Golden month: postpartum care

I love supporting women to regain their strength and re-balance postpartum. There are increasingly more resources available on the Golden month as we collectively become aware of how important this phase is to the health of our mothers, and our communities. This month I was reading a sweet little book “Golden Month” on supporting women in the post-partum. The author, a Chinese medicine practitioner, has collected stories of the post-partum period from around the world and found many commonalities of what constitutes good care across many traditions.

The four essential ingredients in postpartum care:

  • rest
  • massage and warmth
  • mother warming
  • nutrient dense food for new mothers.

I think we could add emotional support and social connection to this list. This was intrinsic to traditional practices the author learned of where mothers were often surrounded by family, but may be missing in many modern settings.

A new mother recently shared with me that she wants to eat SO much at the moment, even though “all she is doing is sitting all day breastfeeding” her 3-week old baby. As Jenny tells us in Golden Month “lactation demands more of the mother’s energy than any other stage of reproduction: her energy requirements increase by 25-30%” And this is after the Qi expended and Blood lost during labouring and birth. So don’t hold back on feeding yourself, your body needs it! Food and rest… so necessary.

Mother warming is a practice from Chinese medicine where the lower pelvis and lower back are warmed with moxa (a burning herb compressed into a stick). This boosts the Jing, is soothing and supports energy.

There is so much we can do to support our new mothers by following the wisdom of our elders.

Feel free to reach out, get in touch, if you or someone you know would benefit from some TLC during the post-partum. A couple of acupuncture treatments (including moxibustion) in the 4 weeks after birth can be really supportive.

There are also many local businesses that support new mothers, with home-delivered nutritious food and other services – check out the Coal Coast Baby magazine for a bunch of amazing people to help!

Harmonising with the Qi of Summer

It feels like it’s been a strange summer this year in the Illawarra, with frequent bouts of cold, wet, windy weather dispersing the usual fine, hot days. Nonetheless, we are still riding the Qi of Summer in these final weeks of February.

We can enhance our mental-emotional-physical health by harmonising our body’s Qi with that of the season. This applies to what we eat, how we behave and our attitudes. A classic text of Chinese medicine (which is 2000 years old), the Huangdi Neijing Suwen, tells us about Summer:

The three months of summer, they denote opulence and blossoming. The qi of heaven and earth interact and the myriad beings bloom and bear fruit.“  (Suwen 2)

Yang has reached its maximum. The days are longest, it is a time of growth and activity – look outside and observe the trees full of vigour and rustling with birds as the young are learning the ways of the world. Summer is ruled by the fire phase which corresponds with the organ of the Heart (the emperor of our body), the emotion of joy, sound of laughter, and the colour red.

To be in harmony with the atmosphere of summer we want to cultivate our yang energy:

  1. rise early and go to bed later
  2. be inspired, move, get outside and enjoy the sun
  3. welcome a joyful mood, express the principles of lightness, brightness, creativity and expansion.

Summer is a time to favour brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, lightly cooked.  Plenty of variety in the diet helps to replace the minerals and oils sweated out.  Cooking methods to use are a light steam/simmer; or saute on high heat for a very short time.

It is OK to use some pungent or spicy flavours to align with the season ruled by fire.  A little hot spice (such as fresh ginger, black pepper) brings body heat out the surface to be dispersed.  Take care to use only a little, as too many dispersing foods lead to loss of yang which makes us ill-prepared for staying warm in the approaching cooler seasons.  In a similar line, taking warm showers and drinking hot liquids helps to bring warmth to the exterior to generate sweat and cool the body. This is counter to using overly cold ways to reduce our heat such as iced drinks and ice cream.  Using cold causes contraction which blocks sweating, holds in heat and interferes with digestion. 

On hot days instead of using ice-cold foods, make use of naturally cooling fresh foods to balance the heat. These foods help the body cool, even if served at room temperature. Good choices are salads, sprouts, fruit (watermelon, apples, lemons, limes), cucumber, tofu, flower teas (chrysanthemum, chamomile). 

But I get it, it’s summer and who doesn’t love ice-cream! If you’re lucky enough to have plenty of yang you’ll likely get away with eating ice-cream more often than someone who tends to feel the cold. The joy that ice-cream brings my partner is priceless (and summer is the season of joy!). As with most things, trust your own knowledge of your body and apply this information in a way that works for you. If you tend to feel the cold and have excess fluids/damp/phlegm, then steer clear of cold foods, even in summer.

