Yay! Your client is pregnant! Congratulations. You are now responsible for assisting in the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health of two human beings at the same time. It’s exciting for all involved, and scary sometimes too. As an Ayurvedic practitioner, your job is to assist the mother (and often other family members) through this period of transition and growth.
When your client goes to a doctor that practices only conventional medicine, they’ll take her pulse, blood pressure and weight, prescribe a somewhat healthy diet and some prenatal vitamins. But as you know full well being an Ayurvedic practitioner, taking true care of yourself is much more in-depth than that, especially for a pregnant woman. The conventional diet and vitamins give almost no specific outlines for a healthy pregnancy and easy birth, and do not recognize unique constitutions. For that, you need Ayurveda.
One of the most important things to remember when speaking with your pregnant patients is that everything the mother-to-be touches, smells, tastes, hears and sees should be sattvic for both the mother and child. Ayurvedic texts offer a wide variety of detailed recommendations to bring the woman into a sattvic state in mind, body and spirit, as well as how to bring her immediate environment into a nourishing and calm place. We will give over many of those in this article and the coming installments.
Another important aspect of this to remember is that the growth of the fetus and the process of giving birth are controlled by Apana Vata, the downward-moving Sub-dosha of Vata. When Apana Vata is strong and balanced, the mother-to-be will have plenty of energy and nourishment for both the baby and herself. But if the mother is stressed, tired and imbalanced, the upward moving Sub-dosha of Vata, Prana Vata, will be forced to start moving downward to support the baby. Without Prana Vata moving upward and promoting joy and an abundance of energy, the mother will feel tired, overwhelmed and depressed. Before pregnancy, during pregnancy and postpartum, a major focus for you as a practitioner must be to help the client balance Vata, the Dosha of the nervous system. If Vata Dosha is imbalanced in the mama-to-be, the mother and baby will both experience negative repercussions. The developing baby might suffer from dry skin, musculoskeletal problems and hyperactivity in the womb. The mother could experience fluid retention, high blood pressure and/or blood spotting. Correcting imbalances while pregnant is much easier than once the child is born!
Of course it would be ideal if the woman could balance the Doshas BEFORE getting pregnant. Pregnancy aggravates all three of the Doshas, not just Vata. Vata gets aggravated because of the complete mental, physical and emotional change, Pitta because of the increase in metabolism and heat and Kapha becomes imbalanced because of the increase in the size of the physical body. If you are working with a woman who is planning on getting pregnant, the following information is still helpful! If you are working with a woman that has already conceived that is great too. She still has plenty of time to prepare for a happy and easy pregnancy and birth.
The rest of this article will go into detail about the first of three steps to take as an Ayurvedic practitioner to help your pregnant client have a healthy and easy pregnancy, birth and postpartum experience. Students of Ayurveda and interested laypeople will find the following information helpful as well. Parts 2 and 3 will come soon.
Step 1: Assist your client in mapping out her monthly diet for at least the next nine to 14 months.
It is wise to begin with making sure the client’s pathya is right because the Vedic texts expressly claim that having a sattvic and nourishing diet will keep the Doshas balanced so as to prevent constipation, indigestion, depression, fatigue, irritability and many other symptoms often associated with pregnancy in modern day society. A proper meal plan will also make any herbal medicines you prescribe much more effective.
The mother-to-be needs food that is organic, fresh and easily digested so the dhatus of both her and the baby can be thoroughly nourished. Sattvic foods include ghee, coconut oil, fresh and lightly cooked vegetables, fruits, grains and some dairy and wheat. Blanched almonds, whole and split mung beans, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, ginger, kale, collard greens and broccoli are also important balancing items to include. With these foods and spices, both the mother and baby can enjoy vibrant health.
An example of a balanced day’s meal would be a lighter breakfast of fresh fruit or kunyi (soupy white rice with rock salt, ginger, turmeric and ghee) and a bigger lunch around noon of rice, split mung beans, sweet potatoes and kale. Dinner should be eaten at least three hours later, and it should be a lighter version of lunch.
Mama-to-be should avoid leftovers, old food, undercooked legumes, aged cheese, spicy food, fermented items, meat, non-organic food, eggs, alcohol, food with preservatives, peanuts, garlic, onions, raw food and mushrooms. Also avoid drinking more than one cup of Tulsi tea each day, no more than 1 teaspoon of honey daily and avoid all junk food, soda, alcohol and marijuana.
During or after the 4th month, the mother may begin to experience cravings or an increase in cravings. This is because she is eating for herself as well as the baby’s rapidly developing unique constitution. As long as the craving is not for something unhealthy that could imbalance the Doshas and is consumed in moderation (like anything) then this “knowing” should be followed.
Incorporating all six tastes into meals (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent) is always important but especially so during pregnancy. When pregnant, the mother should focus on including sweet, sour and salty in her diet because these three tastes balance Vata Dosha the most. The sweet taste in particular is essential because it is the most nourishing for the growing baby.
For example rice, dates, apricots, honey, pure maple syrup, sweet potatoes, quinoa, beets and carrots are specific sattvic sweet foods to enjoy without turning to sugary items. Milk is cooling, sweet and nourishing for both mother and baby and makes for a healthy snack in-between meals or before bed. One cup of warmed, raw milk with a teaspoon of ghee boosts the immunity, complexion and ojas of the pair. This warm milk drink can also be made with cardamom or turmeric.
On another important note, it is vital that pregnant women who eat meat pay close attention to how many times they are defecating each day. The healthy amount is 3-4 times daily: once upon awakening and once about 20 minutes after each meal. Meat causes constipation and sluggish digestion, which can create problems for mother and baby.
How the mother-to-be eats is very important too. She should eat in a calm, pleasant atmosphere with her back straight to encourage optimum digestion. The area should be quiet and relaxing without music, TV or any loud distractions. Overeating is to be avoided at all costs because this can cause indigestion and the health problems that come with digestive issues. Of course there will be some change in the amount of food eaten, but eating excessive amounts with the excuse of pregnancy is not beneficial to anyone. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, a pregnant woman only needs about 300 extra calories per day. “Eating for two” means eating more consciously, not overeating! If the proper nutrients are being consumed, then the mother doesn’t need to worry about birth weight. The healthiest weight for her unique body type will develop naturally in almost all cases.
Basically, health challenges in pregnancy can be avoided by paying very close attention to proper nutrition. For example, mood swings and morning sickness stem from low blood sugar. Hypertension, backaches and severe pain during labor come from a calcium deficiency. Varicose veins, constipation, anemia, hemorrhoids and skin discoloration come from the malabsorption of nutrients or lack of nutrients. The overall theory around diet during pregnancy is that if there aren’t enough digestible nutrients being absorbed by the mother and consequently the baby, then the nutrients that are available will go to brain development first over organ development. If the organs don’t get the necessary nutrients, they will be weakened and possibly even defective when the baby is born, creating a human that could have health problems for the rest of their life.
But even with a so-called “perfect” health regime, mama-to-be can still have symptoms like anorexia, nausea, dry mouth, vomiting, edema, fever, anemia, retention of urine and diarrhea. These nine symptoms are the main ones listed in the classical Ayurvedic texts as being associated with pregnancy. When you are working with your pregnant clients, be sure to help keep the mother calm if symptoms do arise. Remind her that she is doing the best she can and that is enough. Don’t fret and keep moving forward!