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Bringing life into this world can be as ethereal an experience as it can be exhausting. The journey from conception to birth is often overwhelming, confusing, and full of new experiences. But the science of Ayurveda recommends the best practices in terms of diet and wellness for each stage—from when a couple is planning to conceive to the postnatal period. Ayurveda complements any medical care that you may be undergoing during your pregnancy and makes it well-rounded and wholesome, based on not just the physiological progression but also changes in your state of dosha, which can cause significant discomfort during pregnancies if they are not brought into balance.
In Ayurveda, pregnancy is a spiritually significant time for the mother-to-be—a time when self-care becomes a priority for the health of both the mother and the baby. Ayurveda places great focus on prenatal care, in addition to the care during and after pregnancy (postnatal care). Given its holistic approach, Ayurveda also considers the physical surroundings and mental and emotional health as determining factors in addition to the mother’s physical health. Her emotional security, happiness, emotional, and physiological and spiritual nourishment are all important for a smooth and healthy pregnancy.
Pre-Pregnancy: Planning to Conceive
According to Ayurveda, reproduction of a healthy offspring is determined by four factors which are Ritu (meaning season, signifies right time/period for conception), Kshetra (means area; the uterus and mother’s body should be healthy), Ambu (signifies nutrients from the food) and beej (the seed—the ovum and sperm must be healthy ).
Garbha Sanskara (Guide for the Womb)
The beautiful practice of Garbh Sanskara takes care of these four factors and has a profound impact on the baby’s health and appearance. Garbh in Sanskrit means the fetus in the womb and Sanskara roughly translates to conditioning or impressions. This practice involves cleansing of the female’s body and womb, improving the quality of the ovum, improving the sperm quality and count in the male, and removing any imbalances of the doshas in addition to counseling the couple in order to create a congenial environment for conception. It is recommended to start this practice at least three months prior to conception in order to ensure that the couple is in a positive state of mind which is essential for a healthy progeny. Here, experts administer herbal treatments for cleansing and strengthening of bones in addition to improving the overall health of the mother in order to make her ready to bear and nourish a baby. Garbh Sanskara covers pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and the breastfeeding phase. According to Ayurveda, the couple must be loving and respectful towards each other in order to bring forth a healthy child. Loving relationships are an excellent source of positive spiritual nourishment for the fetus.
Cravings need to be satisfied. Any food cravings felt by the mother during pregnancy must be satisfied. Ayurveda believes that the cravings are a result of deficiency of that property/nutrient in the body of the fetus and so the fetus expresses its desire of having a particular food through the mother.
Avoid stressful situations. Expectant mothers should stay away from horror or violent films. Avoid too much travel or big changes like shifting a house during pregnancy, as these can potentially cause Vata imbalance which in turn impacts the sleep pattern, diet, and mental health of the expecting mother and the fetus. Be relaxed, study scriptures, listen to soothing music, chants, and surround yourself with positive stimulus.
Imparting love and warmth through oil massage. Regular and gentle oil massage during and after pregnancy is essential as it reduces swelling in the body, improves blood circulation, regulates Vata, improves bone strength, and aids in the proper functioning of body organs. Sesame oil should be heated up by placing it in a container in warm water. This warm oil should be gently pressed and massaged into all parts of the body and followed by a few minutes of rest.
Abhyanga also eliminates stress and fatigue, and has a grounding and relaxing effect on the body of the mother, which is undergoing a hundred changes.
Pranayama and meditation. Breathing practices increase oxygen flow to the fetus which is essential for its healthy growth in addition to improving hemoglobin levels in the mother’s body. A few minutes of regular meditation is a must—it provides the mother and baby with deep rest, and an emotional rebalancing. Pranayama and meditation also increase the secretion of feel-good hormones like oxytocin in the body. In addition, certain yogasanas that strengthen the pelvic floor muscle of the mother and increase elasticity of the muscles can be learned and practiced.
Garbhopadravas (health challenges faced during pregnancy). During pregnancy, the mother may face a number of health issues which are called garbhopadravas in Ayurveda. These may include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, constipation, lack of appetite, fever, swelling in one or more body parts, itchy skin, anemia, and problems related to bladder function. Ayurveda suggests a certain diet regime that can help face these health challenges and supports a smoother pregnancy experience.
Diet and Care
Expectant mothers should consume wholesome, satiating, fresh, and nutritious food prepared with love and attention. Providing the mother with proper food, unconditional love, care, and comfort is crucial during this period as insufficient nutrition and lack of care can lead to congenital anomalies, according to Ayurveda. Consume all tastes like sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and astringent while giving special emphasis on the diet suggested by Ayurveda, based on an individual’s dosha type. The diet needs to be nutritious enough to meet the increased requirements like maintaining the mother’s health, formation of new cells and tissues in the body of the fetus, and providing the mother with the strength required for giving birth and for lactation.
