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Postpartum Healing Methods from South Asia

Translating Tradition
Postpartum Healing Methods from South Asia

By Bushra Bajwa

As I came home from the hospital, my one-day-old son in my arms, I felt excited about the wonderful journey that lay ahead of me. I was to be the driver of this new journey and my son, my passenger. Together we would experience the beautiful path of life. However, as the journey began, I came to many stop signs. The discomfort following childbirth, sore joints, and lack of sleep prevented me from getting onto the road I wished to take. Although I had always supported an active lifestyle like most women in the Western world, I knew that I had to take a detour. I decided to turn to the wisdom and culture of my forefathers for postpartum recovery so that this journey could get underway.

Traditional postpartum healing methods focus much attention to the recovery of new mothers. These methods have survived for centuries and are still common practice in most non-Western cultures such as those of South Asia, the Far East, and the Middle East. A look at postpartum healing methods specifically from South Asia will enable us to learn about the practices and beliefs of this ancient culture and to see what can be borrowed for our benefit.

The different practices and the degree of adherence to traditional healing methods amongst women and families in South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh vary. However, the general philosophy and beliefs behind the practices are the same.

Rest, Rest and More Rest!

Traditional postpartum healing beliefs in South Asia are centered on the notion that after birth a woman’s body is drained of all its energy and the mother must have complete rest and receive good nutrition to help restore vitality. This is viewed as a long-term investment in her health. A confinement period is set, typically forty days, for the mother to be at home with her baby. This allows her complete rest to recover from the physical and emotional results of childbirth and prevents the mother and baby from getting infections.

The responsibilities of the household are taken over, where possible, by female relatives such as her mother, mother-in-law, sisters, and aunts. All meals are cooked by these relatives or provided by other close friends and relatives. This is possible due to extended family households and close-knit communities. Alternatively, some women stay with their parents during pregnancy and after childbirth and thus are relieved of the responsibilities of their own home.

In addition to the healing and recovery of the mother, the forty days confinement period allows for maternal bonding and the establishment of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is traditionally the preferred method of feeding a newborn as it is the most natural way. It provides good nourishment and builds immunity of the child. What’s more, it is good for the health of the mother and aids contraction of the pelvic muscles.

Hot and Cold Beliefs

The South Asian culture has a strong belief in the maintenance of the body’s “hot-cold” (humoral) equilibrium to sustain good health. Therefore, traditional postpartum care strongly centers on restoring the mother’s “hot-cold” balance following childbirth. Blood is considered as “hot” so after giving birth, as the woman has lost blood, she is considered to be in a cold state and postpartum care is aimed at keeping her warm.

Central to humoral theory is the belief that certain foods have a “hot” or “cold” effect on the body. This does not refer to the temperature of the food, nor does it mean that the mother is feeling hot or cold; rather, it refers to the “hot” and “cold” properties of food. Consuming “hot” foods after having a baby will help restore the mother’s humoral balance.

  • Example of hot foods (foods to consume): nuts, eggs, ginger, garlic, honey, dates, chicken, beef

  • Example of cold foods (foods to avoid): dairy, fruit juice, cucumber, melon, blueberries, bananas

In addition, the mother should keep herself in a warm state even if it is a very hot time of the year. Women who follow these ancient traditions believe that a new mother should avoid taking showers and cold baths and from washing her hair. Having a heated bath and staying wrapped up warm will help preserve her warmth.


Diet is a vital component of the recovery period. Traditionally, new moms are offered specific foods during the forty days rest period. In addition to restoring the mother’s humoral balance, these foods are believed to provide energy, help with healing, and deliver vital nutrients to the new mother and her baby. As the mother has lost a lot of energy during childbirth, it is encouraged that she have a high calorie diet to help regain strength.

Probably the most widely used post-pregnancy recipe by traditional South Asian women is panjeeri, which is a postpartum super-food. (See a recipe at the end of this article.) It is a “hot” food that is calorie-rich and thus provides lots of energy. Also, it is abundant in nuts, which provide protein, and contains important herbs to help relieve back pain and aid speedy recovery.

Kamarkas and ajwain are two herbs that are usually added to panjeeri for medicinal purposes. The word kamarkas literally means fortification of back muscles.” Since women usually feel back tiredness post childbirth, kamarkas acts as a tonic to pelvic and back muscles. In particular, it is very useful for delicate females. Ajwain is added to help relieve the mother from abdominal discomfort and also to aid digestion.

Translating the Traditions

Living in the western world, you might not have the luxury of being pampered for forty days, and there may be certain responsibilities that you need to tend to, such as caring for older children. Nevertheless, good rest and a solid diet should still be a priority for new mothers. Here are some suggestions for healthy postpartum recovery based on the South Asian traditions.


