Holistic Transitions to Motherhood
Mother the Mother: Why a softer transition to motherhood is necessary
Good news! The media coverage of motherhood is changing. We’re hearing more about postpartum mood disorders and the difficulties of being a new parent. People are starting to talk about social issues like paid family leave and pumping at work. But even if the news is talking about it doesn’t mean our friends and family are reading it. They’re well-meaning, but their attention still moves very quickly from you to your new baby.
And even with the media efforts, there’s still an expectation that women will “bounce back” or “be their old selves” again soon after giving birth. Even superstars like Beyoncé admit to feeling pressure to be the woman they were before they gave birth.
And for the new mom, there’s simply major confusion about what constitutes self-care. Is it going out for a pedicure 5 days after giving birth? Is it doing your old workout? Sleeping through the night? Staying home? It’s unclear whether new moms should try to be their “old” selves, create completely new routines, or just be a hermit and hide until the baby weight has been shed. And as a result, new moms don’t know what “success” is. There’s a double punch of not feeling your best and guilt.
In my coaching practice, I talk to dozens of women who feel confused about what daily practices and routines will bring them into balance, whether they just had a baby or not. In addition to being a birth and postpartum doula, I’m an Ayurvedic coach, so I use this ancient Indian system of healing to assess the physical and mental energy of my clients and help them regain balance and confidence. In Ayurveda, our days, our bodies, and our lives are ruled by specific energies. Our job is to balance these energy forces in our bodies so that we feel vibrant and alive.
One of the reasons I became a doula was because I learned that the pregnancy/postpartum period is ruled by Vata energy. Vata energy is the energy of air and space. Vata rules transition (and having a baby is definitely a big transition!). In fact, the act of delivering a baby is a huge surge of Apana Vayu, the downward Vata energy that also rules menstruation and urination. This connection between Vata and the postpartum period was so fascinating to me because frankly, we already live in a very Vata unbalanced world.
Here are three things that make our world highly Vata
Constant multitasking with our smartphones, computers, and technology.
The overabundance of information and stimulation that’s available everywhere we turn.
A lack of delineation between “home” and “work”, “professional” and “personal”. This blurring of lines and lack of boundaries means we live in the constant in-between zone.
So when you take a person that already has a lot of Vata energy and then they get pregnant and have a baby, you’re inducing a LOT more Vata into their world. Yes, they physically had the delivery via Apana Vayu, but now that the baby has been delivered, there’s also a lot of internal space (that baby took up a lot of room!). Lastly, the parent is going through a major transition in their lives from an autonomous human to a caretaker. What a major shift in identity, time, stress, and priorities.
Have I convinced you that there’s a lot of Vata energy in the postpartum period? If so, good - because that means we’ve identified the ruling energy of the postpartum period, and we can then make informed, effective steps to bring it back into balance.
If we want to balance that Vata energy, the first guideline is to mother the mother. My Ayurvedic teacher, Ali Cramer, says you have to treat Vata like a baby. And how fitting this is for this time of life! We need to support the parents so that they can thrive in their new roles just like their baby.
Here are some specific recommendations for the postpartum period that is Vata-friendly and will help you feel like a new, better version of you, not the same person you were before:
I know that there is so much to do. Breastfeeding, diaper changes, and feeding yourself can feel like more than enough for a full day. And it is! Don’t add things to your to-do list, especially in the first 3-4 weeks as you’re getting your sea legs as a new parent. You don’t have to go to your friend’s party. You’re not obligated to take your baby to meet everyone at work. In fact, the less that you have on your calendar, the better. At this point, there are so many uncertainties around when your baby’s feeding, how they’ll feel, and how tired you’ll be. Make it easy for yourself by not planning too much, so that you can be flexible and responsive to you and your babies needs.
Create nourishing routines
If you do want to add something to your routine, how about a guided meditation, journaling, or abhyanga? Abhyanga is self-massage, and it’s particularly recommended in the postpartum period. Use organic, unrefined sesame oil and rub it into your body, using long strokes towards the heart. It will nourish your skin, remove toxins for your body, ground that vata energy and give you a chance to love on your body for the amazing things that it can do. After you apply the oil, take a quick shower to wash off. You’ll love how it feels. It can be hard to get “me time” with a new baby around, so these short 5 to 10 minute activities can make a huge difference in those early days.
Be gentle with your digestion
With a baby in your belly, your internal organs were completely reorganized inside your body. In the postpartum period, they are resettling back to their regular locations, which means that you need to be gentle with your body, including your digestive system. For Vata balancing, Ayurveda recommends warm, soft, oily foods. Lots of soups, broths, and stews will feel grounding and nourishing, while also being easier for your body to digest. That means happier digestion and a happier body (remember that your pelvic floor is recovering here too!). Keep hydrating but also use high-quality oils like olive, coconut, and avocado oils to help lubricate the digestive system internally.
Even though you have a lot of time at home now, binging on netflix and instagram might not leave you in the best mental state. The comparison game can get us down, and the high drama of the typical TV shows can leave you even more weepy. Listen to humorous podcasts. Read good books. Call your best friend. Write in your journal. Take a short walk. Meditate. Giggle with your partner. Look at family photos. Stay low tech and don’t rush yourself.
It feels too simple. Too slow. Counter to everything we think that motherhood should look like. But by giving yourself time and space to heal mentally and physically, you’ll emerge stronger, healthier, and better. You and your baby, together, will grow up.
About the Author
Samantha Attard, PhD. is a regular contributor to The Thirlby. She is a nutrition PhD, yoga instructor, doula, and Ayurvedic coach. Happy Healthy Human was born when Sam was in grad school at UNC Chapel Hill. She was doing research into diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, and realized that people need personalized nutrition and medicine in order to achieve their best health. Sam dove into Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine - ancient traditions that prize personalization and prevention. She began to use these principles as an Ayurvedic coach, labor and postpartum doula, and yoga instructor, at workshops and retreats with clients like Seventh Generation, Georgetown Medical School, and WeWork. Sam's happiest when she's outdoors in a garden or near the ocean. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.