TCM & Postnatal Women's Health
Hi my name is Yinghao Ingrid Huang, I’m a practicing acupuncturist in NW London and I want to talk to you about how traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acupuncture and alternative therapies can help moms recover from bearing children.
I’m writing from experience – often a painful one. I had three kids in under 3.5 years and moved continents twice at 6 months pregnant. In hindsight it was totally crazy. The eldest was three and not sleeping through the night when the third one was born! But luckily I had a very supportive husband and very motivated parents and mother in law who travelled across the world to help out when they could. I was doubly fortunate that my mother is an acupuncturist and uncle was a TCM healer. Through needlework, diet and the ancient Chinese practice of confinement, I was able to rest, heal, rejuvenate and be my best self. It was such a powerful experience that I gave up my corporate career, retrained first as a doula and then an acupuncturist, and have been helping moms ever since.
The best thing you can do is have a support structure in place so that you can nap when tired or go out for a refreshing walk when you need some space from the chaos at home. Once you have a child, you feel such a tremendous sense of responsibility, and many of us lose ourselves in parenting. To our detriment and in turn that of the child. Remember, it’s important to put yourself first.
I always tell my clients, remember when you are on a plane, watching the safety video about putting on the emergency oxygen mask on yourself before you help your child? Your job as a parent is to take the best care of yourself first then you are able to give the best you’ve got to your child, your partner and your family. You can’t deprive yourself and give endlessly. You will just burn out or you will end up resenting everyone around you and keep going until you crash and burn one day. This isn’t good for you or your family in the long run. And that is precisely what happens to most of my clients. They come to me deeply depleted.
This is where confinement comes in. In the early days TCM is very focussed on helping the mother recover. On restoring the proper balance of nutrients, which she will pass on through her breastmilk. Confinement isn’t for everyone but focusing on self-healing is critical. Much like a happy wife, makes a happy life, a happy, healthy mother makes for a happy, healthy baby.
In TCM it’s believed that when you are born, your kidneys restore the pre-heavenly essence from your parents and your ancestors. From a western medicine perspective that’s your DNA. It’s your starting point. You also have the post heavenly essence in TCM of the stomach/spleen processing food to give you the energy for everyday function. Basically, you are what you eat. Your digestive health functions are just as important if not more important than your DNA, especially if you’re predisposed to certain conditions from your family health history (diabetes, heart disease, etc.). Your diet, sleep, exercise help to piece together your picture of health.
I want to tell you a little piece of advice that the actress Zhang ZiYi once told a famous international publication. Even though TCM emphasize the importance of food, when asked what her best health tip is, she said, in China there is a wise saying: “in order to build strength, women sleep, men eat. Rest is even more important than food for us women. Why is that, you wonder? I think it’s because blood is so important to us. Blood is so deeply linked to our puberty, when we menstrate, when we have children, when we go into menopause. You restore blood the most by sleep and you gain energy from food. So blood is Yin and Food/energy is Yang
Qi + Blood are always connected. As I have mentioned before, Blood is Yin and Qi is Yang. Qi moves the Blood, and Blood nourishes the organs that produce Qi. Blood moistens and warms the body and its tissues. Areas that suffer from lack of Blood nourishment are cold and often painful. Blood tends to get deficient or stagnant or a combination of both. Blood ‘anchors your Heart-Mind. Adequate blood levels are really important for your mental health, cognitive function, emotional resilience and ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.’
It is important to clarify that the Chinese concept of blood is different from the western medicine concept of blood. When practitioners encourage you to ‘nourish your Blood’, we are talking about your ability to nourish yourself. This is achieved through a proper digestive process, the building of sufficient material resources such as micro and macro nutrients and the effective distribution of those resources.
So what are the take away from this tonight? What you put in your body is no 1. Rest is also important. In TCM, there is a meridian clock which ensures that we generate the cells in our body and in different organs at various times at night. It’s vital that we fall asleep around 10/11pm at night. We end up depleting that preheavenly essence by going to bed at 1 or 2am at night. We can get up earlier, goodness knows our toddler will wake us up at 6am if we don’t, they have such great internal meridian clock!
Another take away is that with the way we are parenting in this day and age, there is a danger of prolonging breastfeeding than necessary. This is going to sound controversial but I myself chose to breast feed my first child til he was 14 months. The second one 10months and the third one 8months. As soon as they have teeth, it’s good to have them explore foods grown from nature. Breast milk then is no longer integral to their survival, and you can use it to supplement a varied, nutrient dense diet. The longer you are breastfeeding, the more you deplete your own nutrients as well as your Qi and Blood as breast milk is considered Jing or essence.
You can also build your blood system by not causing adrenal fatigue by fueling yourself with too much caffeine or sugar. Instead of feeling tired and sleeping, the shot of caffeine will give you a pick me up until your adrenals crash and you get that lull which pushes you to reach for that late afternoon snack of sugar or simple carbs. Instead, go for a green smoothie, you can chuck celery, green apple or pear, some lime or lemon juice, a sprig of mint and a glass of filtered water with a slice of ginger and have a lovely drink. You can also support your micro nutrients and their absorptions by incorporating bone broths into your diet. Finally, no ice drinks! It creates cold, stagnation and dampness, especially in the womb which makes post natal recovery slower.
Having said the above, if you can also incorporate any type of exercise or therapeutic support, talk therapy, or meditation, yoga, pilates, journaling, music, massage, dance, forest bathing, game night with friends, to fill your cup and give you fulfilment, I’m not talking about the type of fulfilment you get from the love of your child. I’m talking about the type of fulfilment that give you a better stronger more content, more energized and calmer you. Do that please! As soon as possible, as often as possible.