How to Plan a Healthy, Happy Postpartum
A review of Sitting Moon and an interview with authors Dr. Daoshing Ni and Dr. Jessica Chen.
By Allie Chee
It is a common expectation that the postpartum time is difficult and depleting — which is most certainly can be. Postpartum depression, failure to breastfeed (when it was intended), and other postpartum complications are not uncommon. How can a woman work to minimize and avoid postpartum complications, to quickly and safely recover her old energy level, and to provide well for her baby? Have a Sitting Moon!
What is a Sitting Moon?
(also known — with the prosaic phrase — as a “confinement period”)
In use for thousands of years, the Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, indicating the phase of the moon. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), to rejuvenate after childbirth a woman should rest for approximately one month, or one “moon.” Thus we have the title of the new book from Dr. Daoshing Ni and Dr. Jessica Chen about natural postpartum rejuvenation, Sitting Moon.
In a country where woman are often back on their feet and running soon after giving birth, one month’s rest may sound shocking, but this practice is common in many countries around the world today and throughout history. The reasons are many, but two primary purposes are:
- to allow the mother to regain the strength and essence she gave to the baby and lost in childbirth, thus supporting her long-term vitality
- to give time and ability for the mother to deeply nurture and bond with her newborn.
In case those reasons aren’t compelling enough, there is also a list of ways a woman may suffer long-term if she does not take time to heal after childbirth.
While the subject of infant care and breastfeeding are often covered extensively in books, training classes, and even some hospitals, directions for the mother’s postpartum care –if not completely ignored–certainly takes last place. Since the mother’s health and well-being support her and the infant in all ways, this new book has an important place in every mother and care-provider’s library.
What you’ll find in the book
When I heap praise on this book, I speak from personal experience. When six months pregnant, I knew it was now or never to start preparing the nutritious meals I would need postpartum. I bought a freezer and jumped on my computer to begin a search for postpartum recipes I could prepare in advance.
When I sat at the computer to commence the search, there was an auspicious email announcing the release of Sitting Moon, which I ordered immediately.
What I found in Sitting Moon was far more than a postpartum meal plan. Almost any topic of interest or need for the postpartum mother is addressed:
- yoni care
- breast care
- and natural remedies from TCM for numerous ailments of mind, body, and spirit.
There are also special sections that address issues and offer recommendations for mothers recovering from a C-section, which today could mean 35–45% of all mothers giving birth in a hospital.
As it is so vital to the effectiveness of a sitting moon, approximately 2/3 of the book is dedicated to the role of nutrition in healing and producing ample milk. There are recipes offered, week-by-week for the 4-week sitting moon, and they are specific for that week’s rejuvenation needs. They are all surprisingly simple to prepare, most include ingredients that are readily available, and they are absolutely delicious.
Forget chicken bits in a gooey sweet and sour sauce — these recipes have titles such as: Scallops with Broccoli, Vegetable Barley Soup, Baked Sesame Tofu, and most adventurous, Peanut and Pork Knuckle Soup. There are many recipes and suggestions for vegetarian moms, as well. Many recipes do include Chinese herbs, and those can be purchased from a Chinese medicine practitioner or herbalist.
Interview with the authors, Dr. Daoshing Ni and Dr. Jessica Chen
I had the opportunity to speak with the authors and to inquire further on the topic of postpartum recovery and how Chinese Medicine addresses the issues.
Q. Many women say, “I feel better and ready to move around,” often as soon as 2–3 days after giving birth. How can the decision to return to an active lifestyle quickly after delivery affect a woman’s health in the long run?
A. When women say they’re feeling great and ready for action again after a few days, this can be the adrenaline from labor. This is viewed as “false” energy. So in actuality, your body is still recovering. If you do not take some time to allow your body to heal it can run into problems in the future. A year down the line you may find yourself being more tired, having a difficult time sleeping, with difficulty in losing the pregnancy weight, or joint pain. In addition, the mother’s body is still “open,” “loose,” and “tired” in the pelvic region. Having a normal and sometimes overly active life style too quickly can cause problems in the pelvic regions such as bleeding disorders, hernia or hemorrhoids.
