Postpartum Traditions from Around the World
April 18, 2011
The diaper changing… the breastfeeding learning curve… the incredible hormonal and physical changes… the crying (from baby and the new mom)… When baby arrives, everyone needs a little help to get by during those exhausting first few days and weeks, whether it’s delivering warm meals, rocking baby long enough for you to take a nap or jump in the shower, or just offering a shoulder to cry on. Ever wonder about other new moms’ support systems? Double X recently looked into just how much help women in some cultures get.
According to the Double X article, throughout Latin America, new mothers participate in la cuarentena, or the quarantine, for forty days. Female relatives handle day-to-day chores so the new mama can bond with her babe, wrap her tummy tightly with a cloth called a faja and get her strength back. In much of Asia, there’s a similar practice called “doing the month.” It’s not all sleep and snuggling, though; there are strict dietary restrictions (no heavy or spicy foods for Latina moms, no cold water, turnips, or bamboo shoots for East Asian moms) and grooming rules (no washing your hair before it’s over). Both traditions require women to abstain from sex until the end of the month or forty-day period.
Historians and anthropologists trace the tradition of la cuarentena back to the Bible, which says that women are unclean in the weeks following childbirth. “Doing the month” comes from traditional Chinese medical practices that try to rebalance a new mother’s yin and yang after giving birth. Doctors in the U.S. are still trying to figure out where these postpartum traditions fit in with their modern-day practices. How can they stay sensitive to both their patients’ medical needs and their cultures? Fortunately, Western medicine shares some common ground with these customs, like abstaining from sex to allow, er, everything to heal. And of course, immigrants and their American-born children don’t always observe every custom to the letter once here, for example, a Dominican woman interviewed for the article substitutes comfy leggings for the faja. Doctors haven’t made up their minds about postpartum traditions, but we love the idea of grandmas and aunts pitching in to give moms quality time with their newborns.
What postpartum traditions does your family have? How’d they help you after your baby’s birth?