For at least the first three weeks, rest as much as possible and don’t tend to anything that can wait. This includes returning phone calls, cleaning the house, and even changing out of your pajamas!

Let others help you. If anybody offers their help, don’t turn them away. You could ask them to do your shopping, or babysit for an older child. Having somebody else prepare meals for you is also a great relief. Most mothers’ groups happily take on this responsibility. (You can find groups to join in your area at

If your family is planning to visit, ask them to come earlier on, as the first few weeks are when you’ll need them the most. I was lucky to have my parents come for the first three weeks following the birth of my son. They took over the responsibilities of the house and looked after my son during the day while I rested. That way, I could focus on my own recovery and better deal with the night-time cluster feedings.

If family is not able to help during this period, perhaps your husband will be able to take paternity leave. He can look after the baby while you get some rest. If you are on maternity leave, don’t schedule this time to catch up on miscellaneous projects that you didn’t get done while you were working. Save those for another time!

Don’t underestimate the change in your body and the need for healing after childbirth. Remember that it took your body nine months to get to childbirth, so expect it to take at least that amount of time to return to its original condition! Also follow the advice of your obstetrician or midwife. For instance, do not lift anything heavier than the weight of the baby in the first six weeks.

Don’t be in a hurry to resume your pre-pregnancy life. You will be better able to adjust to the changes in your routine and caring for your newborn if you are feeling healthy yourself.


Remember to eat. It may be a challenge to adjust to your new routine to begin with, but make time to eat and make what you eat count!

  • If you are breastfeeding, know that you need about an extra five hundred calories a day.

  • Have some water and a small snack after each nursing session.

  • Eat foods that supply your body with essential fatty acids, like fresh salmon, nuts, and seeds.

  • Make sure you are getting enough fiber. Try whole grains, fresh vegetables, and fruits.

  • And try to get a good amount of protein (from sources such as eggs and chicken unless you’re vegetarian).

Yakhni or chicken broth/soup cooked with chicken bones is eaten in South Asian countries during illnesses and also for postpartum recovery. It provides energy through healthy fats. Since the broth is cooked with bones, it is an excellent source of calcium for the mother and can help relieve joint pain. It also provides important minerals such as phosphorous and magnesium in a form the body can absorb easily. My mother used to give me a cup of chicken soup after each nursing session to stay hydrated and replenish nutrients.

Two other great ingredients to use in the postpartum period are turmeric and ginger. Turmeric helps heal wounds, and ginger is anti-inflammatory. A powdered version of both these ingredients can be added to recipes of cooked dishes such as soups, stews, and stir-fries.

Prepare some panjeeri and eat it twice a day. I found this to be a miracle for lower back pain and had this daily for three months. Both kamarkas and ajwain can be found at local Indian grocery stores. Also, whereas traditional panjeeri is cooked in desi ghee, which is a type of clarified butter, I prefer to prepare it in olive oil. Moderation is the key, as this recipe is high in calories!

One year on since the birth of my son, I have already experienced many wonderful things on this journey. This is all because a proper diet and taking good care of my body following childbirth allowed me to move beyond the stop signs and on to the freeway!

Bushra Bajwa is of Pakistani origin. She grew up in the U.K. and then moved to the U.S. She lives in Issaquah, Washington with her husband and her son, Fehsal, who was thirteen months old when she wrote this article. She works as a freelance writer. You can read more of her fitness, nutrition, and beauty tips for women on her blog at:

Recipe for Panjeeri

1 kg whole wheat flour
1 kg desi ghee
½ kg powdered sugar (or 3 cups honey)
250 g finely ground edible gum raisin crystals (gondh)
25 g powdered dried ginger powder
100 g dried melon seeds, water melon seeds, pumpkin seeds
200 g almonds
200 g cashew nuts
400 g grated dried coconuts
100 g walnuts
50 g unsalted pistachio nuts
50 g ajwain – optional
50 g kamarkas – optional

Heat half of the ghee in a wok. Fry all the nuts, seeds, and herbs one by one until they turn golden brown.

Remove and keep them aside separately.

Coarsely grind all the fried ingredients. Mix together in a large pan and keep aside. Grind the kamarkas into fine powder and add to mix. Also add the ajwain.

Heat the remaining ghee and roast flour over medium heat until the color changes to golden brown and the ghee starts separating from the flour. Turn the heat low.

Sprinkle powdered gum crystals to the roasted flour and keep stirring until the crystals puff up and the spluttering stops.

Add the ginger to the roasted flour and stir the mixture well.

Turn off the heat. Keep on stirring the mixture for another 5-10 minutes.

Add the mixed ingredients and sugar.

Transfer the mixture into a large bowl and let cool.

Store the mixture in an air-tight container and enjoy!

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