Childbirth: The Eastern Versus The Western Approach
Apr 21st 2021
Posted by Stephanie Chambers
by Stephanie Chambers
The Western perception and experience of giving birth focuses on it being a dangerous and painful event, as if it is somehow the birthright of women to suffer in this way. But Eastern approaches like Ayurveda see it in a completely different light.
Birth comes after nine months in which the mother to be has been nurtured and spoiled by her husband and family. Everything is designed to keep her in a happy mood as this is what will nourish both her and the baby inside. She is supposed to be showered with love. Ancient texts say she is to be treated with the same kind of care you would use if you were carrying a pot full to the brim with oil, aiming to not spill a single drop.
The pregnant mother should do a daily self-massage with warm sesame oil and essential oils can also be added (see The Role Of Essential Oils In Pregnancy for more details). Longer strokes should be used on long bones and circular strokes around the joints. Only gentle clockwise strokes should be used on the abdominal region. This also helps reduce stress marks, soothes the neuromuscular system, aids assimilation and elimination whilst reducing leg swelling and varicosities. Only loose fitting clothing made of natural fibers and comfortable shoes should be worn. The mother is given a special diet which changes slightly from month to month.
The mother reads Vedic texts and listens to Vedic melodies and also sings these as it is thought that even inside the womb, the baby starts its journey of learning and its path towards enlightenment.
In India the tradition is that the pregnant woman stays with her parents for 3 months before and 3 months after having giving birth to ensure that she gets abundant rest, support and nurturing. Traditionally women who have given birth themselves and that are experienced and cheerful midwives help the mother during the birthing process. Nowadays an obstetrician would also be present, but they should not be allowed to perform medical interventions just for the sake of efficiency rather than need.
During the birth, ideally the mother should be placed in an environment that is hygienic, comfortable, peaceful, gently lit, well ventilated, and spacious. The ideal position for giving birth will depend on the position of the baby and the mother’s desire. For example, squatting uses gravity to help the downward movement. Being in a bath is recommended as the Charaka Samhita (a classic Ayurvedic text) suggests that “the mother should be gently massaged with warm water on her waist, sides and chest, back, and thighs.”
Once labor starts, the mother can either focus on visualizing a smooth delivery or look at a special shape called a yantra - following it with her eyes from the outwards towards its center. This is thought to help her to develop her inner power.
Music such as certain sedating classical ragas played at a low volume in the background can help the mother to relax and to trigger breathing techniques. The breath is thought to be brought in line with the cosmic breath of the universe. Ayurveda recommends deep belly breathing and chanting specific Sanskrit sounds on exhalation and waiting at the outbreath for the contraction to complete before inhaling again.
Essential oils such as Bergamot, Grapefruit, Tangerine, Neroli, Jasmine, Rose and Lavender can be diffused during childbirth to increase relaxation.
Sesame oil and essential oils such as Clary Sage, Jasmine, Neroli or Rose can be massaged in if the cervix is slow to dilate. These also help the mother relax between contractions. You can also put a few drops of Bergamot or Lavender in a bowl of warm water to refresh the atmosphere. Peppermint oil can also be used to relieve nausea and vomiting. Herbal enemas can also be given.
Traditionally to hasten the delivery the mother can be given a warm bath with a few drops of Clary Sage. Sometimes things are drunk to induce vomiting. The naval area can also be massaged with castor oil. Sometimes, palm sugar melted in warm milk and mixed with ajwain is drunk.
Instead of slapping the baby’s bottom which is stressful way to start life, the circulatory response can be triggered by flicking water on the baby’s face, ringing a low pitch bell, hitting two stones together by its ear or fanning it with a gentle reed fan. The baby’s mouth can be cleared of mucus by swabbing it with a corner of unbleached cotton and wiping the inside using a finger dipped in ghee and fine sea salt.
After the umbilical cord has stopped pulsating, and been cut, sometimes the baby is placed on the mothers left breast so it can be reassured by the mother’s smell and heartbeat.
Traditionally the child is then washed in a purificatory bath and wrapped in pure silk or cotton. A cotton pad is tied on the baby’s crown. It is soaked in ghee, Brahmi ghee or Bala oil and left on for an hour a day over six weeks. This is thought to help the baby recover from the delivery, promote brain development, strengthen the hair and prevent cradle cap.
Sometimes the father gives the baby a special tonic of ghee, honey, powdered gold and other herbs to provide extra nutrition and boost immunity. Then the baby is placed on the mother’s breasts to suckle first her right breast, then her left.
Childbirth is thought to unbalance the elements of air and ether (vata) due to mental and physical strain, sleep deprivation, irregular eating and weak digestion after delivery. So reduce Vata which is cold, dry and active, the mother should be kept warm, unctuous and be given restful therapies. Daily Ayurvedic massages are given to the mother and baby. Essential oils can also be used for the mother to help prevent post-natal depression (see Amrita’s page on Essential Oils For Depression for more details). Massaging the nipples with oil also helps prevent them from becoming cracked and infected. A healthy, happy mother is more likely to shower her baby with the love it needs.
In a future blog, we will talk about which essential oils can be used for babies and how to use them. If you used essential oils during your labor, we would love to hear of your experiences. Please add comments below so that all can benefit.
Note: You may also find the Essential Oils For Pregnancy, Labor & Nursing Blog useful.
Disclaimer: The statements made in this blog have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are not intended to diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. If a condition persists, please contact your physician or healthcare provider. The information provided is not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a healthcare provider, and should not be construed as medical advice.
Original Published: 2015-08-12 / Last Modified: 2021-10-11