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A better way to do postpartum?

July 22, 2021

Mother spending relaxing time with newborn baby

In many cultures all over the world the postpartum period is revered. There is an acknowledgement that new mothers need mothering. They don’t need to ask for help, help just arrives. This deep level of support for the mother usually lasts for around 40 days. In China it is called the Golden Month, in Latin America – la cuarentena. Although called different things in different countries and regions, the principles are all the same: the new mother needs to rest, eat warm and nourishing meals, keep warm and have an abundance of social support. She has a village of people around her to tend to all the chores, so that she can focus on recovering from birth, learning to breastfeed and falling in love with her baby.

With colonisation and industrialisation came the disbursement of villages in the Western world, and new mothers in these parts of the world today do not have anything like the type of support seen in cultures with traditional postpartum practices. Very slowly there seems to be an acknowledgement that this type of care is needed, but unfortunately our society just isn’t set up for it. We live in nuclear families, we don’t know our neighbours, families are time poor, juggling work outside the home and family commitments and the speed of life nowadays means we often feel like we are barely keeping up with our own ‘to do’ lists, let alone having the time to provide support to new mothers we may know. At best we drop a meal and a gift around to the new mother, but often this is the extent to the support we feel able to offer.

In addition there is a pervading cultural attitude of needing to do it all alone, as this is what everyone else is doing, and has done previously. It can feel really awkward to ask for help, due to our belief that everyone else is too busy and we don’t want to put other people out, when we know they are carrying a heavy workload too. No-one wants to burden their friends and families by asking for extra support, when their perception is that everyone else seems to be managing it all themselves.

We really need to change our belief system around this – future generations depend on it. When new mothers are well supported following the birth of their babies, they are less likely to develop postpartum mental health issues and are more likely to be able to provide the care to their children that is so important in those first three years of life when a child’s brain goes through its most rapid development.

My hope is that one day in the not too distant future, traditional postpartum care practices will become more mainstream in our Western society and new mothers will receive the deep level of support that is so needed. Let’s normalise the care and nourishment of the new mother, and maybe we can change the way our society views the postpartum period.


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