Keeping women warm after birth is, according to Aviva Romm, the oldest and most universal postpartum practice.
Postpartum warmth is at the heart of postpartum traditions which honor new mothers with rest and support.
In the natural birth community the term “mother roasting” refers to specific warming practices such as moxibustion treatments and warm salt rubs. It was coined by an American midwife referring to the SouthEast Asian practices of using coals and fires to warm new mothers after birth.
For people who have not grown up in a culture that follows hot/cold theories of health, it is important to look at this postpartum warming not as specific modalities or practices but as a holistic approach to postpartum.
When I was pregnant for the 2nd time, inspired by what I had been reading about postpartum traditions, I called up my Vietnamese mother-in-law for advice. Many of her suggestions about postpartum care were about keeping warm and avoiding cold. Throughout the conversation she repeated “this will make you strong in your old age”. I listen to her with deep respect. And she really is one of the healthiest women her age that I know.
Before my daughter’s birth, I planned for rest and support, prioritizing warmth. My physical recovery was smooth, and I had a deep sense of contentment and peace as I allowed myself to be overtaken by my love for my daughter.
My plan for postpartum warmth is not a traditional Vietnamese Nam Lua, it is an expression of who our family and community is.
Here is what I did to avoid cold, keep warm, and add heat during my first weeks postpartum.
I stayed inside.
I did not use ice topically: no frozen pads.
I showered as little as I felt comfortable with.
I didn’t wash my hair for weeks.
I didn’t eat or drink frozen or cold foods.
I mostly avoided “cooling” foods such as raw vegetables.
I had a thermos of ginger tea next to the bed to drink during the night.
I drank warm turmeric milk with honey.
I ate mostly warm food.
When I did have ice-cream, one month postpartum, I followed it with a hot cup of ginger tea.
I did herbal sitz baths daily for the first two weeks.
I wore my pregnancy elastic belly wrap, which helped keep my core warm.
My mother-in-law made steamed rice bundles as hot as I could stand and massaged my breasts when my milk was coming in to relieve my engorgement.
The following were were all done after the first week.
A friend who practices Chinese Medicine gave me moxabustion treatments on my belly. Moxabustion is the burning of mugwort for deep, penetrating heat. On her first visit, she used her “hotbox” which is a wooden box with a screen to hold the loose leaf burning moxa. A week later, she used Korean moxa-pads. The moxa-pads had a strong scent that lingered, so my preference was the “hotbox.”
I used a hot water bottle on my lower belly and sacrum. The heat on my sacrum felt so good and helped alleviate my lower back pain and soothed my “afterpains.”
I also used a heating pad, but I preferred the hot water bottle because with the heating pad I had to make sure that my baby didn’t end up laying on it and overheating.
My dear friend and postpartum doula Abbi Mountain made Thai postpartum herb bundles that were steamed (much like my mother-in-law’s rice bundles) and then rubbed on my belly.
It is important to wait to add the deep heat until after the first week and it should be avoided if a woman has a fever or other signs of infection. Please consult with a Chinese Medicine practitioner for information.
This sounds like a lot of fuss for staying warm and for those readers who didn’t grow up in a family or culture that looks to hot/cold theories to support health it may sound like hogwash.
But just stop and think about this for a moment. When you have had a hard day at work, doesn’t a hot bath sound like a wonderful way to soothe your frayed nerves? If you go out for a long walk and get caught in a rainstorm and come home chilled, doesn’t a hot cup of tea and a big blanket on the couch sound like the right remedy? Or you are feeling rundown, maybe a cold is coming on, don’t you intuitively feel like wearing a warmer scarf and staying out of the wind and eating soup?
For those of you whose families and cultural of origin do look to hot/cold theories for supporting health, it may well be worth asking about postpartum traditions, or simply following the advice that is freely given to you by the women in your family.
And for those of you who serve birthing and postpartum women and find any of this strange, please deepen your cultural competency and become advocates for families who are continuing their postpartum traditions.
In my Postpartum Workbook I go into greater detail about the benefits of postpartum warmth, and I give even more ideas to draw on as you plan for your own postpartum.