Eastern medicine offers a beautiful way to view the human body, one that gives us insight into the way our emotional health impacts our physical wellbeing, along with tangible ways to balance ourselves back to optimum health. Adding some of these practices into your prenatal routine are fabulous ways to optimize your mental, emotional, and physical health during these precious months of nurturing new life.
Nourish your Spleen!
It’s important to understand that much of the language used in Chinese medicine is metaphorical, but a trained practitioner can interpret it to represent its western medicine equivalency. For example, the ‘Spleen’ system, which is also called the Earth element, (which consists of the Spleen and Stomach organ systems) can be interpreted as the microbiome, and the digestive system as a whole, including the pancreas, which is in charge of making insulin.
Key ways to nourish your spleen include avoiding cold drinks and too much raw food. The ‘Spleen’ has to work really hard to warm up cold substances, which can slow digestion. Raw food also has to be ‘cooked’ by the stomach before it can be broken down. To avoid taxing the Spleen, focus on warm (or at least room temperature) beverages, like herbal teas and organic bone broth, steamed vegetables and complex carbs like sweet potatoes make the Spleen happy!
Keep your blood sugar stable.
While our bodies do best with small amounts of complex carbs, too much sweet food damages digestion, based on Chinese medical philosophy. This can be interpreted as excess sugar leading to insulin resistance, a health danger at epidemic levels in our modern culture. Nourish your spleen by eating balanced meals containing a serving of protein, healthy fat (think avocado, nuts or olive oil), lots of green veggies and a small amount of starchy vegetables, like sweet potatoes. Toss in a few tablespoons of sauerkraut or kimchi and your Spleen will thank you by flooding your body with lots of energy and easy digestion.
Try not to worry. Overthinking and excessive worry taxes the Spleen. A saying to live by is “where the mind goes, the Qi flows.” Train your mind to focus on the outcome you want, rather than worrying about the one you don’t.
Inspire and let go for your Lung and Large Intestine!
Inspiration and letting go are functions of these 2 organs, which paired with the Metal Element. Ways to keep this system flowing smoothly include:
Keep breathing! The Lungs are the organ of ‘inspiration,’ so nurturing their energy means allowing space for creativity, taking time to get outside in the fresh air, and remembering to breathe deeply!
Try to make sure you’re pooping every day.
I know, I know. Pregnancy can be a constipation marathon when you’re pregnant (and even when you’re not!). The thing is, in order for the rest of your body to function optimally, regular elimination is a must. Try eating for your spleen, nourishing your kidneys, and adding in some extra fiber, magnesium and probiotic rich foods to keep things moving.
The lung is associated with the emotion of grief, so working through prior losses, or other events from your life leading to grief helps the Lung system thrive.
Similarly, ‘letting go’ of things that are out of your control, or that no longer serve you is a key to keeping your Large Intestine healthy.
Care for your Kidneys!
The Kidneys, also called the water element, are essential for survival. Chinese medicine attributes a significant number of bodily functions to the Kidney system, including reproductive & urinary health, the brain & nervous system, adrenal functions, and many more. Key ways to support your Kidney system include:
Staying hydrated. This doesn’t mean drowning your system with gallons of water on the daily, but it does mean paying attention to thirst queues and drinking moderate amounts throughout the day.
Add minerals! Minerals are like the ignition spark for countless functions in our bodies. Key minerals for hydration and overall health include calcium, magnesium, selenium, iron, sodium, potassium and many more. You can ensure that your minerals are replenished by adding a scoop of sugar free electrolyte powder to your water once a day, and by incorporating broths, sea vegetables and mineral rich salts, like Celtic grey or Himalayan pink into your diet. Green veggies, beets and supplements for extra measure will round things out!
Love your Liver!
The Liver and Gallbladder, AKA the Wood element, is in charge of so many things, including detoxification, stress management and menstrual issues (think PMS), breast health and more. Loving on your liver looks like:
Getting good sleep. Any pregnant person knows the paradox of needing more sleep and also waking up all the time to pee! Make sure you factor extra sleep time to make up for any lost zzz’s- from peeing, to kid’s and pet’s night time needs. Our bodies focus on detoxification while we snooze, backed up by the Chinese medicine circadian clock, which tells us that the most important time for liver detoxification is from 1-3 AM.
Stay active! One of the key ways to support the Liver is through moderate exercise. We all know how much better we feel after a workout, and pregnancy is no exception to that rule. Keeping in shape (without overdoing it!) is very important for a physically and emotionally balanced pregnancy. Being as strong as you can be in preparation for birth and postpartum is a huge added plus. The Gallbladder is in charge of the tendons and sinews, so keep them supple by stretching every day.
Wrangle the rage. The Liver is associated with anger, and too much of it can do harm. Learning to manage anger and work through it in a healthy way is definitely important in every phase of pregnancy and parenthood.
Take care of your Heart!
Looking at the body through this paradigm, the Heart which is part of the fire element, is in charge of not only moving blood through the body, but also houses the emotions. Since all things in our bodies are interconnected, it’s no accident that the Heart’s paired organ is the Small Intestine. That’s because the job of the small intestine is to send nutrients into the bloodstream, which means it’s tied closely to the health of the Heart. Ways to benefit this pairing includes:
Work through your emotions. Pregnancy is a very vulnerable time, second only to birth and postpartum, so tending to your heart is of utmost importance. Whatever that means for you- talking with your partner, working things through with a friend or therapist, journaling, mediation, prayer or whatever else soothes your soul.
Take care of your Small Intestine in the same way you care for your spleen, through nourishment, warmth and a balanced diet.
It’s easy to see how Eastern medicine can help you optimize your health and feel better, during pregnancy, into motherhood, and beyond. As women in this wild world, we need all the help and support we can get, from our communities and care providers. Incorporating holistic principles into your life, or finding practitioners to support you in this way can make the journey of pregnancy as smooth as possible.