How you can benefit from Traditional Chinese Medicine in your postpartum period Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, is an ancient system of medicine with at least 5000-year-old roots.
Its guiding principle is to maintain and restore the vital balance between two harmonising energies within the body: passive yin and active yang. It is held that illness breeds when either force is deficient or dominates.
TCM provides a safe, effective, drug-free approach to wellbeing with treatment comprising of herbal medicine, acupuncture and acupressure, nutrition, exercise, lifestyle changes, cupping and moxibustion.
In China, TCM sits alongside allopathic medicine in state hospitals – a synergy of ancient and modern healing. Having championed specialised postnatal care for three thousand years, TCM is rich in postpartum traditions and provides perhaps the most comprehensive model of postnatal care.
Where western cultures deemphasise maternal health in favour of infant wellbeing, TCM holds that the mother is the crux of whole-family wellbeing. TCM views the postnatal period as pivotal in women’s health: if the postpartum mama is well cared for and allowed plenty of rest, this will safeguard her future health and may even resolve long-existing health woes.
In contrast, inadequate care and rest can lead to myriad health problems and because our role as women and mothers is so central, when we aren’t well, our family and community feel the flow-on effects.
Sufficient postpartum care lays a strong foundation from which the new mother can weather the demands of caring for a brand-new human that is suddenly the centre of her universe. Strengthening the postpartum mother also provides a springboard for future healthy pregnancies and uncomplicated menopause.
Why is the postpartum period so critical in TCM?
Childbirth requires women to expend a tremendous amount of yang energy in their lionhearted feat, creating an energetic imbalance. Blood and qi, or lifeforce energy, are also lost, both of which are warming and essential to vitality. As a result, the new mother is physically and energetically vulnerable, and open to the effects of cold.
Yang must be supported with warming foods and herbs and through avoiding cold. I can almost hear the collective shriek of horror from TCM healers, at the idea of using cold cabbage leaves on postpartum breasts or icing a tender perineum!
Qi and blood are replenished through proper nourishment and rest. TCM places the utmost emphasis on preventative medicine at this time – addressing minor imbalances and replenishing blood and energy loss before these can snowball into chronic health issues.
What we do at the Golden Month is deeply rooted in TCM. Our lovely Co-founder, Dr Carla Brion is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, qualified in herbalism, acupuncture and human biology. Her extensive education has seen her train in Chinese hospitals and observe, firsthand, the traditional eastern approach to postnatal care.
Our ready-made meals, teas and home recipe bases are informed by her comprehensive nutritional and herbal knowledge, and it is Dr Carla that our Adelaide golden mamas meet with for their in-home acupuncture and mother warming treatments. Carla can also prescribe herbal preparations targeted to your specific health concerns after birth.
Acupuncture and herbs are especially useful for lactation, perineal tenderness, postnatal anxiety and depression, mastitis, and night sweats. I (Nadia) have personally been looked after by Carla and marvelled at her witchcraft when my stubborn case of mastitis, which had reappeared shortly after a full course of antibiotics, then vanished after one acupuncture treatment.
Doing the month
'Zuo yuezi' is an integral part of Chinese postpartum tradition. Its English translation is ‘doing the month’ – meaning forty days of total rest and recovery. During this time the new mother’s only role is to feed and bond with her baby, while being fed and tended to by her extended family. Even activities many would consider relaxing, like reading or watching television, are not advised because they expend qi, which is already depleted.
Zuo yuezi pays homage to the sacredness of the postpartum period and its implications for the health of the new mama and her baby, as well as the wellbeing of her family and the wider community.
Sitting the month is very much still alive in modern China. Female relatives pay daily visits to bring specially prepared meals and take care of mama and baby. Should parents live away from the new mother, they’ll often fly in and live with her for at least a month. For those without family help, dedicated confinement centres exist across the country. While many modern mothers have abandoned zuo yuezi’s stricter rules, like no washing or screen time, the core values of resting indoors, and staying warm and well-nourished, are commonly upheld.
Healing through food
Nutrient dense food is perhaps the most essential aspect of postpartum care in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Specific foods and herbs are chosen for their warming, blood-building and qi and yang strengthening properties. The new mama requires increased nutrition to replenish what has been lost during pregnancy and birth, and to sustain breastmilk production if she is breastfeeding.
Meals should be energy rich, yet easy to digest - soups, stews and broths are an excellent option because they provide an abundance of vitamins and minerals in highly available form.
The heroes of postpartum nutrition in TCM and stalwarts of the Golden Month food menu are:
Ginger: incredibly warming and antioxidant rich, and aids digestion and blood circulation. Ginger should be used in small amounts while postpartum bleeding is heavy and increased once lochia flow diminishes.
Black vinegar: high in amino acids, which are essential to tissue repair, and can aid in postpartum healing. Black vinegar also warms and purifies the blood, aiding digestion and circulation, and relieving constipation.
Black sesame: packed with calcium, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins and essential fatty acids, all of which aid healthy lactation, while replenishing blood and qi. Importantly, black sesame contains tryptophan, a mood stabiliser, which helps to relieve the baby blues.
Raw foods are typically avoided as they are less easily digested and go against the all-important warming principle.
Per TCM custom, the new mama should dress warmly, remain indoors, and avoid drafts during her sitting month, to avoid cold penetration. While impractical and isolating for many new mothers to remain completely confined, taking care to stay warm and keep your sacrum covered, and opting for hot teas and meals over cold, can strengthen your system and greatly assist your postpartum recovery.
As well, applying external heat using a mugwort moxa stick, held above the lower abdomen, stimulates circulation, while clearing and toning the uterus. Heat is especially useful in relieving postpartum aches and pains.
The best of ancient medicine in a modern world
While some of TCM’s stricter postpartum tenets aren’t practical in today’s world, we can take important lessons from this rich and well-developed system of medicine. Our Golden Month is a refreshed interpretation of ‘doing the month’, warming the mother with herbs, moxa and nourishing meals and teas, providing well-deserved TLC, and some respite from the demands of early motherhood, minus the intrusion of live-in house guests and extended family comings and goings.
We look forward to welcoming you into our circle of mamas and caring for you during your sacred golden month.