Whenever I think of postpartum care, I think of an article I once read (and please forgive me for not remembering the title or where I read it!) about an expecting couple in a village in Singapore (well, I recall being a country starting with “S”, anyway. If I’m wrong, I promise to own it but like I always say “pregnant brain never goes away”!). I will retell their story to the best of my ability.
This story has been so richly ingrained in my mind, but more importantly, my heart and soul. I didn’t just read this story, I tasted it. I felt it. I longed for it. It stands in stark contrast to what we see in many countries today.
The husband and wife lived in a small village where several midwives were vowing their full attention to the birth of this child. The midwives went through an interviewing process, I believe, in front of the entire village. Once a midwife was selected, a celebration was held along with ceremonies, rich in community. The midwife gave her promise to not only prepare the woman for birth, but to care for her the entire six weeks after. What dedication!
It was no new news to the father that he was expected to care for the children, cook and clean and tend to the mother’s every need during this time. When and if he had to work outside of the village, other villagers would come to care for the children and mother.
The mother was expected to lie in bed. The sanctity of birth is well regarded there. Resting, eating, nurturing, loving, and nursing were her top priorities. Establishing the mother-child bond and healthy breastfeeding relationship was essential to the family and village.
The glorious midwife, bless her, made warm, nourishing soups full of healing herbs for the mother, daily. Immediately after birth, she would belly bind the mother’s weakened abdominal muscles. This is a common practice among many cultures around the world. This midwife would use healing oils and lengthy massages for the new mother and then re-bind her wrap, daily. She would also make sure the baby was nursing well and gave specific attention to that little bundle of joy as well. This daily gift of love and attention would continue for six whole weeks! Can you imagine?!!
In our country today, this would be seen as completely unnecessary, especially when you see newborns and postpartum mamas in Walmart, 24-48 hours after birth! Postpartum care is not as deeply respected compared to that little village. That little village, which exists somewhere in the land of “S” (wherever that may be, and let’s hope I remembered correctly and it is in Singapore), has done more for society in one, six week postpartum care treatment, than our industrialized nation has done in two or more entire generations!
What spoke to me so clearly through the ancient practices so beautifully illustrated in the article, is that getting the family off to the best start possible, is not only good for the family, but good for the entire community! A first-time mother and father walk somewhat blindly into the process, having never experienced it before. It can be a time of uncertainty and fear. What better way to adjust, than to have a nurturing, caring and loving path laid before you?
Postpartum care and how a woman is treated during labor and delivery, deeply impact a woman’s psyche and can make or break how she feels about children and family for the rest of her life. In my opinion, the birthing process and postpartum care are single-handedly the most vulnerable a woman will ever be, not only physically but emotionally.
Physically, the healing process after birth is usually painful as the uterus begins shrinking and the wound where the placenta once was begins healing. If mama is nursing that can make uterine contractions much stronger but also helps it shrink faster and return to pre-pregnancy size. It is very important to rest, do as little as possible, keep your feet up, urinate frequently, sleep when baby sleeps, stay hydrated, have a snack while you’re nursing, and avoid foods that decrease milk supply like junk foods and soda.
Emotionally, the healing process, I believe, takes a bit longer. Getting adjusted to having baby outside of the womb can take up to the entire first year. According to Dr. Sears, author of the attachment parenting bible, The Baby Book, pregnancy is viewed as “nine months in, nine months out.” Between mother and child learning to nurse and baby’s ever-changing needs in the first year, the words of wisdom I always rely on are: “Just when you think you’ve got a predictable schedule with baby, something always changes.” Whether illness or teething sets in, we must always be ready to adapt to every circumstance. The constant changes, coupled with the hormonal rebalancing and adjustment of a mother’s body are much better dealt with, when time and patience for this healing, are allowed.
The importance of support during the postpartum period is clearly shown to be beneficial to the mother and child in the crucial bonding period necessary after birth to promote optimal survival, both physically and emotionally. The mother and baby need to be surrounded by supportive people who are dedicated to caring for the pair and responsible in helping to prevent postpartum infection and other complications, as well as prevent postpartum depression. Rigorous postpartum care and observation by medical providers, midwives, doulas, family, and consultants can benefit not just the mother and child, but the community as a whole.