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by Mary Melling. Senior Acupuncturist, Senior Naturopath, Founder of Paddington Clinic
There is much written about the importance of mother’s health before and during pregnancy but not so much focus about the mother’s health after the baby is born. Once the joy of the new baby is experienced often the mother’s health is forgotten and as long as there is enough milk for the baby and the baby seems content then it may be presumed that Mum is okay too. However as many of you will know who have had a child, it’s not always the case. There is a huge change in your life and many new mother’s explain that they have never worked so hard in their life after a new born.
In many cultures there are traditions for looking after the mother after she’s given birth. In China they call it “doing the month” and in this period of time the mother rests and gets the best, most nutritious food to eat including warming chicken soups with herbs such as donguai and ginger. Her job is to feed the baby and if the mother doesn’t rest she puts herself at risk of a compromised immune, poor energy and milk supply to name just a few concerns. Traditionally, she should not go outside and should not bathe.
Now all this is not quite possible in Australia where most women are desperate to have a warm shower after birth and they don’t always have the support to be allowed to rest and do nothing except feed the baby. However, it is still an important time to have as much rest as possible and to have good supplements as well as herbs. All other mammals after child birth eat the after birth which is full of nutrition. It is packed full of vitamins and minerals as well as protein. Now although it’s not part of our culture to eat this, we can still make sure Mum gets all the nutrition she needs. This includes a good quality multi vitamin and mineral and zinc levels, in particular, should be checked. Zinc deficiency has been linked with postpartum depression and so much of that good zinc supply is thrown out with the placenta. Fish oils are still important and possibly extra calcium and magnesium. There are fantastic herbs too that can help build what is known in Chinese medicine as blood and Qi. If they are nourished then the health of the mother will flourish.
Building good blood in the body will also help with the milk supply so both Mum and baby can be more content. Chicken soup can be made to help nourish the Mum and it’s recommended to use organic chickens as the whole chicken will be cooked for a few hours in water until the flesh falls off the bone. Lots of sliced ginger can be added to this mix to warm the digestion and help restore the health of the mother. Vegetables can also be added and it is a very nutritious soup to have for 2 weeks after the birth.
It’s not just the mother who needs support after the birth but the partner too. Often they become sleep deprived, overwhelmed, unsure of their role and it is important their health is looked after too. This, again, means a good diet (the chicken soup is good for them too!!), rest when they can and taking good quality supplements to support their health. I often advise couples to accept as much help as they can get with cooking, cleaning, etc and if there is no one around then at least pay for someone to clean the house.
It’s not just after the birth that we need to focus on in maintaining parents’ health; it may be an on going concern. Many a time a mother will bring her baby or young child to the clinic for health concerns and it is obvious all is not well with the Mum. She looks tired and stressed and often is needing treatment herself. Children are very sensitive beings and they know when all is not well with Mum even though she may try and put on a brave face. For this reason it is essential that Mum does put herself first at times. This means that she is doing the most she can for her nutrition, and that she is taking regular time out for herself whether to have a massage or watch a movie or go for a swim.