Nourishing the Postpartum Winter
While the season of winter (in the Northern Hemisphere) is considered predominantly kapha (earth + water) in nature, winter days also frequently present vata-provoking qualities (also known as gunas). Kapha-dominant qualities of winter include cloudy skies and cold, damp, heavy weather. Like slow-going kapha, life moves slowly in winter. And certain days reveal vata (air + ether) gunas: dry, cold, windy, and clear. Consequently, we need to bring extra attention to calming vata. For new moms and families experiencing a postpartum winter, we can look to the elements of Nature to see how to balance ourselves and our families.
Postpartum mothers/birthers and families will hopefully already be enjoying a slower pace of life; nurtured by calm energy, warm and gentle moments of connection, and deeply nourishing foods. As coldness outdoors intensifies, skies cloud, dryness increases, and wind picks up; the climate can heighten our sensitivity to blues, isolation, scatteredness, and constriction. Because postpartum tends to provoke these issues, we benefit from extra mindfulness around balancing the wintry elements. Ayurvedic postpartum care focuses on soothing vata, which is naturally elevated from childbirth and the intense, compact transition into postpartum.
So today we will explore how to continue soothing vata, while adding in extra warmth (in more ways than one!) to pacify kapha. First we will bring healing elements into our kitchen to warm ourselves beginning with what we imbibe. Then we will consider key practices to enhance our daily self-care routine. Finally, we will focus on the warming of our hearts and spirits. Let’s dive in!
Supportive Spices, Rejuvenating Drinks, and Star Ingredients
Let’s begin with looking at a few key spices, herbs, tonics, and foods to enhance your winter postpartum nourishment. With these allies in your kitchen, you and your family will feel more whole and warm – from within!
Warming spices to cook with
- Cinnamon — helps strengthen and harmonize the flow of circulation; strengthens heart & kidneys; promotes agni (digestive fire); sattvic & vata soothing
- Cloves — impart strong digestive support; mildly aphrodisiac; energizing
- Garlic, roasted— supports immune protection, digestion and circulatory systems. Grounding, rejuvenate, supports lactation.
- Ginger — excellent digestive and respiratory support; very sattvic. *Fresh ginger is less drying and sharply heating than is dried ginger.
- Nutmeg — supports digestion, adrenals, zest for life, sleep, thyroid, absorption. Calming, grounding, tamasic. *Due to constipating quality, use with caution first week or so postpartum.
- Turmeric — strengthens digestion; improves intestinal flora; purifies & warms the blood, stimulates formation of new blood tissue; promotes proper metabolism in the body. Purifies the subtle channels of the body.
Warming herbal teas and tonics
- Herbal chai — Chai spices typically include ginger, cinnamon, cloves, black peppercorns, nutmeg and cardamom. Other options are turmeric, anise, fenugreek, fennel, and saffron. Brew your chai herbs in 1 part water to 2 parts milk to create a delicious, hot, spiced milk tonic. OR add full-bodied and delicious rooibos as a base to your tea mix. Another amazing option as a base for your herbal chai is…our next winter herb!
- Hot milk — Ayurveda deems un-homogenized organic cow milk, when prepared properly, to be one of the most rejuvenative foods on the planet. Proper use usually means bringing it to a boil, and preferably with warming spices (such as the chai herbs listed above). Hot milk is calming, serotonin-rich, and an ally for preventing or soothing depression.
- Oatstraw infusion — though energetically cooling, oatstraw is considered a rasayana (rejuvenate tonic) and it has special qualities that prevent depression and soothe anxiety. “Rasayana is what enters (ayana) in the essence (rasa). It is what penetrates and revitalizes the essence of our psycho-physiological being” (Frawley & Lad 72). Rasayana substances rebuild the body-mind. Oatstraw is a nervine – an herb that “strengthens the functional activity of the nervous system.” It soothes anxiety, is an ally for depression, and provides high amounts of protein & B vitamins. An herbal infusion is brewed much stronger than a typical herbal tea (tisane), and thus gives deeper benefits. Oatstraw infusion serves as an excellent base for your herbal chai. Warming chai spices can also balance the cooling nature of oatstraw. Check out Susun Weed’s page for more great info on oatstraw and instructions on brewing up the delicious infusion.
