Postnatal or postpartum care is a period of care for a mother after birth. Some call it the 'Golden Month', or the 'Fourth-Trimester'. In South East Asian countries like Malaysia and Singapore it is called the 'Confinement period’, in Latin American countries, 'Cuarentena or Resguardo' (meaning “protection”) and in China postpartum care is often known as 'Zuo Yue Zi' (meaning “Month of Sitting” which is translated as “sitting out on, or abstaining from certain activities and foods”).
Postnatal practices can also be found in India, Russia, Romania, Greece and many African and Arab countries. Each culture has their own take on rituals and rules about postnatal care. However, the one thing they all have in common, is the importance of nourishing and looking after the mother after birth. This is to prioritise the recovery of the mother's strength, health and well-being not just after birth, but also for her health in the future, and for future pregnancies.
Postnatal care normally lasts for forty days, which equates to the six week phase in Western medicine termed as the “postpartum period”. In today’s Western society, little attention is paid to the postpartum mother, as compared to prioritizing the baby after birth. If great emphasis is placed on wellness and health during pregnancy, the birth process, and the baby's welfare, shouldn’t the postpartum, breastfeeding mother be rendered the same care, support and attention too? According to PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia), 1 in 7 new mothers and up to 1 in 10 new fathers experience postnatal anxiety and depression in Australia. Birth trauma and perinatal anxiety is very real! The other more extreme cases of Postnatal Depression called Postnatal Psychosis affects one to two women in every one thousand, after birth.
Influence from media adds stress to today’s society into getting back the “post baby body”. Pregnancy has such a deep effect on a woman, not just physically, but mentally as well. Women tend to forget the simple act of resting and giving the body time to heal and recover.
According to Angeline Liew, an internationally accredited Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga educator from Prana Yoga KL, “the involution of the uterus (process of the uterus shrinking to its normal size post pregnancy) takes approximately 6 to 10 weeks. During this process, the mother experiences cramps (usually comparable to menstrual cramps) and sometimes even mild contractions. There is also the presence of lochia (postpartum bleeding) that can last from 10 days to a few weeks). Whether you like it or not, your core will be compromised after baby is born. You do not have to be immobile like a vegetable during the 6-weeks postpartum period, but as soon as you feel rested and more energized, start working on deepening your breathing with core and pelvic floor connection, joint movements to get your circulation going, light stretches and some gentle walking. It’s important to listen to your body. If you’re feeling fatigued and overwhelmed with mummy duties, take a step back, rest more and take this special time to bond with baby! It’s all about being mindful to the new physical, mental and emotional changes, and not rushing to get back to your HIIT program or preparing for your next marathon”.
In cultures that strongly emphasize postnatal care, the duty of care falls under the responsibility of the mother, mother in-law, aunties or immediate family members who can lend a helping hand to care for the mother. In Malaysia or Singapore, an experienced 'confinement lady' can be employed if the immediate family are not available. Their role is to cook nourishing and special meals for the mother, and to look after baby, to allow the new mother to rest and recover. Some midwives or doulas offer perinatal care as well.
In modern China and many parts of South East Asia, postpartum care has become a big business. ”5 Star” Confinement Care Centres are mushrooming, offering a peaceful haven of postpartum accommodation, complete with in house physicians and Pediatricians, qualified midwives, special perinatal menus catering to different cultures, traditional care packages for mum and baby, a 24-hour CCTV monitored baby nursery, etc. In Africa, the whole village joins in to look after the mother, making it a joyous activity for the community. In Western society like Australia for example, there is still a lack of awareness and emphasis on the importance of postnatal care for mothers.
Why is Postnatal Care important?
According to Chinese medicine, mothers after birth are generally deficient. This is a result of the imbalance of yin and yang caused by the surge of energy expelled during the process of giving birth. During and after birth, a mother not only delivers the baby, but also loses moderate to high amounts of blood and bodily fluids. In addition, a mother surrenders more nourishment and reserve from her body when she is breastfeeding. On top of the birthing experience and breastfeeding, she also has to dig deep into her energy reserves, and manage the hormonal changes in the body, juggle a new life schedule, role and responsibility, PLUS look after the family. It is even more taxing if this is her subsequent pregnancy, and she has an active toddler at home who also requires a lot of attention. It’s no wonder new mothers often look and feel drained and exhausted within the first few weeks of giving birth...even taking time out to wash her hair is a luxury!
In Chinese medicine, Postnatal Care is about acknowledging the importance of care during this period. This allows the mother to adapt fluidly to the changing environment, as well as maintaining and increasing her reserve and nourishment for the baby and herself. The idea is to prevent the mother from continuously depleting her own reserve, while maintaining and improving her health and well-being, in order to tackle the ebbs and flows of motherhood. Postnatal Care is about self-care after birth and preserving the body and reproductive health for future pregnancies, and long term wellness.
In the next Postnatal series, we will talk about the two key factors that will help you in your Postpartum Care - Nourishment and Exercise. In the meantime, if you have any questions or are interested in understanding how we can help you in your postnatal care, we have a FREE 15 minutes consultation with Dr Jacqueline Heng offered at Eastential Chinese medicine. Dr Jacqueline would be happy to have a chat with you, simply BOOK ONLINE
Allison, J. (2015). Golden Month: Caring For The World's Mothers After Childbirth.
Ou, H., Greeven, A. & Belger, M. (2016). The First Forty Days: The Essential Art Of Nourishing The New Mother.