Fourth Trimester Healing and Ayurvedic Nutrition

Updated: Feb 27, 2020

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This episode is an absolute must for all pregnant and recently postpartum women, as well as for anyone who has a pregnant or postpartum loved one they want to support. Victoria Weber, founder of Nettle + Honey, is a birth and postpartum doula and yoga instructor specializing in Ayurveda. She joins me to discuss the importance of gently restoring your mind and body after pregnancy and birth. Come on, mama, let’s start 2020 in the best possible way by learning how to restore your body from the ground up.

In today's episode, we discuss:

  • The sacred fourth trimester as a time for healing, pampering and self-care

  • Giving your body the gift of deep nourishment after the marathon of birth

  • Eating warming foods for healing, and understanding what makes a food 'warming'

  • The importance of gut health (you are what you digest)

  • Postpartum freezer meals

  • Veganism and vegetarianism during early postpartum recovery

  • Postpartum pantry essentials

  • Tips for proactively preparing for your fourth trimester before your baby arrives

  • A job for dad

  • Promoting healing with rest

The Sacred Fourth Trimester

The fourth trimester refers to the first 40 days of the baby's life, and the mother's first 40 days after giving birth. In Ayurveda, and within many cultures, the fourth trimester is practiced as a specific time to completely reset your body: you have just given birth, and all of your stores have been depleted and given to this human being that you have created. Now, you have this incredibly valuable opportunity to regain your strength from the ground up. It is considered to be a very sacred time to nurture restoration and create a whole new being as you have been transformed from woman to mother.

'Postpartum' can have a negative connotation because many people's minds immediately go to postpartum depression, and that's not what it is at all. The fourth trimester should really be a time of pampering. It certainly is not a vacation - it is hard work and a period of intensive healing - but it 100 percent should be a time of self-care for yourself, and for baby. It is a time to nourish yourself; and the more that you nourish yourself, the more that you can nourish others.

Giving Your Body the Gift of Deep Nourishment After the Marathon of Birth

During your fourth trimester, regardless of whether you follow an Ayurvedic regimen or not, you are undergoing a transformation. The difference is that, with an Ayurvedic protocol, you are giving your body the support to do it gracefully. In the beginning, especially during the first week after giving birth, your body is completely exhausted and needs deep nourishment through warming herbs and foods that are easy to digest, such as bone broth. This remains true even if you had this beautiful, picture-perfect birth - it is still a marathon. The idea here is to nourish your body and eat foods that do not require a great deal of digestive power so that all of your energy can go into healing.

Eating Warming Foods for Healing, and Understanding What Makes a Food 'Warming'

Ayurveda emphasizes 'warming' foods to promote healing, which is a quality that refers to the food's essence. For example, spices like ginger and turmeric have a warming, fire element, whereas cilantro and cucumber are cooling. Raw foods are cool in temperature, of course, but also in essence, and they are more difficult to digest. Heating them warms both their temperature and their base. Every single food has a defining element to it, whether it is fire, water or earth. You want to be more grounded and warming during any healing process, including early postpartum recovery, rather than cold and intense. To this end, Tori does not recommend eating salads made of raw vegetables during the first couple of weeks postpartum, because they are difficult to digest. Even just a light steaming can sufficiently break down the vegetable to make it easier for digestion.

You are What You Digest

Ayurveda is not about 'what you eat,' it's about what you digest. We hear it all the time, "You are what you eat," but if your body is not actually digesting the foods that you are consuming, it cannot benefit from the nutrition within them. It is for this reason that Tori recommends concentrating on healing the gut as your first priority so that digestion works better.

Plus, birth affects digestion:

  • Many times during a c-section, the obstetrician removes mom's intestines, which can impact early postpartum digestion.

  • Following vaginal birth, it is typically recommended that mom take a laxative, or some magnesium to help with her first stools. It can be a little rough those first couple of weeks (even more so if you have tears or stitches), so the easier you can make that process, the easier things will get back to 'normal,' or even better than normal!

Postpartum Freezer Meals

  • Tori recommends prepping soups and stews: they are easy to batch cook and stick in containers to freeze. You can even freeze them in individual amounts and then just take them out and warm them!

  • She also recommends having bone broth on hand and ready to go at all times. Bone broth is pretty easy to make, and if you don't want to deal with making it yourself, Tori can make it for you! Bone broth is wonderfully nutrient-dense, loaded with minerals, collagen-rich, easy for digestion, and supports the intestinal lining. It is the absolute best thing for postpartum recovery.

