What is an Ayurdoula? You'll Know— and Want One —After You Read This.
After I had Grace, I felt the need to get back into things as quickly as possible. It didn’t feel right, but that’s what I had been conditioned to believe. “Got to get back to normal,” the cultural messages seem to say. Feeling off about the whole thing, I started to look into how other cultures view maternal healing after childbirth and discovered some really beautiful practices that allow mothers to heal and bond with her baby — and do nothing else— for about a month to 42 days. Luckily, these healing concepts and services are becoming more and more available in America.
When we travel I like to seek out people who are doing extraordinary work in postpartum healing in that area. After a recent trip to Denver, I discovered Sarah and Max Blackwell of Inner Sun and Moon, a treatment space + apothecary in Denver, Colorado offering natural therapeutic recommendations, bodywork and Ayurdoula services. Their postpartum packages, which also include care packages for mamas who don’t live in Denver, sound absolutely dreamy.
I was so excited to get the opportunity to interview Sarah, just weeks before she gave birth to her daughter Vina Irie (you can peep photos of the adorable little one on their Instagram feed @innersunandmoon). I learned so, so much about postpartum healing from this interview. I hope you do too.
What is an Ayurdoula? How did you come to serve new mamas?
An Ayurdoula is an Ayurvedic Postpartum Doula - someone trained in traditional Ayurvedic postpartum practices to help a new mother heal after childbirth. As an Ayurdoula, I go to a new mama’s home during the 6-8 weeks after childbirth, and I take care of her so that she is free to focus on caring for, falling in love with, and bonding with her new baby while also getting the rest she needs to heal from the arduous task of pregnancy and birth.
I was a preschool teacher and nanny for about 10 years first, and I always gravitated toward caring for the youngest babies and children. It is in my spirit to be a nurturer, especially to those who are most fragile. In 2012 I found my way to the New Mexico School of Natural Therapeutics, seeing clearly it was my divine calling to be there; though I didn’t yet know why. While there, I learned how to care for myself and others through a beautiful array of natural therapies such as massage therapy, herbal medicine, flower essences, Nature Cure, Traditional Chinese Medicine, living foods nutrition, and the like. It became clear to me that I wanted to further specialize and utilize this education toward natural care and therapies for babies and mothers.
It turns out that the best way to care for the babies of the world is to give them the best start to life possible by caring for their mothers! If the mother is well, the baby most likely will be too. I'm sure you've heard the saying, “Peace on Earth begins at birth.” I am helping bring peace to Earth by caring for the new mamas. 😊
Your Mom spa services sound dreamy, I so wish I had something like this after I had my baby. Why is it so important to pamper a new mama?
Yes, I wish for every mama to have something like this after birth!
A new mother is actually just as fragile as her new baby; and in fact, she needs to be mothered, protected, and cared for herself so that she is free to enter into her new role as mother in the strongest and most peaceful way possible. In Ayurveda, the 42 days after birth are considered a sacred window in a woman’s life. There are only two other sacred windows in her life - one at marriage and one at menopause. It is said that birth is an initiation, and the 42 day sacred window after birth is a time when the woman is experiencing a whole new level of unconditional love and devotion toward serving another being. What happens during those 42 days sets the woman up for her experience of life - in sickness or in health - for the next 42 years. It is like a fork in the road and she can go two opposite ways. One way takes her into deep depletion, exhaustion, anxiety, depression, potentially seeds relationship issues, and the like. This route sets her up for future health problems and occurs when she is not supported properly, nourished properly, allowed to rest and heal during those crucial 42 days postpartum. The other direction takes her into deep healing, rejuvenation, revitalization, confidence in her role as a mother, bonding with her child, feelings of peace and security, and the like. This route sets her up for a long healthy life and actually allows her to heal issues that were present even before she became pregnant because there is so much restructuring that needs to take place in the body after birth any way. This second route happens when she is allowed lots and lots of rest, is properly nourished, and is supported during her postpartum sacred window. That’s why it is so important to pamper a new mama! It isn’t luxury, it is necessity. All moms deserve to take the route of deep healing, and it saddens me that the knowledge of how to do this has nearly been lost to us in the United States.
