IN THIS FAST-PACED ENVIRONMENT, HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED HOW MOTHERS AND OTHER FAMILY MEMBERS PRACTICE CARE AFTER BIRTH IN DIFFERENT CULTURES?
Well, we have done a little research, and that and our own experiences from all over the world means that we can enlighten you a little on the care after birth given in different cultures!
Mums Need Rest
One thing that we can all agree on is that mums absolutely need some time to rest and recover after childbirth. Mums need quality time to bond with their new baby, and that can be made harder in more industrialised societies where mums are “encouraged” to get back to their own life as soon as possible, or they must return to work within weeks of having their baby. We can learn much from the caring practices of the more low-income, developing countries. There is a reason why baby blues and post-partum depression is nearly non-existant in these parts of the world, and extremely high in western countries.
In many Asian, Indian and African countries, and also parts of South America, mothers practice the tradition of “confinement”, which means that they do not leave the house for a number of days, anywhere between 5 to 40. While the thought of this may have us feeling like we want to climb up the walls, this time is spent recovering from childbirth, resting through the day from the sleepless nights, establishing breastfeeding, and having the family wait on you hand and foot.
Usually, the “elders” in the family will be busy making you foods and drinks rich in certain ingredients designed to help your milk come through, detoxify your body, give you more strength, and generally recover. These elders will usually be all women, lead by the new mothers mother, or mother in law.
It seems almost poetic that once a woman has given birth, when she is at her most vulnerable, she is taken into the fold of her female loved ones to care for her. Women who understand, women who can gently show you the way forward. Women who can show you how best to establish breastfeeding, and meanwhile you don’t have the additional worry about covering up just in case a man walks through the door! An all-female safe space.
They will teach the new mother how to look after their baby – how to swaddle, bathe, and will look after the baby when you need to sleep. It is understood that what she has just gone through and what her body is still going through was no easy task.
Compare this care to western cultures where the new mother is expected to entertain her visitors from day one, when people come flocking to see the new baby, often before the mother has even left the hospital. This leaves no time for mother to bond with baby, or really get to grips with breastfeeding, which can be very complicated at the start.
The following is a description of a postpartum ritual performed by the Chagga of Uganda, showing the importance some cultures place on motherhood.
Three months after the birth of her child, the Chagga woman’s head is shaved and crowned with a bead tiara, she is robed in an ancient skin garment worked with beads, a staff such as the elders carry is put in her hand, and she emerges from her hut for her first public appearance with her baby. Proceeding slowly towards the market, they are greeted with songs such as are sung to warriors returning from battle. She and her baby have survived the weeks of danger. The child is no longer vulnerable, but a baby who has learned what love means, has smiled its first smiles, and is now ready to learn about the bright, loud world outside (Dunham, 1992; p. 148).
“I credit the support and help I received during my confinement period for a relatively stress-free transition into motherhood,” said Mei Leng Wong, Editor of BabyCenter Malaysia. “The confinement period gave me time to learn about my babies and still know they were getting good care. I was stepping away from my old life and into the new, and the confinement period was a wonderful bridge between the two.”
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? What can we take from this to make our own experiences, and experiences of women in our communities easier?