“Postpartum” is the time following a pregnancy. It is not a syndrome. It can last from six weeks, to all of life … Maternal health is foundational to the health of humanity.” Rachelle Garcia Seliga, Innate Traditions
Following the birth of my second child, I remember pausing on an ad in The Mauimama for a postpartum doula. How extraordinary it would feel to be taken care of – being physically and emotionally upheld…beyond what my already maxed-out loved ones could provide. It was around that time, I began to hear stories of cultures, across the planet, who are traditionally centered around taking care of the mother after birth.
In our modern society, we aren’t necessarily surrounded by extended family and a village whose members take care of one another, as we once were. But, finding ways to move toward this could make all the difference. Revillaging is the concept of rebuilding and nurturing connections to those around us, with the intention of forming stronger community. One very important central act this calls forth is a restructuring of our lives to honor mothers. This is more than any one of us can do for ourselves or someone else. It truly requires all of us together. The more we learn about what a person needs for their healing, having just birthed, the better we can support them. In the first six weeks postpartum, here’s what mothers need most:
Rest: Lying down as often as possible, and resting when baby rests, will provide healing effects for years to come.
Warmth: Traditions the world over, value the importance of keeping the new mother warm. This is essential for her healing, and goes hand-in-hand with rest. The best place for a new mama is tucked into bed, nursing and falling asleep with baby.
Nourishing foods: Simple, whole foods, and dishes cooked with warming spices are helpful. Plentiful fresh fruits and vegetables, clean proteins, lots of healthy fats and as few processed foods as possible. Pre-prepared meals and snacks, that can be grabbed from the fridge or freezer, are perfect. Preparing a meal train for the family is essential. Check out: mealtrain.com and takethemameal.com
Boundaries: Helping hold space for the birthing parent cannot be understated. Do not insist on visiting, and if invited, help in whatever way you’re able while there. In her podcast The Fourth Trimester (Episode 69), Esther Gallagher suggests being very direct in your offer to help, if granted the wonderful gift of a visit. Throughout your visit pay close attention, and be observant to any needs that arise. You might say, “I see the baby has nursed, and is still awake. Would you like me to hold him, while you shower? Or would you rather sleep, while I stay close to his crib and fold laundry?”
Support: What are you able to offer the new family? It may be physical help in the first weeks and months, such as arriving with prepared food and/or groceries you’ve picked up, taking care of older children, offering to shop, or cleaning the bathroom. Also essential is offering emotional support. Reaching out with a listening ear, and offering to help brainstorm during pregnancy about postpartum planning can be so helpful! Two great books that provide guidance for making a solid plan are “Build Your Nest: A Postpartum Planning Workbook” by Kestrel Gates and “Seven Sisters for Seven Days: The Mothers’ Manual for Community Based Postpartum Care” by Michelle Peterson.
Cultural Competency: Wherever we live, we have an opportunity and responsibility to pay honor to the host culture, centering their voices and skills. Here in Hawaii this kuleana carries over into the area of birth and postpartum and to the traditional keepers of these practices. Acknowledging the role these traditions and practices play can be an essential element to the mother’s care. If the mother or birthing person you are helping support is indigenous or from another culture, acknowledging the role their traditions and practices play is an essential element of practicing cultural competence.
However you’re able, find a way to make a new mother in your life feel loved, honored and well taken care of. And encourage others to do the same!
Image Credit: Kara Whitaker