What are some real benefits that you’ve seen in mamas who have used your services while healing from childbirth?
Watching the mamas I care for feel stronger and stronger, grounded, and literally begin to glow brighter and brighter than they ever were before is one of my favorite parts of doing this work. I have watched mamas become free of both anxiety and depression that had been there for years, seen milk supply issues effortlessly solved, and c-section scars heal seamlessly. We have resolved colic and acid reflux in babies through simple diet changes in the mama, prevented mastitis, and released all those emotions from the journey into motherhood that can become completely overwhelming. My favorite of all is watching a new mother bond and fall in love with her new baby in the way where she feels confident, comfortable, and happy stepping fully into her new role.
What culture does the Ayurdoula come from and what is different about the healing process there compared to in America?
The system of Ayurveda is a 5000 year old health system stemming out of India that has been actively in use for the entire 5000 years - so there is incredible depth of wisdom and time tested knowledge there. Numerous other cultures around the world follow the same principles as the Ayurvedic/Indian tradition of postnatal care, in their own unique ways, but the guiding principles are the same.
The Ayurvedic tradition of care has three main pillars - 42 days of rest, daily massage, and nourishment through proper diet and herbs. All three pillars are considered equally important - you can’t just omit one! The new mother should be nesting, resting, and off her feet as much as possible for the full 42 days after birth. She shouldn’t leave the house beyond her backyard, and she especially shouldn’t drive anywhere. There should be others around her doing the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Her only job is resting and caring for her baby. Massage for the mother is done daily with special herbal oils that are warmed. Afterward her belly is wrapped with a cloth, heat is applied to her belly and back, and she takes a nap. When she wakes up, she gives her baby a warm oil massage and the two of them soak in an herbal bath together. Her digestion is very fragile after giving birth so her diet needs to be very easy to digest, warm, oily, soupy, and soft. Everything should be made fresh - no leftovers or frozen reheated meals are allowed! This prevents all kinds of digestion problems in the baby, including colic. And then there are a variety of beautiful herbal food and snack preparations that help with all aspects of post birth healing and rejuvenation that come into play at certain times post birth.
Tell me about the ayurveda postnatal menu. How does it help a new mama heal? What are a few items you may see on the menu? Do you tailor it by dosha?
The Ayurveda postnatal menu is the most warming, delicious, nourishing, easy to digest food you can imagine! It’s the kind of food that gives you a feeling of pure coziness and of being totally cared for. All the menu items need to be freshly prepared and have the qualities of being warm, soupy, oily, soft, and often sweet. Two or three tablespoons of ghee can be added to everything. Chai type spices (which are digestive spices) can be used amply - cinnamon, cardamom, clove, ginger, black pepper, fennel, fenugreek, and saffron, to name a few. We avoid anything hard, heavy, cold, frozen, dry, and old.
Eating this way helps a new mama to heal by first healing her digestive system which gets almost totally shut down at birth. The qualities of the food help her feel grounded, safe, and secure while providing a rich, deep, and easily accessible source of nourishment. This results in a high quality breast milk and her baby is then free of so many common ailments like colic, reflux, etc; and her baby feels secure, grounded, and nourished as well.
All women have aggravated Vata after birth, regardless of their original dosha type. After birth we have to address Vata. The two main reasons for this are - 1. Vata is the quality of air and space. The moment the baby is born there is a big empty space in the mother’s womb where the baby used to be. This immediately causes an imbalance in Vata and a need to reduce Vata. 2. A huge amount of change has just taken place by bringing a baby into the world. It’s one of the most life changing things that could happen. Big change like that aggravates Vata. The majority of postpartum ailments, such as anxiety and postpartum depression to name two big ones, stem from Vata being out of balance. So, the postpartum diet is a Vata reducing diet - the most Vata reducing diet possible - and therefore reduces these common postpartum ailments in a big way. When we eat foods that are old, cold, frozen, hard, or dry, we are simply aggravating Vata - and the ailments that come with it - more.
