Mum adopts unusual techniques to recover from birth: 'I healed myself with yoni steaming'

Photo: Allira had a 'golden period' and did not leave her house for 40 days after giving birth to her third child. Supplied
Photo: Allira had a 'golden period' and did not leave her house for 40 days after giving birth to her third child. Supplied 

When Brisbane mum, Allira Thompson, was pregnant with her third child she knew she wanted to do things differently.

She wanted to prepare herself mentally and physically for the challenges of raising three children.

Allira felt that Western society does not 'adequately value or support a postpartum period'. So, she decided to look into traditional practices from around the world, which she felt would restore her long-term health and allow her to fully nurture her newborn.

Photo: Allira tried 'yoni steaming' to help heal her perineal tear. Supplied
Photo: Allira tried 'yoni steaming' to help heal her perineal tear. Supplied 

"I was attracted to the honouring and ceremonial side of things," the mum-of-three tells Essential Baby. "Our culture has lost celebrating this part of motherhood and I felt these practices would bring it back

During her doula training, after her second baby, Allira learnt about the importance of a slow postpartum period and with the help of her own doula she adopted a range of unusual practices.

The first was to have a "golden month" which meant resting and staying home for 40 days while also having a range of bodywork done.

During her homebirth Allira experienced a second-degree tear.  Her midwife checked it and they decided to use manuka honey to heal it naturally rather than use stitches.

"I have been stitched before and it was the worst part of my birth. I didn't want to be injected into where I'd just pushed a 4kg baby out."

Allira also used yoni steaming to help heal the tear.

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Her doula would bring a wooden box with prepared herbs which she would sit on, allowing the steam to rise up to her vagina.

"It puts warmth back into a woman's body.  We lose heat when we birth. The therapeutic benefits of the herbs help with any tissue grazing and healing and moving stagnant blood," Allira said.

"It was really good. It felt like a big warm hug. The tear was not painful at all and healed within a week."

Photo: yoni steaming was combined with herbal baths filled with healing herbs for the perineum
Photo: yoni steaming was combined with herbal baths filled with healing herbs for the perineum 

The yoni steaming was combined with herbal baths filled with healing herbs for the perineum and calendula and lavender every couple of days.

Another important practice for healing was placenta smoothies made from the placenta kept in the fridge.

"We got the kitchen scissors out and chopped it," she explains.

Photo: The ancient art of belly binding
Photo: The ancient art of belly binding 

Every few days she would take "a good chunk" of placenta about half a palm size and make a smoothie.

"It was a bit of mind over matter for me. I put berries in to disguise the colour but I wanted to do it because I knew how energising other women had found it and they didn't experience any baby blues or drop in emotions."

A traditional Malaysian practice called bengkung, or belly binding, was also done. This involved having a long piece of fabric bound around from the top of her ribs down to her hips.

Photo: Experts advise women to be cautious when using traditional techniques to aid postpartum recovery. Supplied
Photo: Experts advise women to be cautious when using traditional techniques to aid postpartum recovery. Supplied 

"It feels like it brings everything back into place internally as well as giving a bit more support for your core," Allira reveals.

Belly binding is done for the first six weeks and worn during the day.

A traditional Chinese medicine doctor also came to Allira's house and did acupuncture and womb hara massage to promote inner healing and detox the inner organs, among other benefits.

Photo: Allira had regular acupuncture and womb hara massage following her birth. Supplied
Photo: Allira had regular acupuncture and womb hara massage following her birth. Supplied 

"I had no pain after the birth and had relatively low blood loss and felt energised since," she adds. "I have felt the best out of the three births this time.  I have just felt well and energised.

People have said to me 'you look radiant'."

Professor of Midwifery at Western Sydney University, Hannah Dahlen, said many of the traditional practices have no scientific backing and advised women to be cautious.

"We know manuka honey has anti-bacterial properties so it would reduce an infection but there is no evidence it can heal a perineal tear," she tells Essential Baby. "I would be very cautious."

According to Professor Dahlen, ice, rather than heat, is recommended to alleviate swelling after perineal trauma. 

"Women may find it (yoni steaming) comforting but need to know there are no benefits behind the practices," she said. 

Professor Dahlen admits that while placenta encapsulation and fresh smoothies have always been around, and some women and midwives swear by them, once again there is no high-level scientific evidence of benefit. 

"There may be the potential of harm as they are introducing hormones to do with pregnancy when a woman is shifting into hormones to do with breastfeeding," she said. 

Belly binding can be comforting, as long as it's not too tight, particularly if a woman has had multiple children and her abdominal muscles are stretched and she feels like her pelvic floor is dropping.

According to Professor Dahlen, there is much we can learn from other cultures who revere the new mother and gather around to support her during her 40 days of lying in.

Allira agrees and believes it may be harmful to suggest women should be up and about days after birthing, which is more common in Western society. 

"There is a window of time to heal your body and if you don't do it then the rigours of motherhood catch up with you and end up depleted physically and emotionally," she concludes.

"We don't have any practices in our culture, so you have to look elsewhere to see what women in other countries do.

The whole community supports the mother because they understand if the mother is well the family is well and society is well."