Can ghee really help with labour?


TRADITIONALLY, a very high amount of ghee (a cup per meal) was included in the diet of an expectant mother. It was (and is) believed to lubricate and relax the muscles in the abdominal and pelvic area, thereby making way for an easier and normal delivery. The calories gained was often thought to be expelled by the labour-intensive nature of jobs that women did back then.

For the average woman of today though, a cup of ghee or even a ladle would spell disaster. Going overboard with ghee, especially during the final stages of pregnancy, is not desirable since the body is already under duress—an overworked heart (which undergoes strain to pump for an increased body size), increased levels of blood pressure and abdominal discomfort. A sudden and prolonged consumption of ghee can lead to unnecessary weight gain, hypertension and gastric distress in the mother.

Even if she presents no complication (obesity, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure or late age of conception), no more than 50g of fat is required to meet daily dietary requirements during pregnancy. Keeping in mind that oil will be used for roasting or frying and tadka (tempering of spices), consuming between one and three teaspoons of ghee a day is more than enough.

In ayurveda, inclusion of ghee in various forms is recommended both in the preconception stage and during pregnancy. Many women are given medicated ghee (Panchakarma treatment) to detoxify the body and prepare it for a period of pregnancy.

During pregnancy, two to three teaspoons of ghee (and not more) is recommended by ayurvedic doctors to aid calcium absorption and for loosening abdominal and pelvic muscles. To help the baby settle into a head down position and help the mother have a vaginal delivery, ayurvedic doctors also perform a simple oil enema (basti). Oil and herb-soaked tampons (pichu) are also inserted into the vagina to relax the pelvic muscles, increase excretory functions and push the foetus. These procedures are carried out once the woman enters the ninth month.

In our country, the arrival of a child is not very different from a wedding. It is a family event that everybody looks forward to with great eagerness and enthusiasm. Mothers begin to stew massage oils with a vengeance; mothers-in-law stock up on rare herbs and twigs for the little one; and cooks serve ghee and tips to avoid a postpartum belly with equal vigour. In short, loved ones can be so eager and focused on helping a new mother and baby ease into each other that they forget to question the efficacy of their own efforts. Remember, too much of anything can never be a good thing and when in doubt, moderation is better and safer.

Next issue: Providing immediate care to mothers