Postpartum Care from Ancient India
by Marci Freeman

[Editor's note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today Issue 61, Spring 2002.]

Dorothy had a rough postpartum after her first son was born. Even with a friend cooking for two weeks, Dorothy was bedridden for nearly two months: "I was exhausted all the time," she says.

By the time her second son was born, however, she had access to a very special program for mothers and babies. "That postpartum was completely different," Dorothy recalls. "The daily massages that were part of the program made me feel great. I felt the tissues and cells in my body healing and could feel myself being nourished at that deep level. I felt more robust, stronger yet more sensitive, as in more aware. The massages washed off the fatigue, so I felt more alert and able to appreciate my baby."

Alesia had no prenatal complications and a fast transition with her homebirth: The midwife walked in just as her son was crowning. But with only her husband for social support and a colicky baby, she quickly discovered that trying to resume a normal life soon after birth made her feel physically run-down, exhausted. She also suffered from being severely underweight while breastfeeding, despite trying to eat very well.

By their second pregnancies, both Dorothy and Alesia had learned about Maharishi Ayur-Veda (MAV) and its Mother and Baby program. They prepared for conception and improved their general health during pregnancy by following MAV dietary and behavioral guidelines. Alesia's baby was born easily, floating out in her amniotic sac. Alesia made use of many Mother and Baby program postpartum recommendations: resting at home for six weeks, eating specific foods cooked according to MAV advice, limiting visitors, going to sleep by 9 p.m. "I felt calmer, centered, settled and more blissful. I also felt more rested and alert, even if I was tired from being up in the night with the baby. And many of the dietary hints were simple to follow and made a world of difference in how I felt."

Dorothy and Alesia were lucky to learn about Maharishi Ayur-Veda's Mother and Baby program. Much of what is called Ayur-Veda in India has, in fact, been fragmented, forgotten, or known only to a few experts. Maharishi Ayur-Veda is considered the most complete and integrated form of this "ancient Vedic science of natural health care [which] emphasizes prevention of disease and promotion of health more than remedial medical intervention, through many cost-effective, natural approaches, including the technologies of consciousness."(1)

Rejuvenate and Restore Maternal Health

Maharishi Vedic Medicine (MVM) considers the first six weeks postpartum to be one of the special times in a woman's life when her physiology can be completely rejuvenated by following simple techniques to strengthen the mind and body. These techniques are traditionally known to prevent disorders such as depression, insomnia and indigestion. Available in its complete form in the United States since 1985, the Mother and Baby program has benefited several hundred mothers, some in Fairfield, Iowa, but others in Washington, D.C.; New York; Maine; Illinois; Washington; California; Colorado; Vermont; North Carolina and Texas. It has also been useful internationally to mothers in Canada, England, Germany, France, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Israel and Australia.

The Mother and Baby program has been implemented wherever MVM-trained health practitioners are located, or wherever savvy mothers enlist their friends and family to provide it. This has been made easier since the publication of For a Blissful Baby: Healthy and Happy Pregnancy with Maharishi Vedic Medicine, (2) which details the practical techniques of the program in a clear, personable, and interesting format. It was written by three women: a physician raised in India, a registered nurse (both mothers of twins!) and a writing instructor. (For more information, please see www.allhealthyfamily.com.) Another book, Contemporary Ayurveda: Medicine and Research in Maharishi Ayur-Veda, (3) is a general text of this health care system, with a short summary of the Mother and Baby program.

The Mother and Baby program starts after childbirth, when trained women technicians visit mothers in their homes. These technicians give the mothers a full body massage, followed by a nap and bath, while friends or family care for the baby. These treatments may continue for several days or up to six weeks, physically and mentally nourishing and balancing the mother. The technicians also give dietary and behavioral guidelines to strengthen the whole physiology, and they show the mothers specific Ayur-Vedic massage methods to use daily on their babies. The massages improve the babies' digestion and sleep. For the first six weeks postpartum, the mother and baby remain resting comfortably at home, ideally with housework and meals provided by others. The cornerstone of the program is the Transcendental Meditation® (TM) technique, which allows mothers to directly experience and enliven the deepest levels of body and mind.

Research on the TM program supports its relevance for childbearing. This technique has been found to improve sleep quality (4) and reduce insomnia, (5) improve the body's adaptation to stress, (6) reduce anxiety more than other methods of relaxation or meditation studied , (7) decrease depression, (8) increase positivity, (9) improve marital satisfaction and adjustment (10) and family life. (11) These results suggest that the TM technique alone could benefit postpartum mothers. When practiced along with other Mother and Baby program modalities, mothers have a holistic program that works in a synergistic way.