Include a variety of foods such as
- Cereals including rice, wheat and millets
- Cooked pulses
- Leafy greens like spinach, fenugreek, mint and amaranth
- Roots like sweet potato, garlic, ginger, onion and turmeric
- Dried fruits like apricot, resins, figs, almonds, dried dates
- Spices like cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper
- Fresh seasonal fruits like pomegranate, dates, banana, apple, oranges, lime, avocados
- Variety of milk products.
- Substitute refined sugar with jaggery and prefer rock salt over refined table salt.
- Avoid consumption of caffeine, soft drinks, wine, and alcohol.
Adequate vitamin D level must be maintained in the body of the mother-to-be. Deficiency of this vitamin leads to depression and fatigue and also hinders the production of serotonin, the hormone associated with mood, appetite and sleep.
The Ayurveda Pregnancy Diet by Month
Ayurveda suggests certain foods to be included in your pregnancy diet depending on the requirements of each month.
First and Second Month
Expectant moms should include sweet, cold, and liquid food in her diet as this type of food is easy to digest, work as appetizers, and also prevent dehydration in addition to aiding in stabilizing the fetus. Sweet food aids in formation and growth of cells and helps stabilize Vata. Dates, ripe bananas, and grapes are also some of the stabilizing foods which are easily digestible, loaded with nutrients, and are excellent immunomodulators. Consuming a spoonful of water chestnut powder daily with milk and ghee (clarified butter made from cow’s milk) in the first and second month may also help in stabilizing the fetus. Make sure your body constitution allows digestion of milk and dairy. Regular consumption of cow’s milk and ghee is beneficial at this time. Milk is also helpful in stabilizing the fetus in addition to providing many essential nutrients like folic acid, carbohydrate, fat, proteins, amino acids, iodine, calcium, minerals, and enzymes. Small quantities of coconut water and fresh fruit juices should be consumed frequently.
Frequent intake of rice with milk and ghee at breakfast and lunch, in addition to other easily digestible items and fruits is helpful. Add honey to your rice gruel or to your cup of cow’s milk and enjoy the sweet taste. Honey is an excellent antibiotic and analgesic, and also helps to reduce heartburn, morning sickness, and discomfort in the gut. Major organs of the fetus are developed during the first three months; the mother’s body also goes through many physical and hormonal changes causing morning sickness and nausea. Mildly sweet food, milk with honey, and ghee will help reduce morning sickness and prevent dehydration.
Consume good quantities of food at breakfast and lunch. Include healthy fat in your diet as the fetus develops the body tissues in this month. Rice can be combined with milk and ghee, or with yogurt.
Adding 10 grams butter to your rice and milk gruel will provide you with the fat content and the essential nutrients like protein, vitamins, foliate, and minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Potassium is important for muscle activity and uterine contractions while protein is required for muscle development. Fruits like mango, watermelon, white pumpkin, yellow pumpkin, and pomegranate should be consumed.
Consume rice with cow’s milk and ghee. Consuming Shashti rice—a specific variety of rice also called Njavara, grown in the south of India, well known for its excellent medicinal properties—can help as it is easy to digest and helps in balancing tridoshas. Shashti rice is loaded with micronutrients and is beneficial for the circulatory, respiratory, and digestive systems.
Cow’s milk and ghee should be consumed in judicious quantity. Rice gruel or ghee medicated with gokhshur is recommended. Gokhshur (Tribulus terrestris) is an Ayurvedic herb that is found in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East and is known for its invigorating, diuretic , immunomodulatory, and antihypertensive properties. Consuming Gokhshur in the sixth month will help relieve edema and water retention problems commonly faced by the end of the second trimester of pregnancy.
As the size of the fetus increases, the expectant mother may feel discomfort in chest and throat regions. Consume frequent easily digestible meals in smaller quantities to feel better. Continue eating rice with milk and ghee. The growing fetus needs a good amount of calcium in the third trimester. Eat calcium-rich foods in order to prevent pregnancy-led osteoporosis.
Eighth Month and Ninth Month
Continue to include rice with milk and ghee in your diet. The increased size of the fetus hinders the functioning of the excretory system. Ayurveda suggests that a medicated enema with oil be given to the expecting mother for clearing up the retained toxins and restoring the nervous system. Tampons or cotton swabs soaked in medicated oil should be placed vagina in order to lubricate and soften the birth canal, increase its elasticity, and regulate the apaan vayu which is essential for a normal vaginal delivery.
Giving birth is an extremely draining process; afterward, the mother’s body is weak and nourishing food is required for recovery and proper lactation. The baby is now out of the mother’s body but is still totally dependent on her—the nourishment that the baby receives will depend on what food the mother consumes. At this stage, ghee and healthy fats should be consumed in prescribed amounts along with easy to digest and wholesome food. The mother and baby should get regular massages with medicated oils and herbs, along with proper rest. Exposure to pollutants and harmful rays must be avoided since the baby has an evolving immune system. At this stage, along with the mother and baby’s physical health, it is also important to pay attention to the mother’s mental health, since it is during this time that many new mothers experience symptoms of postpartum depression.