Updated: Jun 30, 2020
From pregnancy to motherhood, a woman crosses one of the largest thresholds of her life. A mother’s need for care doesn’t end after her baby is born. Many cultures throughout the world honor the first 1-3 months postpartum as a key transitional time for new mothers, both physically and spiritually. While most of the focus during pregnancy and birth is on the baby, new moms can feel shocked at how tired, sore, or emotional they feel in the weeks after birth. To add further stress to this, American culture often emphasizes “bouncing back” after birth, expecting a new mother to be able to return to all her previous responsibilities with little time given for postpartum healing.
Despite this, there are many resources available to new moms for postpartum care in the U.S. Postpartum doulas, midwives, and massage therapists can all help care for new mothers. This is helpful for Asian immigrants that may be distanced from their own family, and also for any new parent in the US that wants to bring health and honor to the postpartum period.
How a Postpartum Doula Helps
A postpartum doula is a professional that works in your home in the weeks or months following birth. She offers emotional support, provides light housekeeping, and healthy meal preparation so that mothers can focus solely on resting and nursing. Postpartum doulas aid with infant feeding - whether breast or bottle - and are knowledgable in common postpartum ailments such as hemorrhoids, c-section scars, perineal tearing, plugged ducts, postpartum mood disorders, and more.
A postpartum doula has your goals as her priority. Your doula has been steeped in breastfeeding, sleep, and infant care wisdom, and will help you meet your unique needs, without pressure or judgment. This is a key difference for many mothers between hiring a doula and consulting a family member. Your doula will honor the choices you are making as a new mother, whether they are different or aligned with your culture of origin or the culture you live in.
It’s a good idea to interview a few postpartum doulas during your pregnancy if you know you would like extra help after birth. Find someone you connect with and feel good about having in your home. Ask them questions about rates, hours, and areas of expertise.
Postpartum Care Around the World
In India, a new mother is expected to spend 6 weeks (approximately 40 days) at home being “mothered” by her mother and female relatives. New mothers are restricted from housework and strenuous activity and kept on a special diet. This is to emphasize mother-baby bonding, replenishment, and encourage breastfeeding.
“In Ayurveda, a 5000-year-old Indian healing tradition, this period is considered a sensitive time for mothers, particularly for the digestive system – hence the strong emphasis on simple, digestible foods. Traditionally, mothers are given hot oil massages daily. They are fed very simple but special foods and several herbal drinks to promote healing, boost their immunity and improve milk supply,” Childbirth Educator Simran Adeniji writes.
Belly binding is commonly used in India, Thailand, and Bali. A length of cotton is wrapped tightly around the abdomen to encourage the uterus back into proper alignment. Belly binding can also relieve gas, a common postpartum discomfort.
The postpartum support system in India is intended to be nourishing and act as a preventative for postpartum depression. By giving a mother time to rest, be reprieved of household tasks, and receive support from other mothers she is bolstered as she enters new motherhood.
In China, the “lying in” tradition comes from Chinese medicine, which focuses on balancing yin and yang in the body. “According to this system, giving birth disrupts that balance, and the mother must restore it by consuming food classified as yang, such as chicken, ginger, eggs, and rice wine. Women are supposed to avoid cold water, as well as bamboo shoots and turnips, all yin. Other frowned-upon activities include going outside, bathing, and brushing teeth,” reports Rebecca Tuhus-Dubro in Slate.com. Chinese mothers are also supported by their mother or mother-in-law or Yue Sao (Postpartum and Newborn Nanny) for at least 1 month postpartum.
Latina cultures have similar traditions to encourage a new mother’s healing. The focus on restricted activities, specific diet, and lots of rest are all believed to bring a mother both physical and emotional health postpartum.
Beyond a Doula or Nanny
Some postpartum doulas are also birth doulas, massage therapists, nutritionists, or lactation consultants. They may have specialties like placenta encapsulation, belly binding, or sleep training or you may choose to seek these services from other professionals.
Other postpartum doulas or infant nanny’s stick specifically to those trades. For massage, chiropractic care, physical therapy, or counseling it is best to seek out a professional. You should always see your medical professional or child’s pediatrician for any medical questions.
Learning from all Cultures
Asian and Latin cultures have a lot to teach us about the importance of postpartum care. And American postpartum doulas make professional, non-judgemental, hands-on postpartum care accessible and available. Multi-cultural families can receive the best of both worlds by utilizing postpartum doulas to help them maintain some of their culture’s postpartum traditions within the context of their American lives. You can receive help with dishes and laundry, eat nourishing broths, and still go outside for walks or put ice in your water if you like.
A doula helps you in the way that best suits you. It is not wrong to pick and choose. This is how we create our healing rituals that serve the unique needs of our families.