Our guest blogger this week is Melissa Ann Pistorius, owner of The Empowered Mother. Melissa serves primarily the Salt Lake and Utah valleys as birth and postpartum doula. She has training in massage, hydrotherapy and visualization to help mothers in labor. Her passion is to help mothers have a truly empowering birth experience.
Many cultures outside of the United States provide support to a new mother, as she transforms into the type of mother she would like to be. Across cultures, many things stay the same; friends and family descend on the new mother, bringing food, advice, and support, as she and her infant learn their new dance. They all have their differences, benefits, and drawbacks, but all are implemented with one goal: that the new mother feel rested, rejuvenated, and ready to face the world when she emerges with her adorable baby in tow.
The birth of a child is transformative in a woman’s life. How she feels about the experience is key, but birth is only the beginning of the transformation from maiden to mother. Motherhood does not descend on women overnight by virtue of having given birth. It is bestowed upon her gradually, as she comes to know and be a mother.
Zuo Yuezi is a Chinese tradition of celebrating a new mother. The mother-in-law and mother come to stay at their daughter’s house for the first 30 days after baby is born. They prepare warm meals, mostly soups, and soft, easily digestible foods. The new mother is supposed to abstain from anything cold. This includes cold drinks, showers or baths, air conditioning, and some even say brushing her teeth. She wears long sleeved clothes, socks, and a hat, even in the summer heat. She spends her time resting, recuperating, and taking care of her baby, though too much cuddling is frowned upon. Her world decreases to the size of her bedroom. Few, if any visitors, apart from her caretakers are allowed. She is without even her cell phone or her television to keep her company. She is just supposed to rest and recuperate. Many Chinese women claim that rigorous adherence to Zuo Yuezi will result in long lasting health benefits, and that later health problems are because they were not strict enough.
Latin American countries have their own rituals centered on the family. They have La Cuarentena, the forty days. During this time, family members and friends come help take care of the new mother’s household, while she takes care of herself and her precious newborn. Family members prepare remedies for her, which, it is believed, will stave off postpartum depression. She doesn’t shower for the first week, and keeps warm. She wraps a faja or girdle around her healing midsection to help her organs return to normal. She stays mainly in bed for the first two weeks. After that, she gradually begins moving around the house, but still should not do anything strenuous. On day forty she emerges from her Cuarentena, rejuvenated and ready to share her new baby with the world. Then there is a blessing and thanksgiving ritual.
In the Netherlands, where they boast the highest home birth rate of 25%, all new moms receive help from a kraamzorg, a nurse trained in baby care and breastfeeding help. This is a benefit for all moms, and is covered by insurance. She comes up to 8 hours a day for the first 8 days. Aside from baby and mother care, she keeps the bedrooms and bathroom clean for sanitary purposes, does laundry, prepares light meals, and may even help with the older children. She also acts as a liaison for the midwife or doctor attending the woman, should health concerns arise. Every woman gets this as well as ten weeks of paid maternity leave.
Nigerian Omuwgo is similar to its Chinese and Latin American counterparts. Mother or aunt comes shortly before or after baby is born to help take care of the household. She brings food and cooks for them, and teaches her daughter how to mother her newborn baby. It is the grandmother that gives the child his first bath. This is considered an honor, and shows the new mother that she is not alone in rearing her child. Sometimes the grandmother is compensated for coming to take care of her daughter and grandchild.
In Japan, after the birth of a baby, a woman stays 4-7 days in the hospital, or up to 10 for women with cesarean sections. Some hospitals allow for rooming in to keep mother and baby together, while others do not. After her time at the hospital, she would return not to her own home, but to her mother’s in order to be cared for while she recuperated from birth. This period of time is Ansei, or peace and quiet, and could last up to eight weeks, until she felt completely recovered. If she had older children, her mother and other women in her family would instead come to her home.
These are just a few traditions from around the world to help strengthen women after they have given birth. American society leaves much to be desired in the form of postpartum care. Most mothers don’t even receive paid maternity leave.
If you are a looking for ways you can implement some of these ideas into your postpartum period, check out my blog for a discussion of the book The First Forty Days and a printable of how to implement her 5 insights into your postpartum period to give you the strength and rejuvenation you deserve.
The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother, Ou, Heng