How To Treat A New Mother: Cool Postpartum Traditions From Around The World

In Queens, there are several Chinese "postpartum confinement" centers.

Sunday’s New York Times featured a fascinating story about Chinese postpartum confinement centers in Queens. These centers, which occupy modest brick houses, provide new mothers and their babies with a place for the Chinese tradition of “zuo yuez” or sitting the month.

New moms and their babies stay in the centers for 30 days postpartum in what The Times calls “pampered seclusion.” They are encouraged to rest and are fed special foods. Postpartum doulas care for them and a nurse comes once a week. The centers have sprung up to help new immigrant mothers who don’t have the benefit of their extended families to help them.

There’s lots going on in this story (read it here), but what I keyed in on was the strong cultural notion that women need to be cared for for the full 30 days postpartum. There are many other traditions, crossing cultures and history, that involve caring for new mothers for a “lying in” period of about a month or so postpartum. Most of them take place in the mom’s own home, which sounds, to me, preferable to a postpartum confinement center.

These traditions provide a stark contrast to the kind of isolation many new American mothers/parents feel.

Check out these other cultural traditions:

*In India, Ayurvedic tradition has mom staying home for 22 days postpartum. Not many visitors are allowed and mom is fed specially prepared foods.

* Balinese women are not allowed to enter the kitchen or wash their hair until the baby’s cord stump has fallen off (about 10 days+). This is to help make sure they rest.

* Indonesian mothers are expected to stay in the family compound for 42 days postpartum being cared for by her extended family. And for the first three nights after giving birth, dad is not supposed to sleep but stay up to protect mom and baby.

*In Holland, professional maternity nurses called Kraamverpleegsters come and check in on mom from 8am-5pm every day for the first eight days!

*In Hawaii, home birth midwives set up an in-house massage for moms on day four (drool!!). And in Maui there’s a tradition of helping moms with housecleaning and bringing food and then groups of new mothers gather on the beach with their babies on week 6 to celebrate.

(The above come from Robin Lim’s fantastic book, After The Baby’s Birth, which I highly recommend.)

Looking at the anthropology of new mom care a pattern emerges: for about 30 days mom is protected from hard work and hosting. She is fed special foods, often soup. Her chores are done for her. She is supported to nurture her baby. Most of these traditions do not involve others taking the baby from mom but rather others doing all the other stuff so mom canĀ  drift into the hazy land of newborn care (feeding, resting, feeding, resting) without conflict.

In the US these days, many of us need to be more proactive when it comes to our own postpartum care, assembling our own posse of women (and men!) who can help out. And often hiring people from lactation consultants to postpartum doulas.

I’m curious:

What did you/will you do postpartum? Did you get or do you anticipate getting the kind of support and “mothering” you’ll need? A lot of these traditions place high honor on the work of a new mother– do you get the feeling that your community has deep respect for this work?


photo: The New York Times

Nutrition tips and recipes for new moms: “Dealing with The Feeling: The Soothing Postpartum Diet.”

Babble Feature: Postpartum Depression Nearly Killed Me…ThenĀ  I had a second baby.



Article Posted 5 years Ago

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