Ayurveda is a very vast and elaborate medicinal science, containing a huge amount of medical knowledge. It is said, that when mankind first started suffering from illnesses, the wise men (sages) learned from Indra the knowledge of medicine. Gradually the huge amount of knowledge was divided systematically into 8 branches, in Sanskrit named “Ashtangas” (Ashta means “eight”, Anga means “part”). One of these 8 branches is called “Bala chikitsa” (Bala means “child” and Chikitsa means “treatment”); also known as “Kumaraya Bhritya”. Bala Chikitsa is equivalent to Pediatrics in modern medicine. This branch of Ayurveda deals with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases related to children.
In Ayurveda, the basis for woman and child care is to be found in the major ancient Ayurvedic treatises: Ashtanga Hridaya, Sushrutha Samhita, Charaka Samhita and Vagbhata Samhita. Vagbhata Samhitha and Ashtanga Hridaya (both by Acharya Vagbhata) describe extensive guidelines about day-to-day care for the pregnant woman and her new born child.
Bala Chikitsa covers child care from intrauterine (“inside the womb”) life, until the age of puberty. Not only the mother’s health during pregnancy is important and should be guard-ed, but care should already be taken even before conception. Ayurveda emphasises that the would-be mother and father should be physically, mentally and emotionally fit before the conception, in order to have a good pregnancy. Ayurveda also considers the woman as the first teacher of a child, and every aspect of proper development of a child is directly linked to the physical and mental health of the mother. Even more so, the mother’s sound health is necessary for healthy upbringing of children. Therefore Ayurveda has described a specific diet plan and routine for women before, during and after delivery. To ensure proper growth and development of the foetus, herbal decoctions, to be taken every month, are given to a pregnant mother. These are especially recommended to women who have a history of recurrent abortions or miscarriages. Specific conditions like nausea, vomiting, constipation etc. that occur during the pregnancy have effective treatments in Ayurveda. Charaka, one of the ancient Ayurvedic scholars who had great influence in Ayurveda, de-scribes the growth of the foetus in great detail in his books. He even describes in minute details, a method called “Pun-sanvan Vidhi” for having a child of one’s desired gender, intelligence and constitution. To determine a proper diagnosis for children can be a bit difficult. Almost all diseases that affect adults attack children too. That’s why Ayurveda believes it is essential to strengthen a child’s immunity as soon as possible, starting with the health condition of the mother – even be-fore birth. Ayurvedic treatment focuses on developing and enhancing the immune system of children in a gradual manner. For this reason, Ayurveda mainly uses herbal preparations, which which health problems of children can be easily controlled. Bala chikitsa covers special care that can be given to the child in each and every stage of growth. A specially prepared ointment is applied to the whole body, excluding the head, mainly to avoid future diseases caused due to Vata. For babies it is also possible to sterilize the baby’s room by smoking medicinal herbs that have sterilizing and cleaning properties. Ayurvedic remedies are effective for common problems in children, like pains or colic, teething, nappy rash, gastrointestinal problems, cough and cold, as well as for the more serious problems. Herbal oil massage, herbal preparations such as Chyavanprash, and other herbal remedies are used for treatment of diseases in children.
Most of the Ayurvedic herbs and herbal compounds can be completely safely used in common childhood illnesses. Even though kids and children are given much lower doses of medicines than adults, of course.
The best food for a new-born baby is breast milk. According to Ayurveda, breast milk is the safest and the easiest way of providing the child with nutrition. It helps the baby to build his immune system and reduces the risk of infections. Breast milk contains vitamins, minerals and enzymes, which help the baby develop its digestive system. After delivery, a mother has to be conscious of what she eats, because the same diet becomes the source of food for the baby. According to Ayurveda, love and affection for the baby, a happy state of mind with adequate rest and sleep, and a good nutritious diet are essential for successful breastfeeding. Besides that, certain plants and foods like Kheer (rice pudding) of Halim (garden cress), Methi (fenugreek), poppy seeds and dates, anise seed, cumin seed, caraway, and remedies made up of Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), Goat’s Rue (Galega officinalis), Shwet or Safed Musali (Asparagus Adscendens) and Jivanti (Leptadenia Reticulata) etc. may help to improve the quality and quantity of breast milk.
During breastfeeding Ayurveda recommends
- Eating a varied diet, containing lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and plenty of fresh calcium-rich products. The food items that an expecting or nursing mother takes, must be pure and free from any toxins like pesticides or chemicals.
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco and limit caffeine intake (a cup or two of coffee per day is alright, but too much of caffeine is bad for babies who are being breastfed).
- Also avoid spicy foods (babies tend to give hints or symptoms to certain spicy foods that change the flavor of the milk. Too much of spicy or gassy foods should be avoided, as the baby may become irritable or grumpy, or develop gas due to it).
- Drink lots of water, but avoid carbonated water. During delivery, the body loses a lot of water, which makes the mother thirsty in the first few days. Many mothers feel thirsty while breastfeeding. Keep a glass of water with you while feeding. Juices, dahls and milk are recommended fluids.