Over the course of its long history, Traditional Chinese medicine has endlessly contemplated natural cycles and the generation of new life, and the overall approach is very easy to sum up: in pregnancy the health of both mother and baby depends on the quality and vitality of the blood.
Modern lifestyles impact the quality of blood significantly - difficulty conceiving and miscarriages can be consequences of this - and further symptoms are very common during pregnancy. Muscle cramps in the feet and legs are a sign that these tissues are crying out for more blood, while headaches, dizziness and heart palpitations can also result from an insufficiency of blood filling the vessels of the body.
Even after the birth, breast-feeding and caring for another life will take an enormous toll on your body. So little emphasis is given to helping a mother replenish her resources before jumping back into the demands of life, and this is a major factor in the exhaustion and post-natal depression that so many new mothers suffer from.
Activities which tax our blood include exercise (sweating uses up fluid from the blood), staying up late (rest is crucial for our bodies to regenerate), worrying or ‘overthinking’, demanding careers, and looking at screens (which demands huge amounts of blood flow to eyes and brain).
We can do a number of things to counteract this (and replenish our systems), one of which is to eat as seasonally and organically as possible. Plants grow in particular conditions and at particular times of year for a reason, and if we match our diets to what is naturally available, we will give our digestion the best chance of doing its job well. During and after pregnancy is a time to be cautious with eating too much raw and cold food or fluids, even water.
Our stomachs are like the pilot light of a boiler which should stay lit and warm to gently cook and break down the food you eat. If you drown that warmth in a gallon of iced liquid or fill it with cold salad and ice-cream, you will put that fire out, and your digestion will suffer accordingly. Small sips of warm or room temperature fluid throughout the day, but not during meals, are preferable.
Keeping your feet and lower abdomen warm (front and back) is also highly advisable, especially after the birth. One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a postpartum woman in the eyes of Chinese medicine is for her to catch a cold, as her immune system is so vulnerable at this time, enabling the cold to penetrate deeper into her system potentially causing more long term problems.
Chinese herbal medicine is very effective at nourishing the blood and helping it to flow freely around the body. This can alleviate many complaints that are common before, during and after pregnancy, such as painful periods, dizziness, cold extremities, swollen feet and legs, abdominal discomfort, reflux and nausea. All, if administered correctly, without the side effects that stronger medications might cause.
Acupuncture and bodywork techniques such as tuina can also be highly effective, especially when it comes to relieving tight muscles and ligaments which are being stretched to accommodate the growing child (potentially causing pelvic, low back and sciatic pain or even carpal tunnel syndrome).
The good news is that, if you take care, your pregnant body now has an extra heart beating away, as well as an increase in blood flow and pressure, with the monthly loss of blood temporarily halted. The main thing then is to try to use all this extra blood to your advantage. Pregnancy is above all the time to tune into your intuition and learn to listen to what your body actually needs. This is not an easy skill to develop, but you are the person with the most direct line to your baby and your baby will tell you what it likes and what it doesn’t.
Pregnancy brings with it so many shoulds and shouldn’ts and what-ifs and if-onlys, all of which create mental and therefore physical tension which you may not even be aware of. You will be bombarded with well-meaning advice, but even the healthiest and safest diet, exercise, or course of action can be a source of stress (and therefore a source of physical tension) if it goes against your deeper feelings.
We have outsourced so much of our lives to what others think is right or good, especially in the realm of healthcare. Don’t doubt the value and accuracy of your own inner voice and common sense. Putting yourself back in touch with the natural cycle of your inner world and the dance it is doing with the irresistible forces of the world around you is, after all, exactly the principle the ancient Chinese tried to live by.
Realistic and enjoyable awareness of yourself in the context of the bigger picture of life is not only the best medicine, it is what the development of yourself, your child and the adult they will hopefully become, is all about.