By guest writer Jessica Gustafson – owner of Reverie Acupuncture, mother, down to earth wealth of knowledge.
We live fast-paced lives. We use GPS to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. We text and email instead of writing letters. In general, we Americans are always go, go, going. It’s natural that for birthing people in America, this extends to birth and postpartum recovery.
But more and more people are putting on the brakes. As hygge and slow living lifestyles gain popularity, so too do natural and traditional approaches to preconception through postpartum. Books like The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Ann Johnson and The First 40 Days by Heng Ou et al emphasize the importance of rest and self-care in those first vital weeks after birth.
As a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, I am adding my voice to the mix. My patients live the same busy, American lives that you probably do. But through careful planning and commitment, we can craft a modern postpartum strategy with traditional roots that supports their overall holistic health long after birth.
What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM is a holistic model of medicine that has been practiced in China for over 3000 years. In China, it’s just medicine. The same studies we do on pharmaceuticals in the US are done on pharmaceuticals and herbal decoctions there. It’s not uncommon to leave a hospital with a prescription for antibiotics and a bag of decocted herbs.
TCM includes herbal medicine, cupping, moxibustion, diet therapy, lifestyle changes, meditation, and most recognizably, acupuncture.
When I craft a plan with my patients, acupuncture usually falls at the very bottom of the list. Most of what we talk about are simple dietary changes, exercises, and self-massage techniques that are meant to help your body function optimally and support your recovery.
So, what’s the plan?
Everybody is different, every body is different, and every pregnancy is different. There is no one size fits all approach that is going to work for everyone. The best thing you can do is schedule an appointment with an acupuncturist and create a plan that works for you and your pattern.
But if you’re on the fence about a traditional postpartum care plan, here are some broad strokes of what I do with my patients:
Acupuncture at birth center or at home immediately following birth. Acupuncture in hospital is often done by the acupuncturist on staff. Placenta smoothie if possible.
Day 4 or 5
Mother warming appointment – a mother warming (or mother roasting) appointment is a visit in which a cigar of moxa (or ai ye) is burned over the lower abdomen to help with blood flow and to encourage the uterus to return to its normal size.
Weekly focus: help the body release edema, lochia, and IV fluids. Stay in bed if possible. Eat nourishing soups and drink warm teas. Placenta smoothie doses usually stop around 4-5 days postpartum.
Here the weekly focus changes to supporting your long term energy (TCM practitioners call this kidney qi). Focus on eating organic kidney (if you can), soups or stews, resting as much as possible. This is also where we make sure to address any latch issues (if breastfeeding) and start to process the birth.
Weeks Three and Four
Now we’re up and moving again, but gently! Walking around the house is absolutely fine now but we still shouldn’t push ourselves. The focus is on eating good, nourishing foods that build qi and blood like rice, healthy fats, chicken, and steamed veggies.
One month in, now what?
Once a month has passed it’s easier to see what issues are your body naturally adjusting to no longer being pregnant, and what issues may be indications of long term issues.
At this point, I bring out the needles.
Acupuncture and herbs can help with:
- Low back pain
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Anxiety and depression
- Low milk supply
- Boosting immune system
- Postpartum bleeding
- And so much more
Remember that this is a medicine that has lasted 3000 years. If you have it, it’s somewhere in the literature.
Remember the end goal
The goal isn’t just getting back your pre-baby body. In fact, for many of us, that’s not even possible. Optimal postpartum recovery includes having the energy to make it through the days after sleepless nights without needing 40 cups of coffee. It includes preventing postpartum depression or anxiety, processing your birth, supporting breast milk production, and bonding with this new tiny person.
This is your chance to not only rebuild your health to where it was before you became pregnant but to reach a level of health you’ve never been at before. Be a rebel, turn conventional postpartum care on its head, and take a shot.
About Jessica Gustafson & Reverie Acupuncture
Jessica Gustafson is a licensed acupuncturist in St Paul and White Bear Lake, MN specializing in preconception (fertility) through postpartum. She loves working with patients through the Health Foundations Birth Center on Grand Avenue in St Paul as well as doing home visits in the Twin Cities area. Check her out at Reverie Acupuncture.
Disclaimer: I, Jessica Gustafson, am an acupuncturist in the state of Minnesota, and the information falls within my scope of practice in my state. However, unless I have directed you here as your homework I am probably not your acupuncturist. The information in this post is for general purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. As always, check with your own acupuncturist or primary care provider before making any lifestyle changes. This post does not create a patient-practitioner relationship and neither I nor Lindsey of Wild Lavender can be held liable for any losses or damages resulting or relating to the content in this post.