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Beyond Bone And Horn
When pregnancy derails your health goals, Traditional Chinese Medicine may be the answer to getting you back on track.
If you still think that we are living in an age where Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an archaic medical approach struggling to gain a foothold in our modern society, think again.Medical practices based on Chinese traditions and pharmacopeia, some dating back two millennia, has seen it gain popularity among younger couples. While it used to be labelled as a treatment method for our grandparents—and walking into a medical hall surrounded by severed deer antlers and a plethora of bizarre dried herbs can be admittedly off-putting—there is more to TCM than meets the eye. And this practice is even tipping the scales in the childbirth department, once the trusted domain of Western medicine.
“TCM and Western medicine are two very different approaches to medicine, making it difficult to compare the two,” explains senior physician Zhong Xi Ming of Eu Yan Sang Premier TCM Centre @ Paragon.“Western medicine focuses on therapeutics, while TCM also emphasises on the prevention of illnesses. Confinement practice is a good example of illness prevention as it aims to improve and aid the mother’s recovery to minimise the occurrence of post-pregnancy conditions in the future.”
Getting To The Point
Whichever school of thought you subscribe to, proper postpartum care is indisputably a crucial step for mums who have just delivered, since it also sets the stage for future health and well-being. From the TCM perspective, childbirth is more than just a naturally occurring event; it is a “gateway” which opens the door to a wholesome and sui generis state of health and wellness. As much as your body is weakened after giving birth, TCM sees it as an opportunity to not just restore it to normalcy, but to go further by strengthening it.
“TCM believes that the objective of post-natal care is to strengthen and restore balance in the body, so mums are able to resume daily activities and bond with their child,” says Mr Zhong.
During and immediately after pregnancy, a mother’s body is put through major stress and demands, resulting in tremendous hormonal, physiological, circulatory, respiratory, and metabolic changes that leave the body “open” to postpartum imbalances. The labour process involves major blood loss, and in TCM theory, blood is inextricably linked to qi, or vital life energy. Qi and blood deficiency is a key postpartum imbalance and dysfunctional flows may result in various sicknesses later on, along with poor breast milk production. Blood stagnation caused by pathogenic cold can bring about abdominal pain, retention of lochia (uterus discharge), incontinence, and severe depression for the recuperating mum.
Wondering why you visit the bathroom a lot more or break out in night sweats after giving birth? It could point to a deficiency in Yin, which is responsible for managing our bodily fluids and ability to relax. Furthermore, weakness in body constituents from giving birth, if without proper control on food intake and rest, may also invite viral attacks that lead to various kinds of postnatal sicknesses.
All Hands, Pins, And Cups On Deck
To help mothers return back to post-pregnancyhealth, Mr Zhong says that unlike Western treatment methods, which tend to employ a one-size-fits-all formula, TCM advocates an individualised approach and syndrome differentiation to postnatal care. You may realise that unlike Western doctors, who arrive at a diagnosis based on what you tell them, TCM practitioners are constantly observing you – your gait, pulse points, and even the colour of your fingernails tell a more holistic story.
Having a range of postnatal therapy techniques therefore allows mothers to choose a tailored programme that addresses their individual needs and afflictions. Tuina as a postnatal massage has been rising in stock due to its multiple beauty and health benefits. During labour, muscles and blood vessels within the mother’s body expands considerably, causing uncomfortable “knots” due to the build-up of lactic acid. A combination of expert hands and a herbal body wrap can promote the healthy flow of qi and blood, relieve muscle tension, and soothe your mind.
“Tuina is suitable for women who experienced a smooth delivery and are generally in good health after childbirth,” recommends Mr Zhong. “[It] can relieve discomforts due to water retention, engorged breasts, constipation, and help mothers relax and improve their mood.”
Tuina can be used in tandem with acupuncture. After childbirth, the natural balance of Yin and Yang is disrupted. Acupuncture helps to nourish qi and blood to reestablish thisequilibrium. “Many symptoms experienced by postpartum mothers such as fatigue, lower back pain, poor appetite, and insufficient production of breast milk can be relieved with acupuncture and tuina,” says Mr Zhong.“However, except in the treatment of insufficient breast milk production, mothers are recommended to undergo acupuncture only after they have stopped breastfeeding.”
We ask senior physician Mr Zhong to unravel fact from fiction about TCM postnatal care.
A popular misconception that has been passed down for generations is that a postnatal mother should observe bed rest during the first month of postpartum recovery and avoid any form of physical activity. “This is only partially true,” says Mr Zhong.“While getting adequate rest is important during confinement, light exercise is allowed as long as the mother feels fit enough to manage. It can also help prevent the formation of blood clots.”
In adherence to the practice of avoiding water during confinement, mothers may sometimes include teeth-brushing as well. Truth is, brushing your teeth is fine as dental care should still be maintained to prevent oral health problems. “New mothers can use warm water when brushing their teeth as the mother’s body is especially vulnerable to exogenous cold,” Mr Zhong advises.
We all know post-preggo mums should load up on nutritious food, which in Chinese culture means red fatty meat and chicken (think confinement mainstay Chinese rice wine chicken). The TCM way, however, does not recommend fatty meat as it disrupts the digestive system. “This is especially true for postpartum mothers in their first week of confinement,” says Mr Zhong, who recommends lean meat rich in protein.
A key pillar of TCM is the belief that foods have different energies, and the confusion over the categorisation may make some mums avoid fruits and vegetables all together. TCM recommends that only certain fruits and vegetables be avoided, particularly those that are too heaty like mangoes and lychees or cooling in nature like watermelons, and fruits like durians which are overly rich in sugars.“Eating moderate amounts of fruits and vegetables adds dietary fibre to the diet, preventing postpartum constipation,” explains Mr Zhong.