Typical reactions to the Mother and Baby program, as reported in For a Blissful Baby, are similar to those experienced by Dorothy and Alesia.

Rebecca Douglas, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., a board certified obstetrician, enjoyed the Mother and Baby program herself in Washington, D.C., after the births of her two children. She now recommends it to clients. She considers this program "for the baby's well-being; it's not an indulgence," and she observes that for new mothers who make use of these recommendations "enthusiasm seems much more predominant and the fatigue seems to be much less." (12)

Former program director Sharon Thomas was "impressed because I never saw an instance of postpartum blues or depression in all of the years I worked with this program…. Mothers looked healthier, just more supported, more rested. Their ongoing good health seemed to continue for years." (13)

Mothers who practice the TM technique consider this aspect of the Mother and Baby program a powerful way to eliminate stress and fatigue. Since this 20-minute, twice daily practice is effective regardless of culture or religion, it can be (and is) practiced by those of any lifestyle or belief. Mothers can do their TM anytime during the day, when babies are napping or children are at school. (For more information, please see www.tm.org.)

Recent scientific research supports the effectiveness of the Mother and Baby program. Danish psychologist Ragnhild Boes, PhD, compared women who participated in this program, including the TM technique, with those who did not. She found that the mothers in the program had better overall health, more confidence and happiness in new motherhood, enriched family relationships, and better physical and emotional stability. (14) This research is summarized in For a Blissful Baby.

Robin Lim, CPM and contributing editor for Midwifery Today, established her authority on postpartum with her latest book, After the Baby's Birth: A Complete Guide for Postpartum Women (revised). (15) She points out that the mothers she knows who have applied aspects of the Mother and Baby program "look more vibrant and rested from their TM practice, and from taking the time, during their postpartum, to recuperate and really rebuild their health."

Being Practical

There were few drawbacks to the Mother and Baby program cited by the moms who have used it, and these may be managed by mothers' creativity and perseverance. Certain aspects of the program may seem expensive, but considering the potential benefits, they are cost-effective. Some TM instructors may provide payment plans, and with more than 40,000 certified worldwide, the technique is available virtually everywhere.

In contrast, technicians trained in giving the Mother and Baby massages are few, and there are no current plans to train more. However, the main techniques of the massages can be grasped from For a Blissful Baby and can be done by fathers, friends, or even the mothers themselves, although it may be more restful to have this done by others. Also, healthcare professionals who are trained in MAV can fine-tune this program with dietary and herbal recommendations specific to individual mothers, although only about 200 are located in the United States. (For further information, please see www.mapi.com.)

In addition, the fact that this program is derived from a traditional Eastern system of health care may not inspire support from family members who hold exclusively to modern Western medicine. Even though the program is derived from time-tested knowledge, it may be considered alternative medicine.

Finally, on a very practical level, many mothers cannot avoid returning to their jobs and/or family responsibilities soon after birth, so resting for several weeks may not be possible.

Despite possible drawbacks, with so many program guidelines, it should be possible to put at least a few into practice without introducing strain. Alesia, the young mother quoted earlier, could manage only one massage, but she insists that if mothers try to follow even some of the program guidelines, "It could make a real difference in their postpartum health and happiness."

The 14 mothers interviewed for this article were so enthusiastic about its results and its potential benefits for mothers everywhere that it is difficult to write objectively about the Mother and Baby program. Every mom who was planning to have more children swore that she would not consider it without making concrete plans for implementing its recommendations. I heard over and again, "This is a program that every mom deserves."

The way I see it, getting the word out about this program could improve postpartum health for women of different cultures, religions and socioeconomic levels. Underprivileged mothers may especially benefit from these low-tech, natural, commonsense techniques. Also, these holistic practices are consistent with the midwifery model of care and its emphasis on personalizing long-term, optimal maternal health and preventing the need for medical intervention. Postpartum doulas would also be ideal teachers of this program and could learn to give the massages. And birth educators could incorporate MAV Mother and Baby program principles and techniques into their postpartum curricula. We might even consider comparing the postpartum adjustment of mothers who make use of this program with those who do not, just to see, in our own practices, if we detect some differences in our clients' experiences.

Greater application of this Mother and Baby program could raise postpartum health to higher levels of comfort and happiness, and should reaffirm that even in these modern times of stress and challenges, new mothers can be truly cherished.

