How the Fourth Trimester Can Be Healing
Making a baby is hard work. But it doesn’t compare to pregnancy, which for many women can be exhausting and trying and not at all the “Hey-look-at-me-I’m-all-glowy-and-dewy” experience, amirite? However, both pale in comparison to the fourth trimester – that time after birth (no pun intended) when your body, mind, spirit, emotions, relationships, career, and basically life as you knew it, all transition. The transition can be icky. It’s the in-between. The unknown. The confuzzled. And it can last for months or linger for years.
All of this is not to say that we mamas don’t love our kiddos: Would have done (and did everything) to have them; adore their milk-drunk, mouth-gaping, eyes closed snuggles, and don’t mind checking the monitor copious times in a night to check their breathing.
That “but” is a lot to unpack. Often there is a shocking lack of preparation or education about the initial few months at home.
Sitting the Month
Chinese medicine and postpartum traditions are rich. In post-natal Chinese culture, after the rigors of pregnancy and birth, women practice 40 days of total rest and recovery. The belief is that this is a sacred time and the mother’s only job is to feed and get to know her new baby. It is also a time of seclusion. This is both for the baby–to make a gentle transition into the world–and for the mother who conserves her energy to heal. The latter is thought to ensure good health for the future, making the mother strong to tackle the demands of motherhood and preserve her reproductive health for additional children. It is believed to also help create an easier experience down the line with menopause and aging. This is not at all like our fourth trimester in Western culture, where everyone clamors to meet the little one and mothers go days without showering or sleeping while they run households, go back to work swiftly, and generally try to hold it all together.
Chinese medicine also supports the “warming” of mothers with nourishing and warming foods and by keeping the abdomen and sacrum covered to protect from cold. After delivery, yin and yang energies in the woman are thought to be unbalanced since a great deal of yang energy is lost in the process of giving birth. There is also a great deal of blood and qi lost, which are both protective and warming. This all needs to be replenished.
To aid in postpartum recovery and the fourth trimester, specific acupuncture treatments that include moxa (the mugwort herb) are utilized. These can begin a week after childbirth for those giving birth vaginally, and two weeks after childbirth with a cesarean. Moxa is burned (think like sage or palo santo) and held above the abdomen to warm and help with healing, circulation, and reshrinking of the uterus. It also relaxes and helps repair the stretched tendons and ligaments of the pelvis that often give us pain at the end of pregnancy due to an influx of hormones.
Speaking of hormones, remember that during pregnancy you have an abundance of hormones that then get flushed out in a flash after delivery. Because acupuncture also aids in anxiety, depression, and mood imbalances, it can also be curative of the complex and conflicting emotions that arise postpartum, all part of the great hormonal shift. Acupuncture and moxa provide a powerful way to restore energy and increase your sense of wellbeing during this transformative time.
Healing with Food
When it comes to nutrition in the fourth trimester, food is medicine, as always. The warming trend continues, with specific suggestions for postnatal recovery and breastfeeding mothers such as ginger, bone broth, soaked pulses, and eggs (providing there are no special dietary requirements or food sensitivities). In addition, Chinese herbs are often used in traditional postpartum preparations, customized to each woman and her specific body type and requirements.
Being part of a woman’s birth journey from fertility to delivery prep to postpartum recovery is an honor. While our culture doesn’t exactly back 40 days of sheer rest, we are here to offer a supportive framework and nourishing roadmap for recovery. Often, simple practices to facilitate healing are the most meaningful.