Various cultures around the world consider the first 40 days after birth to be a sacred bonding time between the mother and baby, a time for deep nourishment, and much-needed rest. For example, in India, Ayurvedic tradition has mothers spending the first 40 days resting at their mother’s home and massaged every day to restore muscle tone and skin elasticity. Too bad in our fast-paced lives this time has become nonexistent. We are back to work too soon or let the stress get to us in any way possible. Not to mention the lack of social and family support that we were once accustomed to. Learning from the experience of my last pregnancy, I knew this time around I would need all the strength I could get.
Immediately after giving birth to my first child, all my effort, time, and any attention I could muster up from sleep deprivation were directed towards my newborn baby. Through that experience, I found I was neglecting some equally important things. My wellbeing for one, a priority that I most definitely overlooked. I believe taking time for yourself is just as essential as being present with your newborn. As mother Ru Paul says “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love somebody else?”
Gentle Birth Method
For my prenatal journey, I followed the Gentle Birth Method created by obstetrician Gowri Motha. Her practice is followed by celebs around the world like supermodels Elle MacPherson and Kate Moss and even to The Tot’s founder Nasiba Adilova. She was the first to bring water births to London in the 80s. Through her many years of working with mothers throughout their pregnancies, she developed tailor-made programs using self-hypnosis and visualization with complementary treatments such as reflexology, the Bowen technique (a holistic technique of rolling movements on the body), craniosacral technique (a gentle touch used to manipulate joints in the skull), Ayurvedic lifestyle advice, and yoga.
For my push present, my husband gifted me 10 days with my Gentle Birth Method practitioner, Paola Terzolo. Already comfortable with her from performing my prenatal care for my two pregnancies, I trusted her with healing my body and basically becoming part of the family for her 10-day stay. The Gentle Birth Method’s postnatal program intends to heal the mother and also welcome the baby into new experiences.
“After birth in Ayurveda we believe in what is called a ‘Sacred Window’ of time. A time for complete rejuvenation of a woman’s physical, mental and spiritual health; a time of precious bonding of a mother with her newborn child,” says Paola.
Here’s how I spent my tailor-made 10 days.
Postpartum Massage and Reflexology
My own post-natal journey included having a massage every day for ten days. Sounds luxurious right? As relaxing as it sounds, Paola maintains that the massage aspect is crucial in helping your organs return to their original position. “The Ayurvedic Postnatal Massage works on three points: to nurture, to detoxify, and to strengthen the body after childbirth,” she says. According to Gowri’s The Gentle Birth Method book, not only do the massages relieve tension and tone the muscles, but it can also be linked to lifting the mother’s mood, especially for those postnatal blues.
The massages include creative healing that tends to target specific areas that need some extra care. Gowri says, “Creative healing was introduced into my program as a result of the obvious need for the lower back, sacrum and coccyx (together with the muscles associated with those areas) to be extremely mobile and free from congestion to facilitate a gentle birth.” It may include general and pelvic lymphatic drainage (helps with pelvic edema, or swelling), abdominal toning, digestive treatment (toning pancreas and liver), heart treatment (improve cardiac efficiency), back and neck treatment and sciatic treatment.
Not only is reflexology calming, but it can help restore sleep patterns and even support your milk let-down when breastfeeding, according to Gowri. On my first day of reflexology, all was relaxing until Paola passed over a point on the inside and outside hollow areas under my anklebone. Intrigued by this unexplainable pain, I needed more answers. Paola explained to me that it is the zone that corresponds with your uterus, which is the organ that needs the most TLC after birth.
Massaging the mother plays a crucial role in the program, but there are many benefits in baby massage as well. Paola is a qualified IAIM Infant Massage Instructor and taught us how to massage my newborn, Nina, who suffered from colic and gas issues. Paola taught us how to ease stomach pains by stroking the abdomen. We also learned the importance of massaging the arms and legs since in the early days they are still rolled in a ball and need some lengthening.
When the baby is born there is a vacuum created in the abdomen due to the birthing process which can cause internal organs such as the liver, stomach, spleen, and uterus to prolapse down in varying degrees. According to the Gentle Birth Method, a tummy wrap prevents this and supports your internal organs by binding the abdomen daily after giving birth.
