I feel that perhaps the biggest mistake first time pregnant women make is becoming fixated on preparing for birth (often based on fear and anxiety) to the exclusion of preparing for motherhood. Don’t get me wrong, birth preparation is super important, particularly in our culture, but we can’t afford to ignore the bit that comes afterwards. It’s like planning for a wedding, and then realising that you forgot about the marriage.
In traditional cultures many ancient rituals guide the new mother and her whole village like a map, making it easy to navigate the haze and fog commonly known as baby brain. These nourishing postpartum traditions mean the mother is truly and deeply nurtured by her family and friends.For the large part many of these nourishing traditions are universal.
Anthropologists Stern and Kruckman found that cultures with low incidence of postpartum mood disorders share a range of protective social structures that provide support and care for new mothers. Similarly, anthropologist Dr Dana Raphael studied how humans have managed to keep their babies alive for so long when breastfeeding seems so hard. She found the same pattern occurring in nearly 200 cultures around the world.
What mothers in our culture may consider a luxury or even self- indulgent, most traditional cultures would consider essential. Here in the modern, western, industrialised world have forgotten these nourishing postpartum traditions, and here are the results:
- In Australia over 80% of new mothers say they feel exhausted and overwhelmed.
- 1 in 6 experience postnatal depression.
- More than two thirds of Australian mothers do not meet their own breastfeeding goals.
- 83 percent of new parents experience a moderate to severe crisis in their marriage during the transition to parenthood.
Want to do things differently? Let me spell it out for you in eight easy steps 😉
Forty days for forty years
Traditional cultures recognise that mothers need a period of rest for 6 weeks (42 days) after childbirth and that her needs during this time are distinct. This ‘lying in’ is observed in Guatemala, Korea, Lebanon… even in Victorian times in England women expected to observe a period of ‘confinement’ after giving birth. In China this time is called ‘doing the month’ or the ‘golden month,’ in Greece it is referred to as ‘fortifying’ and in India some people use the word ‘japa’ which means a spiritual time spent reciting a mantra of devotion. How lovely is that?
- Relief from housework and other chores
In hundreds of traditional cultures a new mother’s friends and relatives cook, clean and manage the household. A new mothers only two jobs are falling in love and learning to breastfeed. Doing too much may sabotage your best attempts to breastfeed and bond with your baby.
Just like her baby, new mothers wear an extra layer of two of clothing, stay out of the wind and never go out with wet hair. Food is served warm, for example soups and puddings, and warm therapies including steam treatments and warm oil massage are common worldwide. Why? Research shows that physical warmth causes us to be warmer, more generous and more trusting. Feeling physically warm can make you emotionally warm, which is great news for your baby.
- No showering or bathing
This is the one that gets the most resistance! It’s not particularly relevant these days, but traditionally there were three good reasons for avoiding showering and bathing for six weeks after giving birth.
The first reason is that a new mothers immune system is particularly vulnerable and her wounds from birth have not yet healed. Washing in dirty water can leave her exposed to infection.
The second reason is that traditionally most people in villages and tribes could only bathe in cold water, see above on the importance of staying warm.
And third, your baby learns to breastfeed by your smell. Newborns can recognise the smell of their mother outside the womb from her smell when they were inside the womb! Amazing, hey?
So if you shower in warm, clean water, and avoid smelly soaps and perfumes then having a shower is a lovely way for for a new mum to relax! Consider leaving your arm-pits unwashed for a lovely natural funk that your baby will LOVE. Trust me!
- Special food
Warm, nourishing comfort foods are a worldwide theme. Soups, stews and puddings feature on international postpartum menus and are always cooked for the mother, not by her. Different cultures have variations in detail, and I cook Ayurvedic food for my clients, based on ancient Indian medicine. I love food so much I have written a recipe book Nourishing Newborn Mothers – Ayurvedic recipes to heal your mind, body and soul after childbirth.
- Belly wrapping
Most cultures bind new mothers tender and beautiful belly with herbs and oils and soft cloth bandages. Belly wrapping grounds your nervous system by preventing air and space elements from entering the body, helps your organs come back into their proper positions, aids digestion, improves posture and helps with the application of therapuetic oils and herbs. But there is one more reason – and I think it is the only one that matters. Belly binding after childbirth FEELS SO GOOD!!!
- Initiation of mother
In the West the baby is the centre of everyone’s attention as we celebrate baby showers and christenings. Gifts of toys, books and clothes are given to the baby and are largely unnecessary. By contrast, many traditional cultures pay a great deal of attention to the mother after childbirth, not her baby. Rituals, gifts and ceremonies acknowledge the new mothers identity and her new role in the village. The idea behind this tradition of ‘mothering the mother’ is that if we look after a mother, she is in the best position to look after her own baby.
Wondering what Dr Dana Raphael discovered when she researched why western women find breastfeeding so hard? She discovered doulas. The word doula in it’s modern sense was originally coined by Dana Raphael for postpartum support. The concept of birth doulas arrived many years later. Either way you look at it, having a doula will help you find peace and joy in birth and motherhood, and is a role considered essential by hundreds of cultures.
Julia believes birth is about making mums too. She is the creator of Newborn Mothers Sanctuary, an online program helping pregnant women to be the mum they want to be. Julia is the author of Nourishing Newborn Mothers – Ayurvedic recipes to heal your mind body and soul after childbirth. You can watch Julia’s free pregnancy video course here.