From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine, giving birth involves losing large amounts of qi (vital life force energy) and blood. In order for a mother to have a vibrant and thorough recovery, qi and blood need to be rebuilt.
The main way the body creates blood and qi, is through digestion. The organs involved in the absorption and transformation of nutrients into blood must be given the optimal conditions the support their task. When a mother is suffering from a lack of appetite, nausea, gas, bloating, heartburn, loose stools or constipation, the correlation is that she will not be able to fully transform the foods she is eating into blood and qi. As breast milk is thought to come from an abundance of blood and qi, ensuring healthy digestion is essential to mother and baby’s health.
Blood and qi are closely related to mood, immune system health, and energy levels through the day. It is important that a new mother gets plenty of rest and eats a nourishing diet. Blood deficiency can lead to a host of problems including insomnia, fatigue, and postpartum depression. Digestion that is affected by too much sugar or damp/cold diet can lead to a yeast infection for mother or thrush for the baby. From the viewpoint of Chinese Medicine, foods that are warm and cooked require less energy for the body to digest. The cooking of food predigests it, allowing the body to spend less energy breaking food down to make it more accessible. Food that is warm is also more ideal, as the body uses energy to warm up cold food in the stomach – and in the first months of motherhood, saving energy is ideal.
- Cooked oats, rice congee, porridge made with whole grains - Soups, stews, and bone broths - Steamed vegetables and greens - Beans especially (black or red colored) that have been soaked overnight - Warming herbs that are beneficial to the digestion (ginger, cinnamon, pepper, turmeric, paprika, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, orange peel, fennel seed) - Drinking warm or room temperature beverages (never iced or cold)
Chinese Medicine evolved over thousands of years from folk medicine. Many of the herbs used in Chinese medicinal formulas are also ingredients that many people still keep in their kitchens. Food is medicine, and many Chinese herbs taste great and can be cooked into soups.
After giving birth to the womb and the pathways leading to it are left open and are vulnerable to external environmental forces. Keeping the mother warm and protected from a cold or windy environment (and from cold foods internally) can help keep cold from damaging the uterus. When cold becomes a factor, symptoms such as abdominal cramping and pain, ongoing lochia (discharge coming from the placental site and potential retained parts of the placenta), and ongoing light bleeding with clots can occur.
Moxabustion (MOXA) is a great tool to use in keeping the uterus warm. It can begin as early as 3 days after childbirth and can continue for a few weeks, or as long as needed. Moxa can help to prevent or treat hemorrhage, expel and dry the placenta, prevent prolapse, stop bleeding, tone the uterus, and stimulate milk production. Moxa builds new blood cells and also increases circulation – both of which should lend to the mother feeling more comfortable and more energetic.
Moxa sticks (non-smoking or smoking) are burned over the lower area of the abdomen (between navel and pubic bone), or over the low back for up to 20 minutes. The stick should be slowly moved in a circular or back and forth motion until the area mother feels that the warmth has sunk deeply into the area. The experience should be relaxing and should also have the effect of giving the mother more energy. It is possible to teach a family member to do moxa so that the mother can have it done once a day (which is ideal).
In some cases, people with diabetes or neuropathy may experience limited sensations on the skin. They might not be aware of being burned, and therefore it is important to use caution in these cases, and monitor the heat with your own hand, and keep a close eye on their skin for any signs of redness. It is also important not to use moxa on someone who has a fever, blisters, rash, sunburn, or other signs of heat. People with allergies or respiratory problems may find the smoke of moxa irritating. It is good to do moxa treatment in a well-ventilated room, with windows open, or outside.
First written down by Fu Qing Zhu in the 17th century, the formula Sheng Hua Tang is still frequently used for postpartum recovery. Used to warm and move out old blood, help the uterus contract, and promote discharge of the lochia, the formula also helps transform cold in the uterus, strengthen the immune system, and relieve pain. In many places this formula is considered part of standard care and added to food to create a nourishing soup with extra medicinal properties, helping the restore the uterus to pristine condition. As the herbs are warming and moving, do not use during pregnancy, any bleeding disorder, if there is hemorrhage, excessive bleeding or discharge the formula would not be appropriate. The soup is best if consumed the two weeks following childbirth (and only up to 4 weeks after).
Recipe for Sheng Hua Tang
Sheng Hua Tang
Dang Gui (Chinese Angelica root – Radix Angelicae Sinensis) 24 g Chuan Xiong (Szechuan Lovage root- Rhizoma Ligustici Chuanxiong) 9 g Tao Ren (Peach kernel – Semen Pruni Persicae) 6 - 9g Pao Jiang (blast-fried Ginger - Rhizoma Zingiberis) 2 g Zhi Gan Cao (Honey-fried Licorice – Radix Glycyrrhizae Preparata) 2 g
The herbs above can be prepared and drank as a tea. The ingredients are vegetarian/vegan and can be procured online, from local herbal pharmacy, or from a Chinese Medicine school. To prepare the herbs as a stand alone tea:
These herbs are delicious as part of a soup as well. For vegetarians, a simple vegetable broth can be prepared with a base of onion, celery, carrot, shitake mushrooms, ginger, parsley or cilantro, rosemary and thyme, and pepper and salt. Combine the herbs with the other ingredients and simmer in 8 cups of water for 1 hour.
Using the herbs to create a chicken bone broth is perhaps the most delicious. To the recipe above add 2 1/2 pounds of chicken backs (or other bones/feet) and 10 cups of water. Bring to a boil then simmer at least 4 hours.
Rachael Henrichsen, L.A.C - © Original Instructions School, 2019
1. What are some warming foods that can help restore the digestive system?
2. If there is a lack of energy and blood in a new mother, what symptoms might arise?
3. Why is it important to keep the womb warm internally and with the diet?
4.There are certain times and conditions when moxabustion is not safe, what are the signs of this?
5. There are certain times when taking the formula Sheng Hua Tang is not safe, what are the signs of this?
6. Keeping in mind having the principles of Chinese Medicine, write a creative menu plan for a day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner).