Pregnancy, childbirth and mum to a newborn – each event requires incredible physical strength and stamina. In sequence they really are a feat of nature and need to be given proper respect and care. In this 4-part Blog, you’ll explore the perils of a new mother ‘bouncing back’ too soon, traditional principles and methods to preserve the health and future fertility of a new mother, and practical tips for the modern day new mother and those around her.
I have come full-circle on this topic, as I have done on many. The concept of a traditional ‘confinement period’ for new mums was antithesis to my young feminist leanings. My younger-self could only acknowledge that giving birth was the very symbol of feminine power. I now realise (after giving birth twice later in life, and perhaps accumulating some wisdom), that it is because of the extraordinary physical feat of pregnancy and labour that a recovery period is warranted. It is the nature of all things: the yin and yang in traditional terms; the equal and opposite reactions in modern terms. Exertion requires rest.
Instead a new mum often feels the pressure of expectation, from within her self, others and the society at large.
“Rather than get invited to take a sacred time-out after delivering her child, the new mother is more likely met with pressure to “bounce back” – back to her pre-pregnancy productivity, back to her pre-pregnancy body, and back to her pre-pregnancy spirits.”
– Heng Ou, The first forty days: the essential art of nourishing the new mother p10
In Chinese medicine, a mother is in a full-yang’ state during pregnancy – her blood volume increases by 50% and her hormone levels are sustained at high levels. Both the volume of blood and the circulating levels of the hormone, progesterone, warm her. After birth, she is in an ‘empty-yin’ phase. Her hormone levels plunge, as does her blood volume.
This transition, like any sudden or dramatic change, needs to be managed so that illness does not ensue. This transition has been managed in traditional cultures with a confinement period in which a mother is cared for. Invariably this care includes protecting her from cold environments, avoiding cold food and drinks, consuming warming and tonifying foods, and resting so that she is able to recuperate and regain her vitality. The vitality that will sustain her throughout the rest of her life.
“… the sheer energetic expenditure of recovery and newborn care accrues for every single woman, even the ones who’ve straightforward births. And if this expenditure is not met with enough rest and quiet, it leaves a deficit that catches up with her down the line.”
– Heng Ou, The first forty days: the essential art of nourishing the new mother p35
Another aspect of the new mother’s retreat is calm – her environment should be kept calm, and she should be kept content. The traditional adage is, “Take care of the mother, and the mother will take care of the baby.” When a new mother has positive social feelings and low anxiety, she is found to have high levels of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is commonly known as the “love” hormone – psychologically it is important for bonding, the ability to perceive the baby’s needs, empathy, generosity and trust. Physically, this hormone is needed for the release of milk (“let-down”) in breastfeeding. Psychological stress inhibits the centres of the brain that are responsible for oxytocin manufacture and release, and low oxytocin is associated with compromised bonding between mother and baby, and post-natal depression.
“Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that when deliberate physical care and support surround a new mother after birth, as well as rituals that acknowledge the magnitude of the event of birth, postpartum anxiety and its more serious expression, postpartum depression are much less likely to get a foothold.”
-Heng Ou, The first forty days: the essential art of nourishing the new mother p31
Read onto the following Blogs to learn:
and share this information with the pregnant women in your life, their friends and loved ones.
note: A new Mother’s Postpartum Retreat is also known as zuo yue zi, the confinement period, the golden month, or the sitting month in various traditions.