  • Rice is easy to digest as well, more so than other grains. Everybody loves to bring over lasagna and a big plate of brownies, but that's not exactly the best thing for when you're postpartum.

Tip from Tori: If you are not comforted by bone broth, say you are vegan, that is not something you are going to want in your diet; it is not going to be comforting to you. If your mother made this special lasagna all your life and that's all you're craving, then listen to your body and eat that lasagna.

This is not a time to take things out of your diet; it's a time to put extra nutrition in.

A Word About Veganism and Vegetarianism During Early Postpartum Recovery

Tori's past vegan clients have often allowed themselves to take a little bit of a break from veganism in order to add things like bone broth or collagen to their diets. For those who do not wish to make this modification, Tori says Chia may be beneficial, although it should not be considered an equal substitute. In fact, it is really challenging to be a vegan or a vegetarian - or even to just eat a standard American diet - and receive sufficient nutrition for postpartum recovery. For this reason, it is worthwhile to explore opening up your senses and your horizon, and letting some different foods in that are going to be monumentally beneficial during this time of intensive healing.

Postpartum Pantry Essentials

Use organic whenever possible...

  • Healthy Fats Coconut Oil, Grass-fed Butter, Avocado Oil, Egg Yolks

  • Stinging Nettle wonderful for women in general and for the reproductive system; great for trying to conceive (TTC), pregnancy, even during labor and postpartum! It can mimic placenta remedies. Have in Teas, Tinctures, Infusions, Pesto

  • Maca add to smoothies, cookies

  • Oats granola bars, oatmeal, cookies

  • Turmeric put it in everything! Bake with it, cook with it, add it to soups & smoothies

  • Bone Broth try to drink 1 cup daily

  • Coconut Milk a traditional warming food, rich in fat, great in soups & smoothies!

  • Eggs pasture-raised, easy to hard boil for a quick snack!

  • Almonds soaked then roasted is best for digestion

  • Beans Adzuki beans are easiest to digest, small & non-gas forming! Lentils have tons of protein & nutrients. Only after the first 4 weeks.

  • Frozen Fruits great for smoothies

  • Yogurt, Kombucha, Fermented beverages/veggies promotes great gut health!

  • Milk Mama Tea Nettle + Honey lactation support tea

  • Titty Bars Nettle + Honey lactation support bars

  • Ashwagandha hormonal balance promotes better sleep & mood

  • Herbal Sitz Bath healing herbs with Epsom salt. Earth Mama is a great brand

  • Wish Garden Tinctures After Ease for after birth pains is essential! This whole line is formulated for the perinatal period

  • Natural Calm magnesium supplement. Eases body tension, anxiety, and constipation

  • Epsom Salt magnesium bath. Safely take an Epsom salt bath with your baby

  • Cod Liver Oil great source of Vitamin A & D

  • Collagen add to coffee or tea or smoothies. Tons of protein. Supports joints, hair, skin, nails which can become brittle and dry postpartum

A note about supplements: Tori recommends prioritizing whole, real foods and obtaining nutrients in their purest form from the source rather than in a derived form as much as possible.

Tips for Proactively Preparing for Your Fourth Trimester Before your Baby Arrives

  • Delegate: Sit down with your partner, and with the people who will be surrounding you during your postpartum time - maybe this includes your mother, mother-in-law, and/or sister. Talk about who is going to be picking up the slack and doing the things that you definitely are not going to be doing during those first few weeks postpartum so that you can prioritize healing and rest as much as possible. For example, who is going to walk the dog? Who is going to take the older kids to school? Who is going to cook and do the laundry? Get clear on tasks and roles and 'the division of labor.' Here's the deal: if you have not proactively done this before the baby arrives, chances are, you are not going to feel like expending the energy to do a lot of explaining while you are healing, at which point your inclination will be to say, "I'll just do it myself." Our goal is to avoid that. If you do not have people who can easily help you, a postpartum doula may be a great option for you.

  • Post a List for Visitors: Make a simple list of ongoing tasks or chores that need to be accomplished and with which you feel comfortable receiving help from people other than your partner. Jot them down on a piece of paper, and tack the list to your fridge (you can always edit or add to this list after the baby comes). When somebody comes over to visit, they can look at that list and say, "Okay, let me just do a load of dishes, or switch the laundry for you." Maybe they can warm a meal for you and bring it to your bedside, or do an activity with your toddler.

