It's a Postpartum World After All
Women have helped each other have babies — and recover from having babies — for thousands of years. For many cultures worldwide, this translates to traditions of seclusion where both mother and baby recover and bond while women and other family members step in to provide crucial postpartum support.
In Latin American countries, the postpartum recovery period for a mother is called la cuarantena, which also means quarantine. The word comes from cuarenta, meaning 40 in Spanish. The length of la cuarantena can vary, but it is usually 40 days of mandatory rest for the mother, who receives help with the housework and must stick to special diet. La cuarantena is a time when family, friends, and neighbors all help the mother as much as they can. They watch her other children, they cook for her. It's almost like you have several postpartum doulas with you. A cuarentena study of first-time Mexican-American mothers in Texas found that the tradition instills parental responsibility and incorporates individuals into the family plus bonds mother and child during the postpartum period.
In the Netherlands, mothers getting back on their feet is of national interest. All mothers are entitled to a kraamverzogster (a professional maternity nurse) for the first eight to ten days after giving birth. According to the pragmatic Dutch, a mother’s body has a lot of healing to do postpartum while also meeting the physically exhausting, twenty-four hour demands of a newborn.
That’s where a kraamverzogster comes in - to help the mother rest, regain her strength, and bond with her baby in the comfort of her own home. A kraamverzogster is not only responsible for the well-being of the newborn, but also for closely monitoring a mother’s recovery process. She works closely with a midwife, or an obstetrician if any potential problems arise. An added bonus is that the kraamverzogster can take over household chores - cooking, laundry, general household cleaning, and watching over older children. Kraamverzogsters are not just for the fancy. They are part of the basic universal health insurance and the cost of care is sent directly to the healthcare provider. It’s a modern approach that sees wisdom in taking care of moms so they can have a solid, positive start to the year long recovery process of childbirth.
Chinese women observe their own tradition after childbirth called zuo yuezi, which translates to “sitting out a month”, that is intended to help mothers recover from childbirth, produce more breast milk, and recalibrate their bodies. This tradition is viewed as a cultural imperative in China and includes detailed practices involving maternal diet, clothing, cleanliness, mental health, and other precautions that must be strictly followed during the first postpartum month. Zuo yuezi calls for the woman’s mother, mother-in-law, a paid nurse, and/or partner to help the new mother recuperate, adjust to motherhood, and free her from domestic duties.
Some of the practices include ensuring that new mothers avoid physical contact with anything cold (cold winds, cold water, and cold foods); brush their teeth and bathe only with warm, pre-boiled water; and the new mother must maintain a balance between hot and cold intake of food. Zuo yuezi is said to alleviate the stress related to childbirth, improve the health of mother and child, affect child rearing and family relations as well as help the mother adapt to her new role.
Although zuo yuezi is highly valued, it requires the physical support of others for the first month after childbirth. As a result, a new industry has emerged in China; companies named ‘Month Helper’, ‘The Zuo Yuezi Center’, and the ‘Yuezi Hospital’ have opened in many regions of China and offer hotel-like accommodations for new mothers. The centers are staffed with experienced nurses and knowledgeable maternity coaches to teach new mothers how to successfully breastfeed, bathe, and care for their new babies. A nursery room staffed with attentive nurses is available to give recovering moms a break, and the centers offer exercise and child-care classes.
To many U.S. mothers, the notion of quarantine might seem too isolating, or simply impractical (seriously, who is going to do everything else for you?), but the current expectation for moms to recover from childbirth, take care of a newborn, and entertain well-meaning guests all at once leaves us so exhausted we can barely put two sentences together. Zuo Yuezi Center and a kraamverzogster? Sign these mamas up.