‘40 days for 40 years’
That is how Ayurveda describes its post-partum care, and you will shortly see why...
The first few weeks of post-partum are considered the most crucial. Post-partum lasts around 40 days and is marked in many cultures, not just Ayurveda! (Think six-week checkup)
During pregnancy - the body becomes emaciated due to the nourishment that gets forwarded to the fetus.
Delivery - instability of all dhatus, labor pain, excretion of kleda & rakta.
Post Delivery - the body becomes empty and hollow.
It is no rocket science that the new mother needs as much care and nourishment as possible. Ayurveda has the most essential massage procedures that do exactly that!
Through Sutika Abhyanga, the new mother attains all the nourishment that was lost and reaches her pre-pregnancy state of mind and body.
Let's dig deeper!
Sutika Abhyanga or Post Natal Massage
A woman just after delivery of the placenta is called Sutika (puerperal woman) and Sutikakala is the period following childbirth during which all body tissues revert approximately to a pre-pregnant state.
Certain psychosomatic changes take place during this Sutikakala, like loss of weight, loss of body fluid, lacerated genital tract, constipation, mental stress, etc. Most of these changes lead to ati-aptarparpana (emaciation) of the mother during Sutikakala. This status also causes aggravation of Vata dosha, which is responsible for different types of health problems such as puerperal sepsis, Stanyadushti (vitiated breast milk), anemia, prolapse of the uterus, etc.
To pacify Vata, an easily digestible Vata balancing diet and massage is performed, with an appropriate oil like Dhanwantram oil.
Postnatal massage usually starts on the fifth or tenth day after a normal vaginal delivery. In the case of a cesarean section, a postnatal massage is done after at least 21 days.
The massage must be performed in the mornings as it helps the ligaments and muscles that go lax during the pregnancy to firm up. It prevents sagging of the lower abdomen and prevents various Vata disorders that the new mother is prone to at this time.
How is the massage performed?
The procedure usually involves a full body massage with extra oil applied to the naval area, the breasts are usually avoided, and the abdomen is firmly massaged (if possible). Ayurveda believes that this helps the uterus contract to its original size and the organs return to their original positions.
Benefits of Sutika Abhyanga
- Tones up the pelvic floor, abdominal and back muscle, and tissues as well as relieve the muscle spasm
- It also helps in recovery from soft tissue injury by increased circulation
- Improves digestion, increases red blood cells & prevents anemia
- It prevents thrombosis by rubbing & friction improves the venous blood flow by dilating superficial blood vessels
Now, can your typical spa massage give you all these benefits at once?
Traditionally, this massage is performed by an experienced massage therapist that stays with the mother and the baby for about 1-3 months. The oil massage performed by such therapists is designed to reduce Vata, not only for the mother but also for the baby.
The therapist would share advice to the new mother on the topics of breastfeeding and diets, and be of valuable emotional support that the mother needs during those tough times.
She would also look after the baby, allowing the new mother a precious nap during the massage.
Speaking about newborn babies,
A newborn baby Enters the world to be loved, to be cared for, and to be nurtured by the ones who gave birth to them.
In that state of complete dependence on the mother... unable to understand any language except that of touch... with no ability to communicate with the world.... Massaging your baby could be the loveliest way of interaction, building that trust and understanding with your little one.
Baby massages are said to increase a mom’s awareness of her baby’s needs, even better!
And that is not even all!
Massaging the newborn is not only beneficial for the baby but also for the new mother! When a new mother gives her baby a massage, she might feel a lift in her mood and even feel empowered as a mother, as a parent. Massaging and interacting with the baby might also help new moms with postnatal depression.
So, let's not wait, and dive right into the world of happy babies!
Navjat Shishu Abhyanga: Ayurvedic Newborn Massage
The Acharyas in the ancient Ayurvedic texts have mentioned that prime importance is given to the care of newborns!
Ayurveda has a special place for infants. The traditional oil massage, followed by the Abhyanga routine of Ayurveda, is termed Shishu Abhyanga. It starts from birth until the viable stability of the newborn.
In a randomized, controlled study on the effects of massage therapy on preterm infants, greater weight gain was reported for the massage therapy group. The study involved moderate pressure along with flexion and extension of the upper and lower extremities. The massage was given for 10 to 15 minutes, three times a day. The study reported greater weight gain for those receiving massage therapy versus the standard care control group.
Sesame oil processed with herbs is considered the best oil for newborns. Among the commonly used herbal oils are bala talia, bala lakshadi oil, ashwagandhadi oil, and bala ashwagandhadi Taila.