Q. In your book, you address special issues for women over 35 or having had a C-section. IVF pregnancies are ever on the rise, even with women under 35. What special needs do they have and would you add that category to the group who need to take special care with a Sitting Moon?
A. Care for IVF moms should fall under the category of women over 35 and C-section. The process of IVF takes a lot out of a woman; therefore it is important to bring more nourishment to their body after giving birth. Many IVF expectant mothers tend to be more emotionally tired. They will need more relaxation and personal time to heal, which is in short supply once the woman becomes a new mother. Therefore, a plan for such healing activities should be contemplated and scheduled before the labor process.
Q. It is common and said to be “normal” that women lose a substantial amount of hair after childbirth. Is that to be expected or is it a sign of something that can be addressed and/or prevented?
A. It is normal to lose hair after labor due to the hair that was not shed during pregnancy. But if the hair loss is excessive, it can be a sign of lack of nutrients. According to Chinese medicine, hair is related to blood and the kidney/adrenal/reproductive system. When the blood is flowing abundantly and the kidney/adrenal/ reproductive is strong, hair will be full and strong. Naturally after childbirth, the mother is deficient in both. This issue can be prevented and addressed with acupuncture (bringing more blood flow to the head) and Chinese herbs (providing nutrients to the body). Of course, eating well and getting some shut-eye is also important.
Q. The explanations one commonly hears for postpartum depression, anxiety, and/or nightmares seem to fall short, and women are often prescribed antidepressants as the remedy. Even when women are happy with their pregnancy and adore their babies, they can experience these symptoms. Can you explain it in TCM terms and describe the approach to address these issues?
A. In TCM, mood disorders after labor can be due to depletion of blood and lack of sleep. The blood loss from the labor leads to the blood not able to nourish the heart and spirit. In TCM, the heart is one of the organs that is related to your mood. Lack of sleep can also affect your mood. Your body heals and regenerates when you sleep. When your body does not get the proper amount of rest, it does not provide the right amount of nutrients to your body, and can therefore further enhance mood changes.
Q. In a breastfeeding class I audited, an attendee asked the lecturing nurse about eating spicy food and junk foods while breastfeeding. The answer provided was, “Your baby does not eat what you eat–it’s different.” However, if the body uses what we eat to make blood, and breast milk is made from the proteins, sugars, and fat in the mother’s blood, what we eat has an immediate and direct relationship on what our baby eats. Your comments from a TCM perspective?
A. Even though the main compositions of the breast milk are fat, protein and carbohydrates, there are many micronutrients as well as other trace chemicals that tag along with the breast milk delivered to the baby. Therefore certain nutrients and trace chemicals, such as in spicy foods and cured meats, can still be transferred in a minute amount to the breast milk. This normally should not impact the baby adversely when eaten in a small amount. From the TCM perspective, it is very important for the nursing mother to eat a diverse spectrum of whole foods and stay away from manufactured foods (processed and packaged foods). This way, the baby will be exposed to different nutrients and learning how to digest and absorb these nutrients.
Q. The recipes in Sitting Moon are delicious, easy to prepare, and nutrient-rich. Would you recommend those recipes for mothers beyond the first postpartum month?
A. Yes! The moms can continue to prepare these meals up to one year after delivery. They are especially good to have when the moms get their first menstrual flow after delivery. These meals are also excellent for women to have at the tail end of or after their menstrual flow.
Q. Can we look forward to more books on a related subject–Your Baby’s First Two Years: Recipes and Common Herbal Remedies, for example? (I would vote for that.)
A. Sounds like an excellent idea! Maybe also on healthy eating during pregnancy.
Thank you. We’ll look for those!
Allie Chee advocates for informed decision in pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood. Her book New Mother teaches that when we understand our choices and carefully select our support team — when we own our experience — we can create our vision for childbirth and motherhood, and change the course of our lives forever. Her articles have appeared in: Midwifery Today, The Well Being Journal, The Holistic Networker, The Birthing Site, Natural Mother Magazine, and Thrive Global. www.alliechee.com