Highlights of the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Mother and Baby Program

  • Daily massage with warm, cured sesame oil, either by trained technician or self-administered, followed by a nap and warm bath
  • Light, warm, liquid-based (soupy) and easily digestible foods, freshly and thoroughly cooked, preferably organic, especially for the first 2 weeks postpartum, with the heaviest meal at mid-day
  • Large quantities of warm, purified water, and milk, boiled and still warm, taken throughout the day and separately from meals
  • A small amount of ghee (clarified butter) in the diet
  • Home rest for three to six weeks
  • Warm environment free of drafts, harsh lights, and dust
  • Settled and quiet activity; minimum TV time
  • Limited visits from friends
  • Cooking and household work done by others if possible
  • Pleasant company during quiet meals
  • Breastfeeding and daily Ayur-Vedic massage
  • TM program practiced twice daily
  • Early bedtime (before 10 p.m.)

Director of the Center for Research on Women in Fairfield, Iowa, Marci Freeman, Ph.D., CD (DONA), promotes women's spiritual development through healthcare, and enjoys life's lessons with her gregarious husband and three entertaining, dynamically inquisitive twenty-something children.

References

  1. Hagelin, J.S. (1993). Introduction, The Physiology of Consciousness. Maharishi InternationalUniversity Press.
  2. Reddy, K., Egenes, L., Mullins, M. (1999).For a Blissful Baby: Healthy and Happy Pregnancy with Maharishi Vedic Medicine. Schenectady:Samhita Productions.
  3. Sharma, H., Clark, C. (1999). Contemporary Ayurveda: Medicine and Research in Maharishi Ayur-Veda. New York: Churchill Livingstone.
  4. Hartani, T., Henmi, T. (1990). Effects of Transcendental Meditation(TM) on the health behavior of industrial workers. Japanese Journal of Public Health 37 (10): 729.
  5. Blasdell, K. S. (1990). Acute immunoreactivity, Transcendental Meditation, and Type A/B behavior. Abstract of Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Physiological and Biological Sciences, Maharishi International University, U.S.A. Dissertation Abstracts International 50(10): 4806B.
  6. Maclean, C.R.K., Walton, K.G., Wenneberg, S.R., Levitsky, D.K., Mandarino, J.V., Waziri, R., Schneider, R.H. (1992). Altered cortisol response to stress after four months practice of the Transcendental Meditation program. Society for Neuroscience Abstracts 18(2): 1541.
  7. Epply, K., Abrams, A., Shear, J. (1989). The differential effects of relaxation techniques on trait anxiety: A meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology (45):957–74.
  8. Brooks, J., Scarano, W. (1985). Transcendental Meditation and the treatment of post-Vietnam adjustment. Journal of Counseling Development 65:212–215; Ferguson, P.C., Gowan, J.C., (1976). Psychological findings on Transcendental Meditation. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 16(3): 51–60.
  9. Gelderloos, P., Goddard III, P.H., Ahlstrom, H.H.B., Jacoby R. (1987). Cognitive orientation toward positive values in advanced participants of the TM and TM-Sidhi program. Perceptual and Motor Skills (64):1003–1012.
  10. Aron, E.N., Aron, A. (1982). Transcendental Meditation program and marital adjustment. Psychological Reports 51: 887–890.
  11. Chen, M.E. (1984). A comparative study of dimensions of healthy functioning between families practicing the TM program for five years or for less than a year. Dissertation Abstracts International 45(10): 3206B.
  12. Quoted in Reddy et al., p. 157.
  13. ibid., pp. 196–7.
  14. Boes, R. (1999). Maternal adjustment after childbirth: An investigation of the effects of the Mother and Baby Program and the TM and TM-Sidhi Programs on mothers' postpartum recovery. Maharishi University of Management. Doctoral Dissertation, Dissertation Abstracts International 60(6B): 293–4.
  15. Lim, R. (2001). After the Baby's Birth: A Complete Guide for Postpartum Women (revised). Berkeley: Celestial Arts.

If you enjoyed this article, you'll enjoy Midwifery Today magazine! Subscribe now!

FREE Newsletters
Want to reach midwives?
Advertise in Midwifery Today magazine.
Click here for more information.
Did you enjoy this article?
Receive more like it four times a year.
Subscribe to Midwifery Today magazine.
Promote your birth-related product or service.
Advertise with Midwifery Today.
Click here to check out all the options.
Through networking and education, Midwifery Today's mission is to return midwifery care to its rightful position in the family, to make midwifery care the norm throughout the world, and to redefine midwifery as a vital partnership with women.