Healthy digestion is super important. Without it, you can’t have good health. Even worse for parents is that kids with poor digestion aren’t nearly as pleasant to be around. Some (like mine!) sleep terribly when they get irregular poop. We will go into some kid specific digestion and sleep later, but first let’s discuss what keeps our digestive system working.
I know that many western medical doctors say that it is okay for young kids to not poop every day. I have even heard some say that it is fine for adults to not go daily! I have no doubt that it’s common, but it is a sign of inefficient digestion often caused by an imbalance of the doshas, primarily vata and kapha. Some examples of causes are quality of milk (both cow and human), too much food/drink, improper food combinations, poorly cooked food, poorly chewed food, eating while standing up, eating at wrong place or time such as in front of the TV or late at night. Sometimes the cure for mild digestive problems is just sitting quiet with your food and only your food.
As I’m still nursing my toddler, I take extra care of what I eat. If you are breastfeeding a baby or even a toddler then you should also be mindful of what you eat in order to prevent colic and constipation in your child. Not all milk is created equal. It is important to get that vata dosha under control. Too much vata dosha and you will see signs of dryness, constipation and gas. There are many things that can help with this. One easy way is to include a wide array of spices in your diet such as cumin, coriander, fennel, ajwain, fenugreek, etc. You can even make a tea out of these. I typically cook one or two of those spices in ghee and then add vegetables or dal. Speaking of ghee [clarified butter - recipe below] eat lots of that! For nursing mothers, somewhere between a teaspoon and a tablespoon in each meal should do a good job of nourishing the body. Also, don’t snack on chips or eat ice cream as those aggravate the vata and kapha doshas respectively. In general, you should try not to snack but I know how hard it is to stick with only 3 meals a day when you are eating for two. If you are craving a salty snack, fry up some pumpkin seeds in ghee with a few of those spices and you will have a more enjoyable snack than anything you could get in a vacuum-sealed bag. And if you are craving a sweet snack, I suggest cutting medjool dates in half and stuffing with ghee and a spoon of crunchy almond butter.
There is an easy way to test if your milk is of good quality: take a drop into a cup of water. If it disappears than it is of good quality. If it sinks or floats then you may need to adjust a few things in your diet.
I am prone to having too much vata in me, which has shown itself through the milk floating in the water. It might have even sunk at times in the beginning of the year when I had developed a kapha imbalance. Even though I was eating healthy, my whole system was slowed down from overeating the wrong foods when I was pregnant. Even eating a diet of mostly kitchadi for 2 months couldn’t fix my agni [digestive fire] woes. Luckily, I had access to the Vedika Jyoti Clinic and got a prescription for herbs to take which really helped. Now that I am back to having a strong agni, I stick with a few key things in my diet to keep my system running well, and the better my system runs the higher the quality of my milk. At night, I either have warm spiced milk w/ ghee or I take a teaspoon of triphala before bed. Both of these things are extremely good for keeping things moving. Triphala, meaning three fruits, contains amalaki, bibhitaki and haritaki. They are extremely useful in cleansing the gastrointestinal tract. If I’m feeling like my agni needs a little boost before a meal, I fire it up with a few thin slices of fresh ginger sprinkled with Himalayan rock salt and a dash of lemon juice. By taking the ginger 30 minutes before the meal I ensure that I can break down my meal properly. On Thanksgiving, I offered it to my guests before the meal and trikatu (see previous blog) after the meal to save people from feeling like they were going to keel over from eating too much heavy food. For those rare occasions where there is too much gas and undigested food after eating, I may throw back a teaspoon of an herbal formula called hingwasthak. When drank with warm water, it provides instant relief. Same goes with making what I call, Colic Tea (recipe below). This one is particularly useful to make and put in a medicine dropper to gently cure colic in babies.
Some other things that I do to ensure that my family doesn’t get stuck with any stomach trouble includes avoiding leftovers, salads, raw foods, dry foods and only drinking warm water. It is especially important to avoid those things in the postpartum period and as much as you can while nursing a child. It sometimes takes a while for your system to get back to where it was before you were pregnant and any parent knows how sensitive kids bellies can be. Simply put, eat foods that are light and nourishing. For me, cutting out raw foods was the most noticeable difference of them all. There was a two month period (when I didn’t know any better) that I was eating at Café Gratitude, a raw food restaurant in the bay area, a lot. During that time, I was increasingly anxious and all of the aches and pains from pregnancy in my knees and feet got exponentially worse. This is because vata dosha governs this area of the body and I was just overdosing on vata. My body was having major trouble digesting the food and I had no clue. It was weeks before I noticed the pain and increased anxiety both of which are signs of vata imbalance in the body. Luckily for my feet, I soon found ghee, the true love of my life. Now that I treat by body well with warm and nourishing foods, I have no aches and plenty of high quality milk for my little sweetheart.