Take care of your Heart during summer, the organ of the fire element. The Heart connects to our speech and our mind. Practice being aware of the words you choose to speak to strengthen the Heart. Avoiding mental hyperactivity (e.g. screens at night time, refined sugar, caffeine, late-night eating) can also help maintain a calm and anchored Heart.  

Please note that this blog provides general lifestyle seasonal information and does not constitute health advice. Please contact your health professional for individual-tailored advice.

Photo by Chris Galbraith on Unsplash

Spring: the return of the light, let your hair down, and take care of one another

Spring has sprung in the Illawarra! And just as the movement of Qi in Spring is “upwards and outwards”, my little beets are pushing up through the soil in my garden, eager to be plucked.

We can enhance our own mental-emotional-physical health by harmonising our body’s Qi with that of the season.  This applies to what we eat, how we behave and our attitudes. The Classic of Chinese medicine (which is 2000 years old), the Suwen, tells us thus about Spring:

“The three months of spring, they denote effusion and spreading. In heaven and earth everything comes to life; the myriad beings prosper. Go to rest late at night and rise early. Move through the courtyard with long strides. Dishevel the hair and relax the physical appearance, thereby cause the mind to come to life. Generate and do not kill. Give and do not take. Reward and do not punish. This is correspondence with the qi of spring, and it is the Way to nourish life. Opposing it harms the liver. In summer, this causes changes to cold, and there is little to support growth.” (Suwen 2)

Yang is rising. Spring is ruled by the wood phase and it is a time of opening and spreading. It is a time to eat less and lightly – young plants, fresh greens, sprouts.  Raw and sprouted foods can be taken (though take care and moderate if your digestion is weak).  The rising quality of sweet-pungent foods is beneficial. E.g. drink honey/mint tea, use basil, fennel, and rosemary herbs in cooking; and eat young beets and carrots for a refreshingly sweet flavour.  Favoured cooking methods are light – saute and light steaming, which is a change from the longer stewing methods of winter.

Take care of your Liver (the organ of the wood element). Emotionally this means staying calm, breathe, minimising stress, and not holding on to anger or frustration – find a way to release or express these healthily.  Opening and nourishing your Heart can assist the Liver to flow naturally and minimise emotional stagnation or repression. Physically this means moving, relaxing a little, opening the body – walking or a flowing yoga sequence can be great.  

On a more sombre note, but one which I feel needs to be raised given the year we’re in, is that suicide rates are highest in Spring. This is most pronounced in the northern hemisphere where the seasonal changes are more dramatic, however with COVID-19 lockdowns we may be more at risk than usual in Australia. Why is this? We really don’t know. One social theory proposed is that the pressure of social connection after the winter hibernation can be a significant source of stress for some. Another theory is the physiological inflammation that occurs in Spring (think hayfever!) is connected to mood disorders. A friend of mine from Sweden once suggested to me that the reappearance of the light is simply too much for some, coming out of the long darkness of winter. Whatever the cause, the statistics show this to be real.

Thinking in Chinese medicine terms, the Liver is associated with anger, and stress or repressed emotions can disrupt its smooth flow.  A Liver disharmony is commonly diagnosed in people with mental-emotional challenges, and these people are likely to be most at risk of imbalances at the start of Spring when the energy of the Liver rises. I expect this risk may be compounded this year when the bloom of Spring coincides with a year of lock-down, especially for those just emerging in Melbourne – it’s like a double Spring.  

Spring is a beautiful time.  Maybe it’s even my favourite season.  Let your hair down, munch on young beets, move, and also be particularly mindful of your emotional health.  Pick up the phone, check in on someone.  Melbourne peeps, please take extra care and look after one another.

Your emotions may be contributing to your health issue, here’s what you can do about it (Part 2)

We learned in Part 1 that emotions often contribute to health issues – including back, neck and shoulder pain, digestive complaints, fertility, migraine and high blood pressure. We also learned that by avoiding excess and not repressing emotions, our Qi and blood can flow unhindered which is necessary for good health. In this Part 2, we discuss common causes of mental and emotional imbalance and what you can do about it.