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Concept of safe motherhood in Ayurveda

Dr. Mrs. K. Nagral

Ayurveda, the ancient Indian medical science, describes safe motherhood thus, Motherhood is the basis of family life which, in turn, is the backbone of al the orders of society. Hence, family life remains protected if the woman is safe and protected.

This great science compares conception to the germination and sprouting of a seed and its transformation into a sapling. When the male and female seeds unite and the soul enters the union, it becomes an embryo (Garbha). Ayurveda gives importance to the quality of the seed and hence to the development during adolescence, of both the male and female. In addition to the seed, the mother also provides the soil, nutrition and the right season for the seed to grow. Hence, Ayurveda advises special attention to aid to the nutrition and protection of the woman to keep her (the soil) rich and clean. It further advises that a female less than sixteen years of age and a male less than twenty should not bear a child. The rules of sexual intercourse are also laid down. So also, those of antenatal care; the husband and other family members are advised to take care of the pregnant womans diet and encourage activities that are dear to her and beneficial to the foetusor child growing in her body. Thus, the approach towards motherhood, that is pregnancy and childbirth, is a holistic one. Such concepts are excellent, but the question is, are they practiced? In fact, it needs thorough introspection on our part to find out why this approach was abandoned.

Garbhin`ee Vyaakaran`a

Ayurveda describes the general management of pregnancy under Garbhin`ee Vyaakaran`a. There are separate chapters for general management, special management, diseases in pregnancy and their treatment and so on. Rules concerning diet, activities, behavior and mental activities; (AahaaraVihaaraAachaara and Vichaara) respectively are also laid down. The physician is cautioned and advised to be very careful about the management of pregnancy; if a vessel of mud yet to be baked, is filled with oil right up to the brim, is to be carried without spilling even a single drop, every step has to be carefully watched. The same is the case in the management of a pregnant woman. The physician should aim at protecting and nourishing both the foetusand the mother.

From the moment the pregnancy is confirmed, the woman is advised to follow certain rules. The physician steps in and starts supervision so that the pregnancy can terminate in a normal delivery at the scheduled time. Especially when she approaches full term, critical care is necessary as one of her feet is considered to be in this world and the other in the world of Yama (the god of death). Delivery is not complete unless the placenta is delivered. If the delivery is not normal, says this ancient science; the woman is likely to be affected by one or the other of a list of 64 ailments, which are described in detail in Garbhin`ee Vyaakaran`a.

Sometimes, even an expert, can get baffled by situations arising during the course of pregnancy, delivery, and post delivery period. Hence, the physician has to have foresight, definite convictions, expertise, experience and compassion while taking on the responsibility of a pregnant woman. He has to think of the welfare of two individuals at the same time, that of the mother and the foetus. Both are to be nourished and protected. The requirements of both are usually identical. But, if they happen to clash, the protection of mother should be the first priority.

If a couple desires to have a good progeny, both the partners should be careful about their diet, activities, behavior and emotional status before as well as after conception. One has to keep this in mind throughout the pregnancy.

General Rules from Inception of Pregnancy to Delivery:

The mother to be should

  • Always try to be in a happy mood
  • Be clean, neat and well dressed
  • Wear simple clothes
  • Sleep under a roof in a clean environment (not infested with insects such as mosquitoes etc)

The food she eats should be tasty, more of it should be in a liquid form, moist, nourishing, enriched with all the six (Rasa) tastes and treated by (Deepana) drugs, which are known to increase appetite and digestive power.

She should always avoid

  • Excessive sex, particularly during early and late pregnancy
  • Overeating or fasting
  • Sleeping during the daytime and staying up late at night
  • Tight clothes and tight belts
  • Witnessing or listening to things which give rise to feelings of sorrow, anger, horror, or agony
  • Traveling in a vehicle on rough roads
  • Squatting for a long time or sitting in an uncomfortable position or on a hard surface
  • Lifting heavy things or remaining in a bending position for a long time
  • Oleation by larger doses of fats, massage etc. unless positively indicated
  • Beholding natural urges unless in an emergency
  • Dry, stale, fermented, heavy, very hot or strong food, alcohol and meat (fish is allowed) smoke
  • Visiting abandoned and remote places
  • Leaning into a deep well

Garbhin`ee Paricharyaa (specific care)

The development of the foetusin the uterus is described under Garbhaavakraanti, and special regimes and prescribed for each month under Garbhin`ee Paricharyaa. The general rule is to take greater care during the first three months of pregnancy and after the completion of the seventh month.

During the first trimester, stress is laid on stabilizing the pregnancy and nurturing the uterine bed through Rasa and Rakta Dhaatu_s. The embryo gets nourishment directly by percolation (Upsnehana). Hence more (Jaleeya) liquid substances such as juicy fruits, coconut water, milk, and so on are advocated.

In the first month, sipping cold milk and maintaining a light diet, and during the next two months, the intake of milk medicated with herbs like VidaareeShataavareeYasht`imadhuBraahmee and so on, which are (Jeevaneeya) life-building and (Garbhasthaapaka) helping Nidation, are advocated. Honey and ghee are also recommended.

By the end of the third month, the body parts of the foetusbecome differentiated, sensory perceptions and motor reactions start developing, the heart starts beating, and it is said to express its desires through the mother. This is the period when the woman craves for certain foods/flavors. The needs of both the foetusand the mother are identical. Hence, Ayurveda recommends that her cravings be fulfilled as far as possible, if not contraindicated. Braahmee helps in calming the nerves and is also a good (Prajaasthaapana) sustainer of pregnancy.