Paola would wrap a long linen cloth very tightly (emphasis on the very — to the point of not being able to eat) across my midsection. She would wrap me twice a day, after my massages, and I had to wear it all day, even when I slept. To make things even more pleasant, I had to wear a tight-fitting corset over the wrap. At times it was hard to eat, sit, or sleep, but eventually I would get used to it and would not feel it anymore. I cringe thinking about those two weeks I spent wrapped up and wearing the corset. I dreaded this part the most, but looking back, I would have to say it yielded the best results. “As our daily sessions were happening you were gently coming back into your non-pregnant body,” Paola says.
Having a solid postpartum nutrition plan full of nutrient-rich foods plays a major role in nursing yourself back to health. During pregnancy and birth, most nutrients are given to your baby leaving you with minimal resources left for yourself. A balanced diet, with the help of supplements, can get your body back on track and especially help with your mood.
There is research linking nutrient depletion during pregnancy and lactation to postpartum depression. Nutrient depletion can affect your production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. Lower levels of folate, Vitamin D, iron, zinc, and fats have been associated with a high risk of postpartum depression.That is why being conscious of nutrient-rich diet does not stop with your child being born.
A common suggestion of the Gentle Birth Method is to stay away from gluten as much as you can. In a moment when you are trying to debloat and tone down swelling, gluten can be a trigger for inflammation. There are many stories about what to avoid when breastfeeding, but I believe all babies may react differently to their mother’s diet. Personally, I tried to stay away from dairy, cruciferous vegetables (especially broccoli and cauliflower), and alcohol. Slowly as her stomach gets stronger and able to handle my diet better, I started returning to my normal diet with fewer restrictions.
When you are breastfeeding, hydration plays a big role. Paola suggested I drink 3 liters of water a day (about 10 to 15 8 oz glasses). Water is the main ingredient in your milk, so it is only logical that if you are breastfeeding you need extra water to be able to keep your own hydration while producing milk for your baby. Not to mention the more fluids you take in, the faster your body will restore itself. We also integrated fennel herbal tea to add in my own digestion and even the baby’s.
Equipped with all the supplements suggested by Paola, these are what helped me with my journey:
Mini G: This supplement can help with mood-boosting. Forgetfulness and post-natal depression is common and Mini G, made from pure bee pollen kernels, is said to improve the mood immediately and is also said to be great for the baby blues and improving memory.
Triphala: The most dreaded thing after giving birth… pooping. The sheer fear of the pain of going to the bathroom for the first time after giving birth – and the times that follow – can lead any newby mother to refrain from even going. Triphala, an herbal preparation originating in India, is supposed to act as a body cleanser by detoxifying the colon. It’s been said to purify the blood and remove toxins from the liver while also promoting digestion. Paired together with a good probiotic it can help your first bathroom encounter go a bit smoother.
Lactors: Improves the production of breast milk. Especially useful immediately after birth for two to three weeks till mother and baby have established a natural rhythm of breastfeeding.
Was the Gentle Birth Method Worth It?
All in all, I was very satisfied with the outcome of my program. But one thing I must admit is the constant guilt I felt. I was sensitive to the fact that I was taking so much time away from not only my newborn but also my son and husband. In the back of my mind, I tried to convince myself that I needed this for me – to heal faster to be better for my children. My initial days were spent mulling over this battle of guilt, but then I was able to rationalize because I knew Nina was in good hands and my older son could care less that I wasn’t around because he was spoiled by everyone around him. I was then able to relax and allow my body to heal. The treatments probably would not have had such success if I did not give myself to the journey.
The return of my body pre-second pregnancy is still a long road ahead of me. My pants still do not fit, I am still peeing on myself when I workout or sneeze, and any muscle that I had prior still have yet to reappear, but the energy and stability that has transpired from my journey is majorly due to the time and work we put into my postnatal care.
If you are interested in following the Gentle Birth Method, Gowri’s book The Gentle Birth Method: The Month-By-Month Jeyarani Way Programme explains in detail how to follow her program prior, during, and post pregnancy. If you find yourself in a city without Gentle Birth Method practitioners or want something more cost friendly, her book is an excellent guide in following her program.
Feature Image Credit: Mama Moon Muse