Continuing on from last week’s popular posts on the 4th trimester and postpartum recovery, I wanted to spend time today sharing some fascinating learnings on postpartum recovery care from cultures around the world. This came to my attention while helping Julia prepare for her newborn, Logan, who was born last week (see pictures here)!
I’ve been extremely curious about the topic of postpartum recovery care because I’ve realized that so much time and energy is spent on preparing for the baby (rightfully so, of course!). But then when the baby comes, you get swept away with managing life with a new baby, and so much is forgotten in terms of how to take care of yourself as a new mother and how to watch over the new mother. Many cultures around the world have their own beliefs and practices that focus on the new mother after birth to ensure that she can be in the best place physically, mentally, and emotionally to care for her newborn.
Julia, like me, is Chinese. Before all this (i.e. her being pregnant and me starting the blog to help her), we’ve always heard about Chinese women who just gave birth being confined to their homes for 30 days because of traditions and beliefs. We knew it was to let the new moms rest, and they would be fed all these herbal soups to aid in that recovery. It also meant no showering or that much moving around during this period. For many of you who are hearing this for the first time, you’re probably thinking what we thought initially… “Um that sounds torturous?!”
But of course, there’s always more to everything than what you hear. And with Julia and I being very open-minded individuals, we wanted to give everything a fair chance (plus her mom was starting to say she would be having Julia follow many of the Chinese traditions once she arrived from Taiwan!).
I immediately started researching postpartum recovery according to the Chinese culture, which then opened my eyes to other traditions around the world. And this week I’ll be looking at some of these in detail and talking about the benefits, such as protection against postpartum depression, enhanced breast milk production, and easier recovery physically to get back in shape. I’ll also be featuring mothers and experts on these topics to share their own personal experiences.
I’m doing this because I realized any new mother would obviously do her best to care for her baby, and many would also want to focus on her own recovery in order to care for herself and baby. However, knowing what you need to do to restore energy and strength seems to be a mystery, so I wanted to drive awareness to beliefs and practices of postpartum recovery care from cultures around the world.
Would you ever consider any of these postpartum recovery traditions?
Western and Non-Western Postpartum Beliefs and Practices
By far, the most interesting and informative article I’ve read on this topic comes from a piece written in MCN: The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing called, “Postpartum Beliefs and Practices Among Non-Western Cultures” written by Yeoun Soo Kim-Godwin, PhD, MPH, RN. I highly recommend everyone check it out!
In Western cultures, once the baby is born, all eyes are on the baby rather than the mother. Just think about it. The common practice is to celebrate with baby with showers and visits from friends and family who come bearing more gifts. It’s all about the baby.
However, non-Western cultures place great attention to the health and recovery of the new mother. While non-Western cultures may have distinct beliefs and practices, there are two common beliefs that come into play.
1) the importance of hot and cold
2) the necessity of confinement during a specific period of time after giving birth
The Importance of Hot and Cold
To explain this best, I’ve pulled the following from the article:
“One common belief in many non-Western cultures is the necessity of maintaining a “hot-cold balance” within the body and with the environment after the birth of a baby. Hot-cold concepts of healthcare (also called humoral theories) are centuries old in the traditional cultures of Latin America, Asia, and Africa. In many non-Western cultures, blood is considered “hot.” Therefore, after giving birth, when the woman has lost blood she is considered to be in a cold state. Accordingly, postpartum care in these cultures is aimed at keeping the new mother warm; it is believed that this will restore her humoral balance.”
- Haitian Culture: They believe in baths, warm teas and lots of increased body warmth through wearing long sleeves and keeping the mother’s head covered.
- Chinese Culture: New mothers avoid eating cold, raw foods and are told to eat only warm foods and drinks to restore their energy. Showers are also discouraged.
- Korean Culture: Women are not allowed to eat cold or hard foods, nor can they be exposed to cold weather. Showers are also discouraged.
- Thai Culture: New mothers are known to lay by a fire or other forms of heat, restricted in the diet, encouraged to take hot baths, drink hot drinks. They also avoid cold drafts and focus on maintaining optimal body heat. This additionally includes no showering the hair or windy weather.
Confinement After Giving Birth
Non-Western cultures place a lot of attention to the health and recovery of the new mother so that she can restore her energy to focus on caring for her baby and herself.
Modern medicine says that it takes approximately six weeks for a woman’s internal organs and tissues to heal after the birth. As a result, non-Western beliefs and practices encourage rest and confinement up to 40 days after birth to regain energy and strength. This helps the new mother get the rest she needs to ensure she is energized and ready once the time comes to resume normal activities.
- Haitian Culture: New mothers stay in the house for at least the first three days.
- Chinese Culture: The practice in Chinese literally means “doing the month” or “sitting month,” so during this time, the new mother does not leave the house.
- Indonesian and Malaysian Cultures: Indonesians and Malaysians believe that because of lochia, the normal discharge from the uterus after childbirth, women after birth are believed to be susceptible to evil spirits, so they do not leave their homes, and are not allowed to cook or clean for the first 40 days.
- Korean Culture: New mothers are looked after carefully for 21 days but most would agree that 30 days is even better, and even up to 100 days.