From the fourth to the seventh month, drugs, which give strength to the uterine muscles and nourishment to the embryo, are advised e.g. AshvagandhaaKrauncha Beeja and Gud`oochi. They help to prevent intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR). Nourishment starts through the umbilical cord by the (Kedaara Kulyaa) channels in the field for reach of moistening, method. The diet should be one of rice, milk, butter and ghee. Fruits, which are orange or yellow in color, are advocated such as mangoes, apples, and carrots, Aamalakee etc. Leafy vegetables are also advised during the seventh month. The abdominal skin gets stretched giving rise to itching and striations, called Kikkvisa. This should be treated by taking sips of the infusion of berries or butter medicated with Manjist`haa, the application of the pulp of sandalwood and lotus or of a paste made of neem, basil and Manjist`haa, or oil medicated with Karaveera leaves or jasmine.

From the seventh month onwards, there should be less fat, less salt and less water in the diet. Rice and kaanji with a little ghee is advocated. After the completion of the seventh month, herbs, which are mild diuretics and urinary antiseptics such as Gokshura and Saarivaa, are advocated. Basil in small quantities is advised; it is also anti-spasmodic.

As soon as the pregnant woman enters the ninth month, she is supposed to move to the Sootikaagaara (delivery area), which is specially prepared for delivery. After an Asthaapana Basti (simple enema), she should undergo Anuvaasana Basti (retention enema of medicated oil with some herbs), which may be repeated. Tampons soaked in the same oil are kept in the vagina to make the pelvis soft and elastic and enhance the excretory functions of Apaana Vaayu (urination, defecation), which facilitates the expulsion of the foetus. The skin and nails become soft, and her strength and complexion are rejuvenated.

Spotting of blood during any month of pregnancy is considered to be serious and should be dealt with as advocated under Maasaanumaasika Chikitsaa, which describes the specific protective treatment, month wise.


The Sootikaagaara should be such as to meet seasonal needs. The type of land, the timber used for building, the architectural layout of the area (the bath room, toilet, kitchen, fire place, delivery room) the type of fire wood used, the water supply and so on are described in detail. Materials such as linen needles and instruments essential drugs and furniture are also specified. The house should be fumigated to make it free from insects. Porous bags containing Rakshoghna drugs should be suspended all around at the entrance and at the corners to ward off insect, bacteria and unseen evil elements (Rakshoghna drugs are supposed to kill or repel them). These drugs are Calamusasafetida, garlic, Guggulu and Sarshapa.

The nurse or birth attendant recommended by Ayurveda, should be experienced, friendly, alert, an expert, affectionate by nature, concerned and caring. The attending physician should be an expert also.

Treatment of Diseases during Pregnancy:

Any diseases occurring for in a pregnant woman should be treated with drugs that are mild in action compatible and safe for the foetus. Panchakarma (detoxifying procedures) should not be advocated, except Basti (enema) and Pichu (tampon) in the eighth and ninth months of pregnancy.

Ayurveda also describes nine diseases, which are caused because of the pregnant status of the woman. These diseases are peculiar to pregnancy and are called Garbhopadrava_s. They are nausea, anorexia, and vomiting dryness of mouth, fever, Edema, Anemia, diarrhea and retention of urine. Their specific treatments are also elaborately described.

As far as possible, medication should be avoided during the first three months of pregnancy. Only symptomatic treatment with very mild herbs and a suitable diet should be offered. The physician is advised to take into account the severity of the disease, the resistance power of the mother and the duration of the pregnancy, and choose the middle path so that the disease or the treatments do not result in sequelaein the mother or the foetus. For example, the use of Das`hamoolarisht`a in vaataja fever, cold infusion of Glycerrizalotus and Saarivaa in Paittika fever and Gud`oochi, Vaasaa quash in Kapha fever to bring down temperature. Similar special treatments are advised for other diseases. Drugs such as VachaaKumaaree, are contraindicated in pregnancy and substances like garlic and asafetida are to be used cautiously.

Different types of obstructed labor and their management with maneuvers, especially internally rotation, are also described in this section. If the physician notices that the disease is going to be dangerous to the mother, especially in the Garbhopadrava_s, no time should be lost in terminating the pregnancy.

Even three thousand years ago, thus Ayurveda has stressed the importance of safe motherhood. It aims at excellence in the formation of the foetus, its development without anomalies, a comfortable full term delivery, and maintenance of the health of the mother. Today, with a better understanding of the Physio-pathological processes and the advancement of allied sciences, we have put together a safe motherhood program for women in the form of a package namely, combating anemia, immunization of the mother, regular antenatal check up to detect any pathology in the foetusor the mother, to predict the course of delivery and take appropriate interventions, if necessary, and finally the delivery by a trained person. But, if we really wish to bring down maternal mortality in a big way the Ayurveda approach can certainly contribute in a significant manner. Some areas where integration can be thought of are

  1. Incorporation of Dos and Donts in antenatal counseling
  2. Giving due importance to the psychological and emotional aspects of the pregnant woman, and her daily routine
  3. Laying stress on care by the husband and other family members
  4. Supplementing her diet with folic acid and S`hataavaree during the first trimester
  5. Using As`hvagandhaa during the second trimester to improve immunity and to prevent IUGR
  6. Giving supplements of iron and calcium with herbal preparations and
  7. Adopting the beneficial concepts of the Sootikaagaara.

An integrated program for safe motherhood may be evolved by using these suggestions. I wish to conclude with a quotation from Maharshi Kashyapa, which means: Out of sheer love, affection and compassion, the would-be mother bears all the agony to protect the child with grace and dignity. That is really the greatness of MOTHERHOOD.

Last updated on March 5th, 2021 at 07:11 am

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