Pregnancy is an exciting time for many—but especially so for the mother. According to Ayurveda, pregnancy is a time to balance the vata dosha, the energy of air and space. The vata energy, which resides in the nervous system, is responsible for proper fetal development.
The apana-vaya, a form of vata energy, is responsible for controlling the excretion of toxins and feces and moves downward for fetal development during pregnancy. The prana-vata energy, one of the five minor pranas, sits in the head to dictate the flow of energy inward and outward and moves upward to support the baby in the womb for nine months.
Ayurveda Foods for Pregnancy
Keeping these two opposing vata energies balanced is key for a healthy pregnancy. Giving in to desires and cravings—within reason—supports overall vata balance. The common understanding that food cravings change during pregnancy relates to the Ayurvedic practice of tending towards those foods that support a balanced vata. Sweet, sour, and salty tastes are emblematic of the vata dosha. So, if a mother of the kapha constitution does not normally prefer foods of the vata nature, she may have overwhelming cravings for pickles or peaches, for example.
The following foods are said to support the balance of vata for pregnancy:
- fruits and vegetables—leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards, squashes, sweet potatoes, carrots
- dairy—yogurt, milk, butter
- sweeteners—honey, maple syrup, natural sources
- oils—olive, coconut, ghee
- spices—ginger, cumin, fennel
- nuts—blanched almonds
- beans—mung, lentils
How to Have an Ayurveda Pregnancy
In addition to providing the proper nutrients for both mother and baby during pregnancy, a selection of lifestyle choices in accordance with Ayurveda can also support a healthy pregnancy.
1. Eat sattvic foods.
Consuming primarily sattvic foods, which are pure in nature and support easy digestion, is always recommended in the Ayurvedic practice. Sattvic foods that are not processed support clarity of body and mind, and increase one’s ojas, or vigor. One’s ojas sits in the heart, which is the epicenter of nutrient distribution and thus affected by dietary health. On the contrary, tamasic foods that are dull and destroying such as sugar, caffeine, and alcohol are more difficult to digest, and increase ama (toxins) in the body. Tamasic foods, therefore, are not recommended during pregnancy as they dim ojas.
Ojas-increasing foods include ghee, milk, dates, apricots, and sesame seeds, especially. Such sattvic foods encourage development of the dhatus—the body tissues—of both mother and fetus. Cooked foods are easier to digest, and are recommended over raw foods during pregnancy.
Tip: Try this recipe for increasing ojas!
2. Use herbs and oils with caution.
Researching herbal infusions or oils used during pregnancy is crucial. Some herbs can induce labor or cause miscarriage or birth defects and should be avoided at all costs. Avoid very hot or cold herbs, as well as very spicy or bitter ones. Herbs that support the regeneration of reproductive tissues include ashwaganda, bala, shatavari, white musalu, and kapikacchu and may be used throughout pregnancy. Nettles, which are high in vitamins A, K, C, calcium, potassium, and iron are highly recommended by midwives and naturalists. Nettles will decrease pain during and after birth; reduce cramping, spasms, and hemorrhage; support the kidneys; and increase richness and production of breastmilk.
3. Follow a daily routine in tune with the season.
Developing a daily routine that follows the natural, seasonal rhythm can support proper fetal development. Waking up before 6 a.m. and retiring to bed before 10 p.m. allows for a solid 8-hour sleep, and also coincides with the pattern of the sun, the overarching source of energy. Take short naps only in hot summer months to regain tejas, which is one’s internal fire or illumination.
4. Practice abhyanga.
Practicing abhyanga (self massage) using sesame oil during pregnancy increases energetic flow during pregnancy. Massage in the direction of muscles and joints, and gently on the nipples after the fourth month, and on the stomach only after the sixth month to encourage an easy labor. Follow abhyanga with a warm bath or shower to further release tension, or just use a foot soak if time is limited.
Tip: Try adding a handful of linden flowers steeped in one liter of water to the bath to help soften the perineum.
5. Do gentle exercises.
Engaging in gentle activities such as yoga, swimming, and walking also increase proper circulation of nutrients within the body. During yoga practice, all normal asanas may be practiced in the first trimester. During the second and third trimester, no pressure should be applied to the abdomen; here are some easy yoga asanas for pregnancy. During the third trimester only, do not practice inversions, as it disrupts the apana-vaya—the downward moving energy for proper fetal development. Pelvic and hip-opening postures are ideal for yoga practice, as are spine-strengthening poses.
Tip: A prenatal yoga class can provide friendship and bonding as well as gentle exercise.
6. Meditate regularly.
Establishing a meditation practice allows the mother to tap into new feelings within the body that arise during pregnancy. Taking time to pause and feel (or hear) what is occurring in the body in a different way can bring new awareness as the biological rhythms of mother and baby begin to sync. Pregnancy is a time of spiritual connection as the embryo grows, and according to Ayurveda, the mindset of the mother translates to the baby in the process. Traditionally in India, the mother must be happy for the baby to be happy.
Tip: If you don’t already meditate, start with a few minutes a day and work your way up to longer sessions.
7. Nourish yourself.
Creating time for other activities that nourish is another form of meditation practice that can offer great benefits for emotional stress. Listening to music, reading for pleasure, spending time in the garden, or taking time to create a nourishing meal can all contribute to a deeper sense of connection between mother and baby. Time taken for personal enjoyment and self-care, especially during pregnancy, are anything but selfish!
Tip: Try listening to the music of Garbh Sanskar’s Divine Chants for Expectant Mothers or Blessings for the New Arrival.
Listen to Your Body
- In addition to developing mindful habits during pregnancy, the mother must also be sensitive to signals from the body. As always, consult your personal doctor if you have concerns about your health during pregnancy.
- Mood swings and morning sickness may signal low blood sugar
- Hypertension, backaches and labor pains may signal insufficient calcium
- Varicose veins, anemia, hemorrhoids, skin or nail discoloration and constipation may signal lack of sufficient nutrients
- Preeclampsia may signal acute malnutrition
Most important to pregnancy is pursuing those cravings, feelings, activities, and practices that make the mother happy. When the mother feels good, the baby can also benefit from those feelings. Balancing the active energies during pregnancy—the apana vaya and the prana vata—using Ayurvedic principles is a fabulous way to accomplish this for the entire family.
For additional reading on pregnancy and Ayurveda:
- The Gift of Giving Life, Tarn Taran Kaur Khalsa
- Aveda Rituals, Horst Rechelbacher
- The Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Years, Susan Weed
- For a Blissful Baby, Kumuda Reddy
- Child Health Care in Ayurveda, Abhimmanyu Kumar
- Taking Charge of Your Fertility, Toni Weschler