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Childbirth is a natural part of life, and as with all things natural the less medical intervention the better. Yet, this natural process, which women have been doing for many thousands of years, has become highly medicalised.
There are good reasons for the medicalisation of the birthing process. Before the proper understanding of how infectious diseases spread, and of the importance of strict hygiene procedures, childbirth was potentially a dangerous time for both mother and baby*.
Though most deliveries proceed without mishap, giving birth in a hospital offers the reassurance that there are experts on-hand if things do go wrong and these days, the great majority of births take place in hospitals and under medical supervision.
Yet hospitals can be busy, bright and noisy and not always the most conducive of environments for a newly born child. The ancient knowledge of Ayurveda can help by providing many natural procedures that can give mother and baby physically, emotionally and spiritually support during this special time.
A consciousness-based approach to delivery
Labour is a time of profound transition and transformation; a time to turn within. Maharishi AyurVeda offers a consciousness-based approach to delivery.
Preparing for labour
The proper preparation for labour will improve your experience of giving birth.
- Confront and process the natural fears you have around delivery
- Having all the information you need about the process – even the location where you will deliver your child
- Get to know your care providers
- Be prepared to accept medical help if it becomes necessary
- Have trusted people in place to support you during and after the birth
- Be prepared to work with your body while delivering your child
- Regular practice of Transcendental Meditation will prepare you mentally, emotionally and spiritually
- Yoga practice will help you develop strength and flexibility in your body and mind
- Pranayama breathing exercises are an invaluable tool to help bring you to a place of inner quietness
- Daily sesame oil massage in the weeks and months before birth will ensure your tissues are pliable and lubricated, and will also help you avoid stretch marks.
- Be as settled as you can for as long as you can during delivery – when you stay relaxed you enhance the timely and appropriate production of hormones that help in the delivery of your baby
- Turn within and let your attention be with your baby, especially between contractions
- Between contractions, your partner can ease your pain and help you relax by gently massaging your back and by applying gentle pressure to your lower back.
- Eat lightly during the early part of labour so that you have the energy to sustain yourself throughout the birth
- If the labour takes some time, snack on easily digested foods such as soups and fruit
- It is important to stay hydrated, so have plenty of water and fruit juices available
- A dimly lit room will be more conducive to relaxation than a bright room
- Use aroma blends: Vata Balance Aroma Oil helps with relaxation and pain; Muscle Rest Aroma Oil helps relax muscles that can get tense and over-strained during labour; Emotional Strength Aroma Oil helps balance fraught emotions
- A hot bath or shower during labour will help reduce pain levels
- Listen to soothing music, such as Gandharva Veda ragas.
At birth and immediately after
- When your baby emerges, ask for the lights to be turned down low – this will help its eyes adjust to the bright outside world
- The room should be quiet to help settle your baby and help it adjust to a more stimulating noise environment
- The room should be warm, with pleasing aromas
- Immediately place the baby on your belly or in your arms so that he or she continues to feel your presence
- Talk softly to your baby
- The surge of emotions you feel holding your baby encourages the release of hormones that stimulate the uterus to contract and expel the placenta
- The close bonding between mother and baby is of utmost priority, so enjoy being with your baby for the first hours.
The days following birth
- Breast feed, bathe and massage your baby with oil every day
- Be entirely available for all your child’s needs
- The care and confidence with which you handle your baby develops a strong inner sense of identity and security in the child
- A lot of body fluids are lost during delivery, so you will need to rehydrate with plenty of water, herbal teas and fresh juice
- Listen to your appetite and when it kicks in, begin with easily digestible soups and hot milky cereals, advancing to more substantial foods as your hunger levels increase
- Organise your family or friends to prepare fresh delicious nutritious foods for you
- Following pregnancy and delivery you may feel both blissful and exhausted. Honour yourself, your partner and your child by taking everything slowly and easily.
The weeks following birth
According to Ayurveda the first six weeks after giving birth is a critical period for the mother.
- Relax, meditate and sleep as much as you can in the first few weeks after giving birth – this will promote the connection of your body-rhythms with those of your child. The more you rest the more you will be able to enjoy your child
- Set up support systems to help with meals, cleaning and odd jobs, so you can focus on replenishing yourself and caring for your baby
- When your baby sleeps, you should rest and don’t be tempted to do too much
- Focus on feeding, cuddling, rocking, holding, carrying and massaging your baby
- Daily sesame oil massage is advised for the mother. Your baby will also greatly benefit from a daily oil massage and Almond oil is gentle for the delicate skin of a young child.
- The sense of touch is the one of the best ways to communicate love and emotional nourishment to your baby
- Talk to and laugh with your baby
- Provide nourishment through all its senses – music, aromas and colourful decor
- To help heal your perineum apply Aloe Vera gel during the initial weeks after birth
- If haemorrhoids have occurred take warm sitz baths with soothing herbs, such as lavender, rosemary, chamomile and slippery elm, added to the bath water. Applying Aloe Vera gel is also helpful.
- Herbs that help to tone up the uterus and promote breast milk include Shatavari, Ashwagandha, Ashoka and Liquorice Root Powder.
- Useful kitchen spices to include in your diet and as teas are fenugreek, fennel, and cinnamon. These spices not only promote breast milk and make it tastier, but also help the baby’s digestion.
* Editor’s note: We are so frequently told that in past centuries life expectancy was low that one often gets the impression that most people used to die before the age of 50. But this is far from the case – in previous centuries, if you survived childbirth your life expectancy would dramatically improve, and if you survived the first few years of childhood, your life expectancy would be almost as good as it is today.