Forty Days of Postnatal Massage: Asian Indian Tradition of Jaappa Takes Root In New Jersey

Cadence and Newborn by Christopher Allison

Cadence and Newborn by Christopher Allison

During the postpartum period in the days immediately following giving birth, a new mother is recuperating from the stress of birth.   The World Health Organization (WHO) states that  the perinatal  period is the most crucial,  yet most commonly neglected phase in the lives of mothers and babies worldwide.

The postnatal period is about six weeks, and is defined strictly as forty days in both Asian Indian and Greek traditional cultures, both of which stretch back into dim antiquity.  During this time, the mother’s body is healing.  Hormone levels begin to change dramatically, the uterus begins to return to it’s pre-pregnancy size, and postpartum vaginal discharge, composed of blood, uterine lining, and mucous, flows out of the body.

Happy Birthday Baby!

Happy Birthday Baby!

The Postnatal Period is a time for healing.  It is the time after birth, a time in which the mother’s body, including hormone levels and uterus size, returns to a non-pregnant state.  If  a mother breast-feeds, this will affect hormone levels as well.  Lochia is postpartum vaginal discharge, containing blood, mucus, and uterine tissue, and is expelled from the body at this time.

In Eastern Traditional culture, women usually rest after birth.  This is often referred to as ‘sitting a month’ in Chinese, Vietnamese, and other Asian cultures, medically referred to as ‘confinement’, though the latter term seems to have fallen out of use.  This tradition persists in the present day, and lasts thirty days, or a full month, hence the nomenclature.

Guilherme by Danielli Porace

Guilherme by Danielli Porace

In New Jersey, there is a thriving Asian-Indian culture in the Central part of the state.  Many  residents are either immigrants from India or were born in New Jersey, first-generation Indian-Americans.  Within these communities, there is still a great appreciation for Ayurvedic Medicine and Traditional  Indian Culture.

In India (and now New Jersey) women follow a 40 day rest and recuperation period called ‘Jaappa’ in Hindi.  During this time, the new mother is not expected to fulfill either her household or workplace duties.  A special Ayurvedic diet is followed which increases milk production, as well as strengthens the blood by increasing hemoglobin.  Marital relations are discouraged at this time.  And Massage Therapy, for both the Mother and newborn, are often practiced each and every day, without fail.

Infant Massage by Nathan Put-Fernandez

Infant Massage by Nathan Put-Fernandez

Fortunately for mothers in New Jersey, at home Therapeutic Postpartum Massage Therapy is an option at this point.  In India, this is often performed by the new mother’s own mother, or other relative.  In NJ, a  qualified and certified Pregnancy Massage Therapist will provide massage therapy for both the mother and her baby, on site at home.
We have been called to do a forty day Jaappa even when a new Mom’s mother had been flown in from New Delhi.

Even in instances where the new Mom’s mother provides massage, a second daily session is provided by the Certified Therapist.  And in many cases, the new mother’s own mother remains in India, or is visiting and not able to really commit her time to taking care of the daily massage, in addition to other household obligations she has assumed on behalf of her daughter.

Postnatal Massage is designed to help a woman’s body heal from pregnancy.  While pregnancy is natural and not a pathological condition, it does take its toll.  There are even specific exercises a Certified Pregnancy MT may suggest that will help the tummy to heal properly.  And there are a lot of other specifics, regarding Touch Therapy,  that apply only to a woman who has just recently given birth.

Traditional Ayurvedic Massage may differ in some respects from what many Certified Pregnancy MTs provide.  For instance, the type of oil used, as well as its temperature, are essential considerations in Ayurvedic Massage.  Not so with most Western-oriented Pregnancy Massage Therapists.

Ideally, a therapist would be well  versed in Ayurvedic massage technique and theory, as well as being Certified in  Pregnancy and Postnatal Massage Technique, in order to draw the best from both traditional Indian  and contemporary Western practice.

Mother and Baby by Nathan Put-Fernandez.

Mother and Baby by Nathan Put-Fernandez.

Does it work?  Do women recover from pregnancy more thoroughly  after Jaappa for forty days?  Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, no studies have been conducted determining whether women practicing confinement after pregnancy, or confinement with Massage Therapy, fare better than new mothers opting to forego this time designated by many world cultures as a time of healing.  However, my intuition leads me to think the answer is likely a resounding, “yes.”

Resting Postpartum Mommy and Infant by Daniel Iggers

Resting Postpartum Mommy and Infant by Daniel Iggers

Studies lacking, there is an anecdotal evidence record spanning back thousands of years in India, as well as other traditional cultures, suggesting that Jaappa, and similar practices that aim to bar a new mother from activity, provide her with rest, massage, and a special diet, are effective and worth continuing.  And as a culture is transplanted nearly half a world away, I would imagine that what’s essential will remain a part of people’s lives.

At the very least, the experience will be relaxing and help the new Mom to feel better, emotionally.   And, present research does demonstrate that among postpartum women, Massage Therapy (during pregnancy, specifically) has been shown to decrease the number of women experiencing depression once baby is born.  (Click this link to view study showing pregnancy massage  yields  positive post-partum effects)

Swathi and Mom by Prati Photography.

Swathi and Mom by Prati Photography.

The best-case scenario, as well as the one most likely to be the reality considering the benefits already known about massage,  would include a myriad of diverse benefits for both mother and  baby, reaching far beyond helping to elevate mood or ease depression.  While such effects on a person’s feelings and sense of well being are important and noteworthy, the current body of research suggests that these may only be the beginning of what may one day be a vast array of known Massage Therapy benefits for postpartum women.

Many, many  research studies have been conducted regarding the efficacy of Infant Massage.  It seems that at present, we know more about how Massage Therapy affects the infant than its effects on pregnant, or postpartum, women, or how an extended Jaappa affects everything.  Studies have only recently begun in this field of inquiry, and are presently much-needed.

Woman From India Pregnant in NYC, Phillippe Put.

Woman From India Pregnant in NYC, Phillippe Put.

We do expect that once this topic is studied in depth, results will demonstrate that Massage Therapy is effective at helping new Moms to heal after birth, just as so many mothers and grandmothers born in traditional cultures know without having to read an abstract.  The real question is not whether Massage is helpful in this situation, but rather how helpful, and in which specific  ways.

A few studies about Massage Therapy do exist, already, that  point to the need for further investigation regarding Massage and Postpartum women, specifically.   Studies involving  the general population as a sample group have shown that  Massage Therapy increases oxytocin hormone levels and decreases adrenocorticotrophin and cortisol hormones, both  associated with stress (Click here to Link to List of Massage Studies Focusing on Stress) This is significant because oxytocin levels are correlated positively with milk production in lactating women.

The  results of this study, therefore, while not specifically pertaining to postnatal women as a group, do suggest that Massage Therapy may have an  ancillary benefit for postpartum  lactating women.  And this is but one example of (yet another)  topic that is overdue for serious inquiry.   Studies involving Massage and postpartum women as a group, as well as Jaappa, or Massage Therapy conducted daily over the span of thirty or forty days for such a group, should be quite informative  and yield  some interesting results.
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(C)  Copyright 2015 ‘At Home Massage in NJ’, H.  Miller.

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