The following four essential practices are a part of most traditions –in varying form. Here are the essentials.
Total rest. This means not just absence from the workplace, but rest from everything, including all household duties and sexual activity. You just need to feed the baby, and receive food and care. “Once I left the hospital my sister-in-law fed me correctly and allowed me to have 40 days of rest…….All I had to do was give breast milk to the baby, eat and sleep.” -Mali. Exercise should be minimal as the body is tired after giving birth and the ligaments are still very soft from pregnancy hormones and so easily injured. Sexual activity is avoided: the uterus takes some time to get back to normal and this process shouldn’t be interrupted. Making love can also disrupt the post natal hormonal balance which is geared to producing milk, and it can arouse strong emotions which should be avoided at this time. Your surroundings should be quiet and restful with plenty of opportunity for sleep while your baby is sleeping.
Massage. In almost all traditions we are familiar with the mother is massaged after birth, often daily.
Her body is nourished by the various oils and herbs used, the body is rebalanced and invigorated, and she relaxes and responds to the nurturing quality of human touch. Massage is like passive exercise as good circulation and well-being are achieved without the mother using up any of her own energy. Most traditions, even in hot countries, also warm the body in different ways, especially the lower abdomen. In China, the process of gently warming the lower abdomen using moxibustion is called ‘mother roasting’ and helps to replenish ‘source’ energy. Other cultures protect the uterus and lower back by wrapping extra clothes around the lower abdomen, or massage the body regularly with hot towels. There is a reason for warming the body and keeping warm: the mother’s body temperature tends to be lower after giving birth and so it should be protected from cold. Of course if you have a fever or infection the warming practices are not appropriate.
Diet. There are many variations in diet, but they all agree on one thing. Have food and liquid which is warm and easily digestible. Soup is commonly given. Warmth prevents stagnation in the digestive system and promotes good digestion. It also means the body doesn’t use up too much energy trying to warm up cold food to a point where it can be digested, nor does it get chilled by taking in something physical cold. Sufficient protein is necessary to replace lost blood and nutrients from the birth and to support breastfeeding; it is also grounding emotionally. Carbohydrates, especially in the form of hot porridges, give energy and also support breastfeeding.
Mother the mother. This is one of the most important aspects of post natal care.
‘Giving birth is a wonderful gift but it hurts both the body and the heart. The job of the nannies (grandmothers/elders) is to help bring the mother back into ‘consciousness’ so that she can be a source of nourishment to her child’ …Wai Mason (kuia). Traditional Maori view.
When older women care for the new mother at this moment of life, after the birth, a deeper process of mothering is being taught. By having your role of mother modeled for you by your carer, you can come more fully into your own role as mother. Each time you give birth you are initiated and re-initiated into motherhood simply by being cared for yourself, and the practical help that goes with this ensures that you are rested and physically healthy.