On occasion it will be necessary to tailor the diet beyond simply a Vata reducing diet; and this happens when a mother is already Pitta or Kapha to an extreme - then small alterations are needed. For example, a mother who is extremely Pitta may be struggling to slow down enough to rest and let others help her so she needs a combination of Pitta reduction + Vata reduction in her diet. This can be achieved with only minor alterations to the original postnatal diet. With you being Vata-Pitta, it is pretty certain you’d be most in need of the standard Vata reducing diet recommended for the postpartum time. I’d make you beautiful stewed fruits like apples and pears cooked soft with lots of ghee, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger plus sweet rice pudding for breakfast; soft kitchari (mung dal + rice) with roasted root veggies (beets, carrots, and yams that are just falling apart they've been roasted so long) plus homemade herbed chapati flat breads that are served warm covered in ghee for lunch; and a vitality enhancing milk tonic (which is like a medicinal herbal chai without the black tea) alongside warm gooey molasses cookies for dessert.
What is Abhyanga and why is it so great for new mamas?
Abhyanga is Ayurvedic warm oil massage. I use about 8 oz of organic herbalized sesame oil to give one Abhyanga massage! As you can imagine, the new mama gets completely covered in oil from head to toe. Even her scalp, hair and ears are oiled. The oil is applied to her body in layers and massaged in via specific patterns that follow energetic pathways of the body. Sesame oil is used because it is the only oil capable of penetrating through all 7 tissue layers of the body down to the bones. As the oils are applied and massaged in, they go deeper and deeper into the body carrying the herbs with them. This delivers healing nourishment directly to the tissues without having to go through the digestive system first. In Sanskrit - the language Ayurveda was originally written in - the word for “oil” and the word for “love” are synonymous. Drenching the body in oil is akin to feeling drenched in love. The mothers come out of the Abhyanga glowing and feeling very loved and feeling all kinds of self love.
Abhyanga is extremely calming and nourishing to the nervous system, moving a new mama to a place of "rest and digest" where all healing and regeneration take place. It makes her feel grounded, comfortable, and secure in her body which spills over into filling comfortable and confident in her new role as a mother. Most mothers fall asleep during their Abhyanga which is certainly needed after so many sleepless nights, and the Abhyanga helps her to be able to access deeper sleep cycles later during the night.
The other huge reason for Abhyanga in the postpartum time is that the body is doing a lot of detoxing after birth. There is inherently more toxic load during pregnancy that the body needs to let go of and expel, and the body is acting to expel everything left in the womb that is no longer needed. Abhyanga is very detoxifying to support the body in doing its best version of this, but it is detoxifying in a way that is simultaneously rebuilding which is the kind of detox a new mother needs. I’m also amazed at how the skin on a woman’s belly rejuvenates and returns to a pre-pregnancy state quite effortlessly when she receives or gives herself daily warm oil massages.
Can you tell me about some of the herbs that you use for the massages? How do they help a new mama heal?
I make each new mama I work with a custom blend of herbs for their oil; but most of them will contain a combination of Brahmi, Ashwagandha, Bala, and/or Rose. Brahmi, Ashwagandha, and Bala are all nervines meaning they are deeply soothing and calming. Brahmi also helps calm the mind and brings mental/emotional clarity, soothes anxiety, and is great for the skin and healing stretch marks. In addition to soothing the nervous system, Ashwagandha is wonderful for balancing the hormones after birth, brings vitality, and has an affinity for nourishing and restoring the reproductive tissue. Bala is known to bring strength, not only physical strength but an incredible emotional and spiritual strength as well. Rose heals and uplifts the skin, is uplifting to the mood, brings protection to the new mother, nurtures her heart, and helps her bloom joyfully into her new life.
You’re located in Denver. Do you offer services to mamas in other cities?
Yes! I’m so excited to now be able to do so! I offer packages of all Ayurvedic postpartum medicines and supplies recommended for optimal post birth recovery delivered to your door with a guide booklet full of how to use everything in the package, the principles of postpartum rejuvenation, and recipes. I also offer a series of support sessions via phone or Skype where we can troubleshoot anything going on with you or baby. And finally, I’m in the process of creating a series of online mini workshops where you can learn the art of Ayurvedic postpartum care to implement for yourself or utilize to care for a friend or loved one. Those workshops will be available one by one in the coming months!