The word "postpartum" has negative connotations for many of us, who are used to reading about postpartum depression and other health issues in the news – and living through those issues with our own families and friends. But the word ‘postpartum’ simply refers to the time period spanning just after birth. Those few months where baby is freshly born and mommy is recovering from one of the most intensely demanding physical experiences on earth. In this busy, back-to-business culture, so many women, for a myriad of valid reasons, are rushed back in to life after childbirth with little to no special recovery care.
Erica Chidi (pictured above) is a holistic doula. Erica skimmed briefly over the subject of postpartum traditions – a 40-day affair in some ancient cultures – and we stopped her in her tracks to hear more. The idea of deeper traditions around postpartum recovery is a revelation to us. We found ourselves fascinated at the idea of a deeply nourishing, ancient traditional period of rest and recovery for mothers – one that could help to alleviate some of the modern postpartum troubles we all too often hear about and give new mothers – and new babies – a wonderful start to one of life’s most treasured seasons. We hope that our interview with Erica will enlighten, encourage and lift a load off the shoulders of a few new moms out there…
Erica, in our culture, as women and as families, so much of our attention after birth goes straight to parenting this new child and getting mom on her feet quick as can be. But in other cultural traditions, new moms are given official periods of deep care. Tell us more!
Erica Chidi: It’s true, in our culture, motherhood is very much child-first, mother-second. In other cultures, after a woman gives birth, both she and her baby are nurtured and she’s gently initiated into her new role as a mother. She’s allowed to do nothing but rest and bond with her baby for at least the first 40 days.
One thing many mothers focus on after childbirth is getting back in shape quickly. But the health and healing our bodies need at that point goes way beyond just weight loss…
Erica Chidi: Yes, it does. The healing trajectory for a new mother should be holistic, addressing both her body and her spirit. She should be encouraged to process her birth experience with her partner, rest, and have access to healthful foods that will help replenish her body. Eating well during the early postpartum period can speed up and smooth the recovery process, which in turn will help her be prepared to exercise, when she feels the time is right, which is typically around six to eight weeks after birth.
Like few other times in our lives, women’s bodies are experiencing major changes after birth. Talk to us about that transformative state.
Erica Chidi: Immediately after birth, a woman’s body experiences a rapid flux. The hormonal balance is disrupted, there’s significant blood and fluid loss, and milk production begins, all within 24 hours. Plus you now have a lovely new babe to attend to, so it makes perfect sense that these ancient traditions were created solely to help make that transition easier.
Talk to us about the 40-day period other cultures are in the tradition of keeping.
Erica Chidi: In China, they adhere to 40 days of rest after birth, known as the confinement period. During this time, new mothers consume lactation-promoting soups and herbal tonics and stay away from cold fluids. In Mexico, this practice is called the cuarentena, and again rest is the rule and only certain restorative foods are permitted. A new mother’s body is also considered to be “open,” and vulnerable to cold, so her abdomen is wrapped in a soft cloth called a faja. In both traditions, new mothers don’t do any housework or partake in strenuous activities; female relatives and friends take over errands and chores. The new mothers are also educated as they heal, taught to breastfeed, and how to care for themselves and their babies.
What can new mothers, some of whom are working with narrow maternity leaves, do to incorporate these healthy traditions into their lives?
Erica Chidi: Rest: Rest as much as possible. Try sleeping when your baby sleeps. Short power naps during the day will restore your energy quickly. Some sleep is better than none.
Up The Fluids: Make water, soups, fresh juices and herbal teas the cornerstone your diet during the first few weeks.
Iron + Protein + Fiber: Add beets, spinach, nuts, lentils and lean meats to your plate. Nutrient-dense foods will help you feel get back on your feet faster.
Get Support: Communicate your needs and practice self-care. Activities like body-work and acupuncture in the early-postpartum period can make a big difference.
If you could impress one key principle upon postpartum moms, what would it be?
Erica Chidi: Take it slow, be gentle on yourself and cherish the time you have at home with your loved ones. Also, trust your intuition and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re experiencing any difficulties. A session with a postpartum doula or a visit with a lactation professional can make a world of difference during those early weeks.