Ayurvedic approach towards motherhood, that is pregnancy and childbirth, is indeed a holistic one. Ayurvedic recommendations touch upon the diet, behavior, and activities of not only the mother but also the entire family into which the child will be born. Ayurveda regards the woman and her ability to produce and care for children as the basis of family life, which, in turn, is the very foundation of society. Therefore, only if the women of a society are safe, protected, and content can these qualities manifest in that society. Pregnancy is a time when everything the pregnant mother tastes, sees, touches, hears and smells should be nourishing to the mother and child.
Charaka Samhita states - ‘Evamkurvati hi arogya-bala-varna-samvahana-sampadamupetamjnatinamshreshtamapatyamjanayati’ which means that if a pregnant woman is taken care of as advised, she will give birth to a child who does not have any diseases - a healthy, physically strong, radiant and well nourished baby.
Advice on diet during pregnancy -
- Cooked vegetables should be included in diet whereas raw vegetables / salads should be consumed in less quantities preceding lunch.
- Pulses like yellow and split green gram, pigeon pea and red lentils are easy to digest, balancing and nourishing to the body. Chickpeas, black-eyed and kidney beans should only be taken very occasionally and must be thoroughly soaked and well cooked. Tofu can also be enjoyed.
- Grains including rice, oat, rye, maize, millet, amaranth, quinoa and flours made from the above grains and buckwheat can also be used. Porridge made without milk, but with cinnamon and cardamom, coconut flakes, soaked raisins or stewed fruit is easy to digest, highly nutritious, warming and energizing. It is better to avoid bread.
- Seeds and nuts such as pumpkin, sesame, poppy and sunflower seeds, pine nuts, almonds (without skin), walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios should be eaten in very small amounts as they are heavy to digest and vata increasing. They are best soaked and made into a paste or milk. The flesh, milk, cream and flakes of coconuts can be used liberally.
- All sweet fruits such as apples, pears, apricots, grapes, cherries, plums, sweet berries, fresh figs, dates and also pomegranate are good. Dried fruits are okay, but they are best soaked.
- Of all dairy products ghee (clarified butter) is the best - it can be cooked with and added to practically everything. Milk should be taken warm preferably, spiced with ginger, cardamom, cinnamon or turmeric. Good alternatives to cow‘s milk are soya milk and rice milk. Fresh cheeses are easier to digest then hard, old ones. They are best enjoyed with some black pepper to stimulate digestive fire.
- One should avoid red meat. White meat is okay for consumption i.e. chicken and turkey. Fish is very hot in potency; so one can chose to eat fresh water fish rather than sea fish.
- Refined sugar should be replaced by jaggery (solidified sugar cane juice), cane sugar, or honey. Honey is not heat stable and becomes poisonous for the body when heated, cooked or baked.
- Black tea and coffee can be drunk, but herbal teas and decaffeinated coffee are better. Ginger tea made from fresh roots is warming, agni (digestive fire) increasing; removes mucus and toxins but ginger tea should not be drunk regularly.
- Most essential is the use of spices. Cumin, coriander, fennel and saffron are the best for balancing all doshas, increasing agni (digestive fire) and should be used liberally. Black pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, mustard seeds, nutmeg, all fresh herbs (particularly fresh coriander) and onions can be used. Garlic and ginger should also be used in moderate quantities. Asafoetida (Hingu) pacifies vata and should be added when cooking pulses, cabbage and beans to reduce their gas producing properties.