seeds are used as a gentle lubricant for the bowels, aiding in the relief of constipation. Postpartum constipation is a common issue due to the significant loss of blood and fluids during the birthing process. To address this, incorporating hemp seeds and kiwi fruit into the daily diet can help to regulate and promote healthy bowel movements, ensuring new mothers maintain optimal digestive health during their recovery period.

Pantry herbs & spices

Warming spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, and fennel tonify Spleen Qi and enhance digestion, making them ideal for postpartum recovery. Fennel, in particular, not only invigorates the digestive system but also helps to promote lactation. Incorporating warm spices into postpartum meals can improve digestion, boost energy, and support the overall recovery process in new mothers.

TCM warming herbs postpartum care.

Cook ahead of time

For postpartum mothers, preparing and freezing meals before giving birth can significantly reduce the time and energy required for cooking during the crucial recovery period. Focus on preparing nutrient-dense soups, stews, and broths, which are easy to digest and provide essential vitamins, minerals, and proteins.

These meals can be conveniently reheated, ensuring that new mums receive the warming and replenishing benefits of dishes, without the stress of daily cooking. By having a stockpile of these hearty meals ready to go, new mums can focus on healing, bonding with their baby, and restoring their energy levels, all while ensuring they are well nourished.

Chinese herbal medicinals

The following Chinese herbs are often recommended in postpartum care to aid in recovery and boosting Qi, Yin and blood. What makes these so fantastic, is that they are all considered food, and can be easily added into broths, soups or stews, steeped in teas, or nibbled on as a snack.

Da Zao / Chinese red dates: Boost circulation, tonifies Qi and blood, calm the Shen (spirit), and are commonly used in postpartum soups.

Gou Qi Zi / Goji berries: Tonifies Qi, replenishes yin and blood, and reduces dryness in the body. Goji berries are traditionally steeped in hot water with red dates and consumed as tea. Ju Hua, or Chrysanthemum flowers can be added for dryness, hot flushes, dry eyes and headaches.

Goji berry, da zao tea. Postpartum care.

Sheng Jiang / Ginger: Warms the body, aids digestion, and tonifies Qi. Ginger can be added to soups, teas or meals such as stir-fry’s.

Shan Yao / Chinese yam: Shan yao is often cut into thick slices and cooked in stews. As shan yao is a root vegetable, it is considered sweet/neutral and benefits Spleen Qi, aids digestion, and replenishes yin fluids. Shan yao is also recommended in Chinese medicine to aid breastmilk production.

Braised lamb shank recipe / tonify blood & yang

According to Chinese medicine, lamb is considered an internally warming food that invigorates yang and nourishes blood. Lamb’s warming properties also help to soothe digestion, promote healthy blood circulation, enhance recovery, and help to regain strength. So, here’s a delicious lamb shank recipe to get you started!

Braised lamb shanks postpartum care. Nowra Acupuncture. TCM fertility.
Ingredients:
  • 3-4 lamb shanks
  • 1 medium sized onion, finely diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large piece of ginger, chopped into small pieces
  • A medium sprig of thyme
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, finely diced
  • 1L of beef or chicken broth
  • 500g crushed tomatoes
  • 1.5 tbsp tomato paste
Optional:

To increase the blood building properties of the lamb shanks recipe, you can add the following Chinese herbs, which can be easily found at your local asian grocer.

  • 5 whole Chinese red dates (da zao)
  • 2-3 whole dried Chinese yam (shan yao)
  • 3 pieces dang gui (angelica root)
Lamb shank postpartum recipe. Acupuncture nowra
Method:
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190C
  2. In a large oven-safe pot, heat a small amount of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the lamb shanks and brown on all sides. Do this in batches so all the shanks get a good brown sear on them. Then remove the lamb shanks from the pot and set aside for now.
  3. To the pot you seared the lamb shanks, add the ginger and cook for 1 min or until fragrant. Lower the heat, then add the onions and garlic and gently sauté for 3 mins. Add the carrot and celery and continue to sauté for 5 minutes
  4. Then to the pot, add the stock, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and thyme, and gently stir to combine.
  5. Add the lamb shanks back into the pot, ensuring they are mostly submerged. Then add the optional Chinese herbs if you have included these.
  6. Turn up the heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Once reached a simmer, carefully transfer the pot to the oven and cook for approximately 2 hours.
  7. Remove the pot from the oven and remove the lid. Place the pot back into the oven and cook for another 30 mins or until the meat is falling off the bone.
  8. Pair with roasted veggies, mash potato or fragrant rice. Garnish with fresh pomegranate and coriander.
  9. Enjoy this deeply nourishing meal!
Recipe notes:

Depending on your cooking preferences, time allowance, and home appliances, the lamb shank recipe can be easily replicated in a slow cooker or pressure cooker. To help with the tenderising process, a small amount if bi-carbonate soda can be added to the broth.

Postpartum Chinese herbal formula

Dang Gui Jiang Zhong Tang combined with Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan is a clinic favourite for postnatal recovery for a multitude of reasons. These two Chinese herbal formulas are used together to replenish and move the blood, restore yang, promote lactation and prevent blood stasis. The most common symptoms associated with this formula combination are muscle cramps, abdominal pains, fatigue, body heaviness, hot flushes, restlessness, insomnia and anxiety.

Dang gui postpartum care. TCM. Acupuncture Nowra

In clinic, additional modifications are often made to prevent constipation or excessive postpartum bleeding. For most mums, it is advised to drink this herbal formula twice daily for at least 2-4 weeks postpartum, however it can be taken for longer if lactation is insufficient or if their is significant blood deficiency.

Promoting lactation

Chinese medicine dietary therapy can be used to increase lactation in mothers experiencing insufficient breastmilk during the early postpartum period. According to Chinese medicine, breast milk is derived from blood and Jing essence. The classic text, Jing Yue Quan Shu, explains: “Women’s breast milk is transformed from the blood and Qi of the ren and Chong extraordinary channels. When it descends, it becomes menstruation. When it ascends, it becomes breast milk.”

In the realm of Chinese dietary therapy, it’s crucial for mothers to consume warming foods regularly throughout the day to support the Spleen and Earth element. Avoiding chilled drinks, cold and raw foods, is also important to reduce dampness preventing the Spleen from producing blood, which is vital for the production of breastmilk. From a Chinese medicine perspective, scanty breast milk is due to a deficiency of the Spleen and Stomach, usually due to deficiency or inadequate food and fluid intake. Therefore, when the Spleen and Stomach Qi are replenished, the Qi and blood from food can transform and the mother can produce enough viable breast milk.

A note: For mothers facing low or no milk supply, it is essential to consult with a primary healthcare provider, who can help identify the cause of the issue and offer appropriate treatments.

Closing thoughts

The postpartum period is a critical time for a new mother’s recovery. Her main priorities should be bonding with her baby and recuperating from childbirth. The ancient practices of Zuò Yuèzi, though rooted in tradition, holds valuable lessons for modern postpartum care. Embracing these rituals can help new mothers achieve an optimal state of health, influencing their well-being for the rest of their lives. If you or a loved one needs that little extra support, reach out and see if Chinese medicine is right for you.

~ May you experience great joy in this new chapter of life ~

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