Warm Compresses for Postpartum Healing
Pain relief is a big concern for new mamas and without a clear plan for comfort measures, many mothers are left feeling at odds with their aching body. Having strategies in place that are easy to implement helps new mothers to feel at ease and focus on the task at hand- bonding and breastfeeding their baby! Warm compresses are my most suggested comfort measure postpartum. To be clear, a warm compress is technically called a fomentation. But the reality is that most folks don’t know that word. To keep things simple, I’m sticking with more common place terminology.
What most postpartum mothers are taught to do for comfort in the early days is a “padsicle” over the vagina. This is composed of a postpartum pad drenched in water or herbal tea and then frozen. The idea behind it is that the cold eases pain and inflammation. The problem with “padsicles” is that they completely negate thousands of years of cross-cultural traditions which all emphasize the importance of warmth postpartum.
From a modern perspective, warmth increases blood flow to the area which supports the healing process. It also facilitates the release of the hormone oxytocin which is essential for breastfeeding, bonding and the contraction of the uterus back to pre-pregnancy size. From an Ayurvedic perspective, postpartum mothers are considered to be in a vata state because the downward expulsion of the baby creates void in the mother’s center. This is represented by the wind element which is energetically cold and dry. To keep her constitution balanced, all practices should be warming.
So what is a warm compress and how do you do it?
It’s simply a clean cloth, soaked in warm herbal tea and applied to the vagina. In my practice I have found this to be the easiest self care practice for new mamas to incorporate. Unlike a sitz bath, warm compresses can be done in bed while nursing a baby and have little clean up afterwards!
1. To begin, gather a stack of clean cloths. Face cloths are a good size for this. Thicker materials tend to hold the heat best, but keep in mind that the fabric should be soft as to not irritate the tissue.
2. Mix up a blend to use for the herbal tea.
3. Add approximately 1 cup of the herbal blend to a clean 1 litre glass jar. Pour hot water over and use a butter knife to release the air bubbles. Cover with a tight fitting lid and allow it to steep for at least 30 minutes.
4. Strain the tea through a tightly woven cloth. This piece is important because any pieces of plant matter can be irritating to the healing vagina.
5. Pour the tea into a crockpot. Set it up in a place that isn’t at risk of burning children or pets. Turn it onto the “keep warm” setting. The stack of cloths can be placed beside it.
The mother can now apply the warm compress as needed for relief! However, it is important that the compress is warm but not hot. She should use her own discretion before applying it.
There really is a myriad of different herbs which can be used in the tea for the compresses. Herbal actions to consider are anti-microbial (to ward off infection), vulnerary (to promote healing of the tissue) and anodyne (for relief of pain). Focusing on warming herbs will help to bring blood flow to the area which supports the body’s innate healing capacity. These actions can be achieved even from common kitchen herbs such as rosemary or garden “weeds” like comfrey and yarrow.
My favourite herbal blend includes yarrow, rosemary, comfrey, lavender and calendula.
This simple practice can make a huge difference in a mother’s postpartum experience. There is much more which can be done for comfort in those early days but warm compresses are good start for something easy and effective. In my Postpartum Preparation Sessions, I take a deeper dive into other comfort measures to support new mothers.