- Stinging nettles infusion — Though nettles are also energetically cooling, they provide particular benefits for the postpartum winter. Stinging nettles infusion strengthens the adrenals and in turn alleviates anxiety. This infusion “provides lavish amounts of protein, all macro- and trace-minerals in excellent amounts, and every vitamin we need – excepting vitamin B12” (Susun Weed). It’s excellent for breastfeeding mamas, enhances our beauty, and gives us the “energy of the earth.”
- Ghee — rejuvenating, soothing, integrating; ignites agni; carries nutrient-enhancing properties of foods and herbs that are warmed in it. Ghee “ushers wastes out of deep tissues into the channels for elimination,” providing gentle cleansing action suitable to the postpartum body (Ysha Oakes). As a good (and very delicious!) fat, ghee provides lubrication and long-burning fuel. Ghee nourishes ALL tissues of the body and is one of the top foods in an Ayurvedic postpartum diet.
- Honey — honey is warming, soothing, and kapha pacifying. Delicious added to cooled milk tonics and herbal teas. *Be sure to refrain from heating your honey!
- White sesame seeds — white sesame seeds are nourishing and high in calcium, protein, and minerals. Roasting balances enzyme inhibitors. *Use after heavy loch has slowed to avoid increasing the flow.
Nurturing Daily Self-Care Practices
These three daily practices will ensure you are taking great care of your postpartum body and mood.
Abhyanga (warm oil massage)
Hopefully postpartum mothers are already receiving or providing themselves daily oil massage, for at least the first 42 days after birth. Warm oil massage with sesame oil is especially soothing and grounding in the winter when we are in need of extra warmth and connection.
Get fresh air and sunshine
Make sure you bundle up when you head outside, but be sure to regularly get fresh air and sunshine. This is especially important for preventing depression and lifting our mood and spirit. How about a nice, gentle walk with Baby, your partner, and/or another precious loved one? Just make sure you avoid strong winds. If it’s not suitable to be outdoors, perhaps sit by your window either soaking in sunshine, letting in fresh air through a small opening, or both!
Both indoors and out, stay warm! Wear socks or slippers. Use a scarf and hat, especially outdoors. Especially at this time of year, make sure you and Baby are never underdressed. And please avoid drafts in your home.
Warming Your Heart
Finally, we will focus on tending especially to the warmth of our emotions and spirit.
Nourish the relationships that nurture you
Spend time with those who are closest to your heart. Ensure that you are not “hostessing.” This could be as simple as making the most of connecting with your postpartum care team. But if your best friend isn’t local, connect with him or her on the phone from time to time. Take a walk with a loved one on a warmer, clear winter day, or enjoy a meal together.
Eat in good company, and at a relaxed pace!
This is a great time of year to enjoy a meal with a dear friend or loved one. Make sure the environment is calm and not overstimulating to you or Baby. Think pleasurable, yet gentle social stimulation.
Enjoy laughter and light-heartedness
While it is totally natural and beneficial to go inward and reflect during the winter months, it’s also important to not become solemn! So, be sure to smile and laugh. Babies can really help us connect with light-heartedness, too.
Connect with your passion and sense of purpose
Find a way to stay connected to the fire of passion that is in your heart. This can look radically different postpartum than at other times in your life. For instance, you may be taking a break from the hobby you are most passionate about. But you can absolutely stay in touch with your passion in a postpartum-friendly manner! Podcasts, photos, books, and conversations with friends are some ways to remain connected to our passions. Write out or in other ways artistically create a vision for your passion and purpose.
“Like slow and steady kapha, don’t be in a rush.” – Vasant Lad
As kapha is slow and grounded, tune into your slow, steady pace. Avoid rushing around. Dig into the opportunity to “retreat” without isolating yourself. Balance the kapha and vata-provoking qualities of winter through staying connected and warm!
- Banyan Botanical’s “Winter Guide”
- The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies – Vasant Lad
- Susun Weed’s “How to Make Nourishing Herbal Infusions”
- Tonic Postpartum Recipes with Ayurveda – Ysha Oakes
- The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine – Dr. David Frawley & Dr. Vasant Lad