Otherwise, ghee, coconut oil, or just sesame oil may be used. This may be done after doing a patch test on the infant’s skin, to check for any allergic reaction.
When To Start Massaging A Newborn
- Newborn massages can be given immediately after birth once the baby is 100% vitally stable.
- There should be no sign of illnesses or sicknesses like lethargy, refusal to eat, convulsions, respiratory distress, and more. To be sure, check with your doctor or health care provider to see if your newborn baby is ready for a massage.
- In a vitally stable and healthy newborn, a massage can be given once daily either in the morning or evening.
- If one does not start a Newborn massage after birth, then there is no specific time or indication to start the procedure. You may begin, as long as the baby is in good health.
Pre-Requisites for Shishu Abhyanga
- One can give Abhyanga to a baby at any time of the day, but if we were to pick an ideal time, then it would be in the morning.
- Take care that the room temperature is not less than 25 degrees Celsius or 77 degrees Fahrenheit in order to prevent hypothermia.
- Windows should be closed and there should be no drafts while doing the massage.
How to Perform Ayurvedic Newborn Massage in 5 Easy Steps at Home
Step 1: Use comfortably warm massage oil by keeping the bottle in a warm water bath. Test the temperature on the back of your hand before applying it to the baby.
Step 2: Wash your hands with antiseptic soap and dry with a sterile towel. Pour some oil into your palm and dip your fingertips into the warm oil and apply lightly to the entire body.
Wait for 4-5 minutes to let some of the oil absorb into the skin. Massage the entire body, applying even pressure with the whole palm rather than the fingers.
Step 3: Apply light pressure on sensitive areas like the abdomen and heart.
Use more oil and spend more time where nerve endings are concentrated. The soles of the feet and palms of the hands are good places.
Step 4: Use circular motions on rounded areas, such as the head or joints. Use straight strokes on straight areas such as the arms and legs.
Caution: Avoid pulling on the limbs and crossing the legs or the arms. Do not hyper-flex or hyperextend any body part. Avoid massaging on the bregma, the soft area on the top of the head, until it firms up. Just put some oil on it and leave it there.
Step 5: After the massage, let the child relax for 10-15 minutes and give a warm bath after an hour.
Continue Abhyanga until the completion of infantile age, or up to one year of life. It can be done every day in the absence of illness.
Benefits Of Newborn Massage
- Touch has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in our bodies. Hence, it relaxes and soothes the newborn.
- During massage, oxytocin is released in both the giver and receiver’s body. Oxytocin helps to provide us with loving, nurturing feelings which in turn strengthen the bond between the mother and the child.
- It stimulates growth and healthy development of the baby’s body, mind, and spirit.
- It helps to enhance the process of digestion by stimulating food absorption hormones, glycogen, and insulin.
- It is also effective at reducing the symptoms associated with constipation, gas, and colic.
- Abhyanga has also been shown to encourage the baby to sleep deeper and for longer periods
- Newborn massage pacifies Vata dosha and strengthens the bones, muscles, and tendons.
- It helps in weight gain, height gain, and overall growth.
The 5000-year-old traditional Ayurvedic method of Abhyanga has many subdivisions to it. A very specific type of Abhyanga has been laid down in the ancient texts for every phase of the life. The Ayurvedic ritual of massage & rejuvenation using herbs-infused oils has been termed as Sneha, which translates directly to ‘Love’. Anointing the new mother and the newborn with rejuvenating Ayurvedic oils and methods, boosts recovery and delivers Sneh or ‘Love’ to Mind-Body-Soul after going through an experience that, often, feels life changing!
It goes without saying that the newborn and the new mother, both need immense care and nourishment just after birth.
Like the Indian Ancestors that forwarded the Science of Ayurveda, what is one unique method of nourishment and rejuvenation for the baby and the mother, that your Ancestors have forwarded to you? Share with us in the comments!
1Critical Analysis Of Sutika Paricharya And Its Significance In Modern Era In
Safe Motherhood https://ijapr.in/index.php/ijapr/article/download/1599/1263/
2Review Of Sutika Paricharya & Its Clinical Importance http://www.iamj.in/posts/2017/images/upload/2658_2667.pdf
3Tiffany Field, Miguel Diego, and Maria HernandezReif. Preterm Infant Massage Therapy Research: A Review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2844909/
4Bala Tail Abhyangya For Weight Gain In LBW Infant – A Case Study. Dr. Shubhangi K. Thakur and Dr. Ramchadra P. Babar.
5Advantages and Updates of Abhyanga in Infant and Infant Massage: A Review https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322465453_Advantages_and_Updates_of_Abhyanga_in_Infant_and_Infant_Massage_A_Review