Pelvic Herbal Steam for Postpartum Care
It’s not too often that a prescription of “Mother Roasting” is advised for postpartum care—at least not in the Unites Sates. What is it and should new moms do it?
Come to think of it, aside from taking sitz baths, there isn’t really much talk of, literature, or common knowledge of what new moms can do to help themselves recover, physically and emotionally, after child birth.
In Southeast Asia, mother roasting is synonymous with postpartum care. Actually, there’s a whole “heat-the-new-mother-up” protocol directly after child birth. One practice is called Mother Roasting. This is when a new mom lays on a bed raised above hot coals to ‘dry out’ and to stop the lochia, restore the uterus to pre-pregnancy condition and to alleviate postpartum abdominal pain. (Hmm sounds pretty cozy, but I don’t know if a hot-bed set-up would work in my house! Maybe a heating pad?)
Other traditional practices done in South East Asia that sound much more doable include: vaginal herbal steaming, steam sauna, medicinal plant decoctions (really strong teas), and a diet of hot foods to help recuperate postpartum.
In traditional eastern forms of medicine, pregnancy is seen as a “hot state.” When the heat during pregnancy is lost after cild birth, women come into a state of excess cold. The postpartum care of mother roasting, v-steams, hot tea and food, etc. is done to restore the mother to equilibrium.
Do these practices work? Or are they just old wives’ tales? I don’t think so, and neither does the person who wrote this quote:
In Western traditional medicine, the label “old wives’ tales” has been applied to all knowledge of interest to women – fertility, birth, childcare – transmitted orally from one generation of women to the next, and the derogatory label reflects male devaluation and relegation to folklore of this exclusively female realm of knowledge (Newman 1985).
Understanding that the term “old wives’ tales” is a term made up by men to undermine women’s traditional knowledge of plants is so important. It’s created roadblocks for women to take care of themselves and their families in an optimal, holistic way.
And now, let me get back on track. No, these are not just old wives tales. There’s scientific evidence demonstrating how traditional “heat-the-mother-up” practices are effective, specifically vaginal herbal steaming.
I’m finding countless scientific / scholarly articles written by ethnobotanists (scientists who study a region’s plants and how people have traditionally used them) documenting vaginal herbal steams and how women use plants in general to care for all stages of women’s life including: fertility, menstrual health, birth control, pregnancy, birth, postpartum and lactation, and infant care.
I’m just focusing on one article’s findings in this post.
A group of researchers, 2 men and 2 women, went to Southeast Asia and interviewed local midwives and moms to learn about vaginal herbal steams, why it’s done, what plants are used and its value. The article sums up the practice of vaginal herbal steaming like this: “[the new mom sits] on a seatless chair over a pot containing the steaming decoction. By lifting the lid of the pot the steam is let out, containing essential oils and other volatile substances, for inhalation and absorption through the skin, and as the water cools down the mother uses the decoction to cleanse her body. The results show that the use of these specific species likely aids postpartum hygiene and health through the antimicrobial, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties of their essential oil constituents” (de Boer, Hugo J. 2012).
The researchers went on to study the types of chemical compounds that the volatile (essential) oils contain which do in fact prove to be antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, soothing to the nervous system and analgesic (relieves pain). Full article here. These healing substances enter the body through “dermal condensation.” Basically your skin drinks up the volatile oils that are released through steam. Plants that are used in South East Asia are different than plants used by women in other regions of the world. But the outcome remains the same. Healing oils are released through the steam and the mama is soothed, both physically and emotionally. After the steam, the mom uses the plant water to bathe in, which further helps to cleanse, heal and tighten tissue.
I don’t know if I’ll get around to Mother Roasting, but you can sign me up for postpartum v-steams, hot drinks and hot soups! There’s a book called The First Forty Days that has great recipes, tips and tricks on how to care for oneself postpartum. (I'll also recommend The Fourth Trimester while I'm at it!)
Please share with a girlfriend who might benefit from reading this!