  • Empathize and Communicate with Your Partner: Empathize with your partner, recognizing that they have not experienced nine months of growing a child: they are having their own unique experience in a different reality than your own. They want to help, but the baby is really only going to need mom in the beginning, especially if you're breastfeeding. Sit down and have a conversation with your partner to communicate the things with which you are going to want help, and provide your partner with a base with which to start. Surprise-surprise, your husband cannot read your mind, and he may not realize or be aware without your guidance as to what would be helpful to you/ how you'd like his support/ what tasks he can help with that typically you handle. If your husband lacks a clearly defined 'job' in all of this, he may feel kind of lost. If you see him sitting on the couch, don't assume he is being lazy - he may not be sure where he fits and how he can help.

  • Set Up Your Space: Identify the spaces in your house in which you are going to me spending the majority of your time during those initial days and weeks after your baby's birth, and think about how you can set them up for maximum comfort and peace. For context, your goal is two weeks in the bed, two weeks around the bed, two weeks in the home. Maybe you want to add a T.V. to your bedroom to help pass the time (you might want to find a great Netflix show that you can binge-watch). Or maybe you want to set up a postpartum laying space in the basement or in the living room. Ultimately, it doesn't matter where it is, so long as you make it your little sanctuary for the first few weeks.

  • Make Arrangements for Your Older Children: If you already have children, make plans for how they are going to spend their time while you are in bed and staying around the house. Maybe have a couple of different people lined up who can spend time with your toddler so that he/she can get out of the house and get some energy out. Maybe have a little basket of books and things to do close by that you can do while laying there together.

  • Find Community: Maybe it is finding a mom's group, a playgroup, or a mom-and-baby yoga center.

  • Seek Input in Ways that Don't Lead to Overwhelm: Are you a reader and researcher, or does too much information overwhelm you? Are you a social learner, or do you need to understand the data and evidence? Do you like asking family members for their input and advice, or does the mere idea cause your anxiety to spike? When it comes to learning about pregnancy, birth, postpartum and motherhood, there isn't one best or right way, so don't feel like you must read all of the books if that's not your thing. There is a lot of strength in asking others for their insight. Remember, it doesn't mean that you are obligated to do what they say; you are opening your mind to the wisdom of their experiences, because everybody has an experience different than your own. You are collecting data to make your own decision.

  • Have Yummy, Nutritious Options Ready for the Sugar Cravings: Our bodies in the postpartum time crave sweets, and Tori encourages us to pay attention to this craving. Tori recommends decadent custards made from grass-fed dairy and pastured eggs, avocado chocolate pudding with some extra collagen thrown in, or protein balls with peanut butter, chocolate, dates and coconut. If you aren't prepared, you are going to reach for whatever is easiest, which will likely be a bag of M&M's or a pint of ice cream, and that's not going to make you feel good. If you can get a nutritive sweet into your body, Tori points out that this can be really soothing and delicious to your soul and to your body, and also helps with breast milk and building your baby.

A Job for Dad

Dad should be the one to direct visitors and delegate to them what they may and may not do. Some people love having visitors; others welcome visitors only if they are going to be helpful, especially during the first couple of weeks. If they are going to come and stay for 15 to 20 minutes, they can help out with something: make mama a cup of tea, do some dishes, or hold the baby while mom takes a shower. If not, then those people can wait a couple of weeks before coming over and visiting. Your partner can be the one who vocalizes this. This is a great job for dad.

Remember, Your Body is Healing Even if You Don't Feel It

Tori pointed out that right after birth, your adrenaline spikes: you are so in love with your baby, and maybe in shock from the whole experience, too. So, you are running on adrenaline for the first few days. Now, this can be a little bit tricky because you can think, "Oh wow, I actually feel really good. What is everybody talking about?" Maybe you start making appointments to go to the doctor, the chiropractor, a massage therapist, etc. The issue is that you can really deplete yourself in those first few days if you do not take time to just purely lie horizontal. Again, we like to say two weeks in the bed, two weeks around the bed, two weeks in the home: this takes you through your first six weeks, and then you can start to venture out.

This can be really hard to do depending on your personality. If you must get out, Tori recommends taking a very short walk around the block. The sunshine can do wonders for you when you are going stir crazy in the house. Sleep as much as possible - as much as the baby is sleeping. And if you are not sleeping, lay in bed.