The experience of labor and delivery is different for every woman, but no matter what happens, giving birth takes a significant toll on the body. Post-delivery, all mothers are deeply in need of healing. The first three postnatal months, sometimes called the “4th trimester”, are a period of excitement and joy, but also exhaustion and struggle.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the months after delivery are a time when caring for a new mother is essential. Many Chinese women still follow the ancient practice of confinement, a 40-day period in which a woman stays home with her newborn and is replenished by nutrition, herbs and acupuncture. Family and friends offer assistance, allowing her to rest despite the round-the-clock needs of her infant. Extra support continues for the next few months, giving her body the time to heal while she bonds with her child.
American women, however, are generally expected to “bounce back” with little assistance, regardless of their physical condition or the fact that it’s virtually impossible to get adequate sleep when caring for a newborn. Many women have no choice but to return to work or to full-time care of older children very soon after giving birth, sometimes even one or two weeks after delivery.
Fortunately, TCM can help mothers in the Western world. TCM supports recovery, enhances breastfeeding and reduces depression and anxiety. If a woman is able to see her acupuncturist just once after her baby is born – ideally 3 days to 2 weeks post-delivery– she will reap significant benefits from treatment. Further visits will facilitate faster, more complete recovery.
Many women, however, find getting out of the house with an infant difficult and exhausting. An acupuncturist can provide Chinese Herbs to assist recovery at home. Herbal prescriptions are precisely formulated for individual needs. They have been studied in TCM for millennia, and current research support their effectiveness. In addition, a dietary program based on TCM will ensure proper nutrition during this period.¹
Here are three ways herbs and acupuncture can mitigate the most difficult aspects of the 4th trimester:
1. Healing the Body
Most mothers spend the first weeks with their newborn in a state of depletion. Their bodies have been through labor, vaginal tears or other injuries, and significant blood loss. C-sections and problematic deliveries are particularly exhausting and can be traumatic. And during the 4th trimester, factors like sleep deprivation, work obligations, strained relationships and emotional distress can seriously undermine the progress of recovery.
Acupuncture and/or herbs are used to enhance a woman’s natural healing process. Post-Partum treatments stimulate the lymphatic system, which clears inflammation so damaged tissue can heal. Treatments also boost the production of blood, which supplies tissue with the materials needed for repair. As tissue is revitalized, physical energy gradually returns.
Herbs promote the onset of sleep and improve quality so the brief hours of slumber between feedings are deeper and more restful. Tissue regrowth occurs primarily during deep sleep. Sleep is crucial for mood stabilization and may be the single most important factor in recovery and successful mother-baby bonding.
Studies shows that acupuncture alleviates postnatal abdominal pain, uterine discharge, and urinary incontinence. Moxibustion (the practice of applying burning mugwort directly or indirectly to the body) can help recontract the uterus, while herbs regulate hormones and bring the body back into balance.²
2. Treating Post-Partum Depression and Anxiety
The causes of Post-Partum Depression and Anxiety are different for each woman, and they will each present with unique symptoms. Some women experience depression rooted in grief – for example, a woman may feel she had to give up an important part of herself when she became a mother. For other women, anxiety arises from worry – about their child, relationships, work or other stressors. And for some, the experience of childbirth itself has left them feeling physically unequipped for the task of caring for a new baby.
TCM sees PPD as a symptom, rather than a disease unto itself. When strong emotions are not expressed fully, they are held within the body and obstruct the function of the nervous system and other internal processes. Also known as “blockage,” obstruction leads to physical pain and emotional distress. Conversely, physical pain from blockage can create or worsen negative feelings.
Chinese herbs for PPD energize the nervous system and alleviate the individual disharmony of each client. Researchers in China have published findings that show herbs to be effective for PPD.³
Promoting overall healing and sleep is critical in the treatment of PPD. When strength and vitality are robust, strong emotions are felt, but do not become entrapped in the body. Therefore, they don’t cause depression, pain and debilitation.
3. Supporting Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding, the most natural way to feed a baby, is not always easy, even for experienced mothers. A delicate balance of supply and demand must be reached for breastmilk to be plentiful and available to the child.
When a woman has low milk supply, a TCM practitioner will select herbs that invigorate blood production, which nourishes lactation glands to increase output. Difficulties with “let-down,” or the release of milk before feedings, are treated with herbs that increase blood circulation, promoting the movement of all fluids within the body.
When milk is not released properly it remains inside the breast, causing engorgement. This condition is uncomfortable, but if it results in infection, or mastitis, it can be excruciating. Acupuncture is highly successful at treating both conditions because it’s more aggressive than herbs with an immediate effect. Herbs prescribed after acupuncture will further release engorgement and help the body fight infection.
Research in Europe demonstrates that acupuncture may increase the chance of successful breastfeeding by almost 20%³. Breastfeeding has been shown to enhance recovery and reduce the likelihood of PPD. And breastfeeding is undeniably the healthiest choice for a baby, especially in the first year.
At Tara Diaz Wellness, we encourage new mothers to participate actively in choosing a treatment plan that will support them during the post-partum period. We believe meeting the needs of new mothers has a positive effect on the rest of the family, which in turn helps assure that the newest family member has a secure and healthy start in life.