Postpartum Care and Chinese Medicine - Nourishing the New Mother in the Fourth Trimester

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

Postpartum Care, Johanna Utter Acupuncture, Davis, CA

4 to 6 Weeks to Recovery

Having a baby is a wonderful and exciting time, but it is also one of the biggest physical, emotional, and spiritual transitions that a woman will go through in her life. In most cultures around the world, the importance of this transition is recognized and a period of 4 to 6 weeks is set aside as the postpartum recovery period. During this time, family and community members step in to care for the new mother and baby, feeding her deeply nourishing foods while she rests, recovers, and adjusts to her new role.

In China, this tradition is called “Zuo yuezi” or “sitting out the month.” Restrictions, such as avoiding cold, bathing, hair washing, or going outside were created to to safeguard the new mother’s recovery back to health, in part to preserve and improve the family lineage. A newer version of this exists today with wealthy women staying at "baby hotels" where they are pampered and encouraged to rest.

In contrast, our culture does not acknowledge or allow time to absorb the importance and impact of major life events, such as birth and death. Often stressed and without support, the new mother is expected to care for a newborn, prepare meals, do housework, regain her pre-pregnancy body (and of course, libido!) and return to work in a short period of time. Medical care is focused primarily on the baby, with no one checking on the mother until her 6-week postpartum visit. It’s a missed opportunity to support breastfeeding or catch early signs of depression.

Preparing in advance, we can incorporate the best of Chinese postpartum traditions (rest, staying warm, eating nourishing foods, help with housework and the baby) without the restrictions that we find too limiting.

How Can Chinese Medicine Help?

  • Moxa or “mother warming’ starting at 4-5 days postpartum to warm up a depleted new mom.
  • Chinese herbs to promote healing, replenish the body, improve digestion, and support milk production.
  • Acupuncture to reduce pain and soreness, improve energy levels, encourage lactation, stabilize emotions, balance hormones, and ease recovery from childbirth. A visit approximately 10-14 days following birth is suggested, ideally having one treatment a week for 3-4 weeks.

Chinese Medicine Can Treat:

  • birth trauma
  • sore and swollen breasts
  • mastitis
  • not enough breast milk
  • urinary problems
  • vaginal soreness
  • hemorrhoids
  • constipation
  • edema/water retention
  • hair loss
  • fatigue
  • body aches & pains
  • headaches
  • insomnia
  • depression

Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

Symptoms include:

  • Anxiety that increases in severity
  • Frequent, uncontrollable, or severe crying spells
  • Sleep issues – insomnia or excess sleep
  • Lethargy, hopelessness
  • Guilt, self-doubt, feeling inadequate
  • Panic attacks
  • Chest tightness and/or heart palpitations
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or the baby

Postpartum depression and anxiety occurs in about 1 out of 7 (15%) of new moms. Due to its similarity to “baby blues,” most women do not seek treatment. If symptoms persist beyond 2 weeks, medical help is necessary. Interventions may be holistic, allopathic, or a combination.

Acupuncture is recognized as one of the most successful natural treatments for postpartum depression and depression symptoms in general. If you need to take medication, you will still benefit from acupuncture; they can be done at the same time.

Researchers from Stanford University found that 63% of women receiving just 8 weeks of acupuncture therapy for postpartum depression responded well to the treatment.

First Month Postpartum Tips

  • Lie down and rest frequently - especially the first two weeks!
  • Stay warm, well-nourished and hydrated - avoid cold foods and drinks
  • No housework or cooking
  • Learn to receive, let others care for you
  • Ask for and accept help from family and friends
  • Limit visitors

Foods to Promote Lactation

  • Drink plenty of water!!
  • Eat organic foods as much as possible
  • Bone-in meats or fish (always organic)
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Gelatin (from grass-fed sources) or pig trotters (in a soup)
  • Seaweed for trace minerals
  • Sweet potato or Chinese yam
  • Grains: oats, millet, barley, sweet rice
  • Legumes: adzuki, chickpeas, lentils, mung beans
  • Papaya (especially green) - eat one a day, if possible
  • Fennel and fennel seed - increases supply
  • Herbal tea, especially mint, rose, and barley
  • Coconut water
  • Young coconut meat
  • Herbs: basil, marjoram, anise, dill, caraway, turmeric (also helps reduce inflammation)