Sheila was ecstatic when the doctor confirmed her pregnancy. A busy career woman she had postponed having a child to her mid-30s. Even as the doctor gave her a list of do’s and don’ts which she faithfully followed, Sheila was determined to ensure that she had a safe, happy and fulfilling pregnancy. The mother-to-be enthusiastically started reading up all the literature that she could find on the subject and came to the conclusion that most medical sciences as well as alternative healing traditions were unanimous that the mental and physical health of the mother was the most important factor for a successful pregnancy. But what fascinated her was the minutely detailed protocol prescribed by Ayurveda for a pregnancy that rejuvenates and refreshes the body. She remembered how for generations all the women in her family back in Kerala had followed the Ayurveda regimen to have a safe and happy pregnancy. The Garbhini Parichaya and Garbha Sanskar recommended a strict regime to ensure the welfare of the mother-to-be and the baby in her womb. The protocol aims at a woman having a complication–free pregnancy and easy delivery.
Garbhini Parichaya literally translates as ‘introduction to pregnancy’ and focuses on antenatal care. Antenatal care is important, because as the ancient Ayurveda treatise Charuka Samhita states, “It is the woman who procreates children and propagates the human species. Dharma (righteousness), artha (wealth), lakshmi (auspiciousness) and loka (universe) are represented in every woman. Healthy, contented women are thus essential for the wellbeing of society, proclaims the ancient Ayurveda treatise. The Garbhini Parichaya protocol is holistic and covers the diet (aahar), lifestyle (vihar), behaviour (achar) and thought processes (vichar) of a pregnant woman.
Like all other pregnancy protocols, the Garbhini Parichaya also stresses on the importance of eating healthy and nutritious food. It is important for a mother-to-be to satisfy her cravings as it reflects the cravings of the foetus. Garbhini Parichaya also gives an incredibly detailed monthly breakdown on what pregnant women should ideally eat in each month of the pregnancy. The diet regime takes into account taste (rasas), ease of imbibing and defines the ingredients that will add to digestive power (agni). During the first two months, milk is an important component of the diet. In the third month, honey and ghee are essential. From the fifth to the seventh month, leafy vegetables, rice, milk, butter are predominant. Medicinal herbs like ashwagandha, guduchi are added in order to strengthen and nourish mother and child. During the eight month, rice gruel mixed with ghee is a good meal. The amount of fat and salt is reduced. In the ninth month, as the body prepares for delivery, the Garbhini Parichaya, recommends foods and treatments that will ensure an easy delivery.
The Garbhini Parichaya also gives important information on how to prepare the delivery room. The objective is to enhance the mother’s comfort level during the process. In addition, there are tips on managing pregnancy related diseases like nausea, anorexia, water retention, fever and diarrhoea.
Garbha Sanskar literally means the ‘education of the womb’. Mental and behavioural development of the foetus starts from the point of conception. The foetus has a personality of its own and absorbs a lot from the mother’s behaviour and emotions. The epic story of Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna, is often cited as an example of Garbha Sanskar. Abhimanyu was in the womb of his mother, Subhadra, when he heard his father explain to his mother on how to penetrate the Chakravyuh, a particular formation used in warfare. During the battle of Mahabharata, when confronted with the Chakravyuh, Abhimanyu remembered the lecture he had overhead in his mother’s womb and cut through the enemy ranks using this knowledge. Yet another example from our mythology is that of Prahlad. Born into a family of fearsome asuras or demons, Prahlad was influenced by the pious hymns that his pregnant mother offered to Lord Vishnu. He grew up as an ardent devotee of the Lord. Ultimately, his goodness and his immense faith in the Lord destroyed the evil empire of the asuras.
Ayurveda’s views on Garbha Sanskar are more or less confirmed by modern research. The foetus absorbs the mother’s mood and a happy mother results in a contented baby, both during pregnancy and post delivery. There is enough scientific evidence and research to prove that a baby inside the mother’s womb listens to noise from the outside world and responds to this stimulus. A mother’s hormones, activated by her thought processes can affect the unborn child. That is why modern medicine too insists that a woman should be in a happy, stress-free and contented state during her pregnancy. These are the vibes that will be absorbed by the unborn child and will help shape his/her personality.
Practising Garbha Sanskar is not very difficult. Experts recommend reading books promoting positivity, watching happy movies and practising meditation as some of the ways to achieve this goal. Chants and hymns can soothe mother and child. Music has a beneficial impact. Communicating with the unborn child – just talking to him/her – is extremely important.
Today Sheila is the mother of a baby girl. Her pregnancy and delivery was smooth and uncomplicated. Sheila is grateful to her doctors for their wonderful care. But she also acknowledges that her practice of Garbhini Parichaya and Garbha Sanskar had an invaluable role to play in her exhilarating journey to motherhood.