Pregnancy, when viewed through the scope of Ayurveda, is a natural state of being for a woman’s body. Inclusions of simple Ayurvedic practices can make pregnancy more comfortable, healthier, and more enjoyable for a mother-to-be. The application of Ayurvedic wisdom can balance, nourish, and support an expectant mother physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Pregnancy, when experienced from this balanced state, may be the healthiest, happiest, and most fulfilling season of a woman’s life.
Apana vayu is the subtle downward movement of energy within the body, and the key to maintaining a pregnancy to full term. Certain therapies, exercises, and herbs may disturb apana vayu. Therefore, the intent of this article is Ayurvedic insight, rather than a treatment protocol. Due to the complexities of pregnancy, it is wise to leave treatments in the hands of experienced Ayurvedic practitioners.
All three doshas are naturally empathized during pregnancy. Pregnancy is a process of change, expansion, and creation, which are qualities of Vata. In pregnancy, the metabolism increases, bringing warmth to the body, which are qualities of Pitta. Kapha is the most dominate dosha during pregnancy, signified by the increase of body weight and size. The succession of changes during pregnancy interplays with an expectant mother’s constitution, her baby’s constitution, and the environment around her.
A woman’s nutritional needs are increased during pregnancy in both quality and quantity. She needs more calories, more calcium, more protein, and more iron. Eating intuitively, according to her body’s current condition, is preferable to choosing food based on constitution alone. On a subtle level, the baby’s needs may be sensed by the mother and expressed in her food preferences. She should eat sattvic foods, those that are pure and fresh. The most sattvic foods are those that are organically grown and offer the best source of vitamins and minerals. She should avoid tamastic foods, foods that are processed or left over. Food cravings should be satisfied by appealing to the basic tastes prescribed by an Ayurvedic diet, avoiding refined sugars, very spicy foods, cold or frozen foods, or those high in additives.
Eating has a direct effect on the doshas. The common side effects of pregnancy are the result of eating foods that promote imbalance, or eating foods that are not nutritionally optimal. Morning sickness and mood swings are connected to low blood sugar. Backaches, hypertension, and severe pain during childbirth are linked to insufficient calcium. Varicose veins, hemorrhoids, constipation, and skin discolorations are evidence of a lack of nutrients. Pre-eclampsia, pregnancy induced high-blood pressure, is a severe pregnancy complication, and a form of acute malnourishment. Herbal tonics can improve general health by helping to balance the doshas. In Ayurveda, special herbal tonics have been used in childbirth for thousands years, and are considered to be relatively safe. Many references are available as to which tonics are appropriate for specific needs, as is professional consultation.
In Ayurveda, the process of digestion is of equal importance to eating. Ayurveda suggests eating only when the previous meal has been digested, avoiding foods where there are known difficulties with digestion, and not drinking too much liquid with meals, especially cold drinks. Generally, cooked, moist, soft and warm foods are easier to digest than raw, cold foods. Signs of poor digestion include gas, belching, stomachaches, and intestinal discomforts. Adding digestive herbs to food will aid the process of digestion. Some digestive herbs that are safe for pregnancy include mints, tarragon, cardamom, jasmine, cumin, cinnamon, and basil. Papaya contains digestive enzymes, but may increase Pitta if used frequently.
And while bodily nutrition is essential, the heart-and-soul nourishment of the mother and baby is just as vital. By increasing her sentiments of deep love, the mother creates a more sattvic womb for her baby to grow and develop in. She should surround her self with people who are supportive and uplifting. Further, she should avoid disturbing images and forms of violent entertainment. The mother’s home should be beautiful and peaceful, with fresh clean air and natural light.
In her Ayurvedic essays, Terra Richardson of Cambridge University explains that a baby is physically conscious of his or her gestational development through the mother’s sense organs. Ancient Ayurveda acknowledges the development of the fetus’s sense organs through ceremonial rites preformed during different stages of pregnancy. According to Richardson, a modern-day pregnant woman can feed her baby’s senses by increasing the quality of her sensory input. She should “see beautiful and loving things, listen to loving and melodious sounds, touch pleasing things, and be touched in loving ways, taste wholesome tastes, and smell fragrant odors.” In other words, by surrounding herself in a beautiful, supportive, and loving environment, a mother’s womb becomes an equally safe, nourishing, and peaceful space for her baby’s consciousness to develop in.
During the eighth month of pregnancy the mother’s ojas, vital fluids, move from her to her baby. This is a time to eat ojas producing foods like ghee, dates, milk, and apricots. Staying at home and resting will conserve the vitality of the mother and her baby. She should avoid energy wasting activities in favor of letting her focus go inward. The final weeks of pregnancy lend themselves effortlessly to reflection, meditation, and deep, soulful contemplation. It is important that she avoids anger, does not overwork herself, does not experience hunger, and abstains from drugs, devitalized foods, and excessive intercourse.
Though it is best to consult with qualified health care practitioners, simple day-to-day Ayurvedic applications can make the season of pregnancy more enjoyable. Many common side effects of pregnancy can be avoided with preventative care and holistic treatments. Well-balanced nutrition, appropriate exercise, and relaxation techniques can combine to create strong, confident mothers and healthy babies. Physical and emotional balance, fortified with love and support builds and sustains the vitality of both the mother and her baby. From this sattvic state, a woman can deepen the connection between her and her baby, her and her mate, and enhance her awareness of self.
Holly Beck is an experienced, advanced yoga instructor with nearly twenty years of teaching and mentoring experience. Classically trained in the tradition of the Sri Vidya lineage, Holly’s class promises an authentic yoga experience for practitioners of all levels with steady pacing, a continuous meditation on breath, and masterful sequencing. While she enjoys all levels of yoga, Holly’s true gift is working with pregnant women. Holly’s specialized prenatal yoga practice, The Yoga Of Birth, has prepared hundreds of women for empowered birthing experiences. Holly holds degrees in English and the Science of Health and Wellness from the University of California, Berkeley. Her work has been featured in the journal of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, and she is recognized by the Doula Association of Southern California as a leader in prenatal education. Holly is currently developing a sustainable, rural retreat center for conscientious living in Costa Rica. For more information, please visit www.seedsofloveproject.org.