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  • Sara Teeman

Great Expectations

Yesterday the Royal Family celebrated the safe arrival of their new baby and the extension of The Duke and Duchess' family from four to five. As with their previous two births, we were allowed a brief glimpse of the couple only hours after the event. The usual comments and congratulations ensue including commenting on Kate's appearance post birth, these comments being a mixed bag of positive ("How does she do it, I definitely didn't look like that!") not so positive, ("It's ok when you have a hair and make up team") and lots of in-between. There will without doubt be pictures of Kate in the coming weeks, as her tummy slowly returns to a pre-birth state, accompanied by comments and headlines of how 'she has bounced back in 6 weeks.'

I can't help wondering, as a mother myself how Kate feels about having to stand on the steps of the hospital posing with her tiny new baby hours after the almost other worldly experience of birthing a baby.  Sure, there is a significant element of duty and tradition that her position entails, disregarding personal preferences. There is also a strong element of our culture as Brits; that spirit of indomitably - "yes, we're at war but we still take tea!". And, in this case 'yes, I've just had a baby and the axis of my world has just shifted beyond measure, I'm heavily bleeding, exhausted and hormonal but Face on, Heels on and Smile'.  

At what cost? Is this a good example for mothers to see role models, not only The Duchess but numerous celebrities so put together, so quickly after going through the momentous event of labour (and for many, the exhaustion of the final trimester of pregnancy)? Does this send a message to us that we also need to Get Up, Get Dressed and Get Out immediately, that we need to bounce back as quickly as possible.

I imagine that Kate once home will rest as much as she is able to and will not be walking around the house wearing nude heels with daily blowed dried hair. That is not reality with a newborn and I would take a bet that this is the case even if you are a Princess. It's painful, messy and exhausting at the beginning and support, nurture and TLC for the mother is essential whilst she gives every second and everything she has to her tiny and vulnerable newborn baby. These images then, as lovely as they are and as much as they sell newspapers, fail to portray reality or send a positive message about caring for the mother in the aftermath of pregnancy and birth, instead perhaps strengthening the expectation in much of Western culture that new mothers be up and about soon after having a baby. What if we are doing it all wrong?

50% to 85% of new mothers in industrialised nations experience the “baby blues,” and according to charity4Children up to 1 in 3 mothers may experience Post-natal Depression (reported cases).  By contrast, in studies of low-income, developing countries, many of these disorders are low or non-existent, which may be surprising but on understanding how care for the mothers differs from the majority of Western countries, it becomes clear as to why.  One study by Stern and Kruckman noted that cultures who had a low incidence of postpartum mood disorders all had rituals in place that provided a high level of support and care for new mothers. 

These included;

  1. A distinct postpartum period. The postpartum period is recognised as a time when the mother is supposed to recuperate. Her activities are limited and her female relatives take care of her. This type of care was also common in colonial America, when postpartum was referred to as the “lying-in” period. This period functioned as a time of “apprenticeship,” when more experienced mothers mentored the new mother.

  2. Protective measures reflecting the new mother’s vulnerability. During the postpartum period, new mothers are recognised as being especially vulnerable. Ritual bathing, washing of hair, massage, binding of the abdomen, and other types of personal care are prominent in the postpartum rituals of rural Guatemala, Mayan women in the Yucatan, Latina women both in the United States and Mexico. 

  3. Social seclusion and mandated rest. Postpartum is a time for the mother to rest, regain strength, and care for the baby.  For example, in the Punjab, women and their babies are secluded from everyone but female relatives and their midwives for five days. Seclusion is said to promote breastfeeding and it limits a woman’s normal activities. In contrast, many UK and American mothers are expected to entertain others, often family and friends who come to see the baby.

  4. Functional assistance. In order for seclusion and mandated rest to occur, mothers must be relieved of their normal workload. In these cultures, women are provided with someone to take care of older children and perform their household duties. 

  5. Social recognition of her new role and status. In the cultures Stern and Kruckman studied, there was a great deal of personal attention given to the mother. In China and Nepal, very little attention is paid to the pregnancy; much more attention is focused on the mother after the baby is born. This has been described as “mothering the mother.” The status of the new mother is recognised through social rituals and gifts, not only for the baby but gifts for the mother too. In the UK and Western culture, we buy outfits and toys for the baby but it is less common to think of the mother and her needs in this period. 

In Western culture, mothers often find that people are more concerned about them before the birth. While a woman is pregnant, people may offer to help her carry things or to open doors or to ask how she is feeling. Friends may give her a baby shower, where she will receive emotional support and gifts for her baby. There are prenatal classes and prenatal checkups, and many people wanting to know about the details of her daily experience.

After she has her baby, however, mother-focused support rapidly declines. Typically, a woman is discharged from the hospital within 24 to 48 hours after a vaginal birth, or 2 to 4 days after a cesarean section. Her partner will probably return to work within a week or two, and she is left alone to make sure she has enough to eat, to teach herself to breastfeed, and to recuperate from birth. The people who provided attention during her pregnancy are no longer there, and the people who do come around are often more interested in the baby. 

As a culture, we have woefully neglected the needs of new mothers. But this was not always so. Historically, we recognised the importance of a community of women helping women, who provided this much needed practical and emotional assistance. In so doing, they provided a chance for postpartum women to recuperate and assimilate the major change that had taken place in their lives.

Thankfully, things are starting to (slowly) shift and we are starting to bring more awareness to the very basic needs of post-partum mothers to be supported with much more emphasis and importance. The term 'Doula' is becoming more widely understood and encouraged, in time - if not the return of 'the village', hopefully Western culture will adapt and accept that mothers need to recover, they need time to bond with baby, to heal and to accept and assimilate to the huge changes that are taking place physically, emotionally and mentally. 

Mamabox was founded based on this very principle, to create care packages to focus on the needs of the all giving mother during her pregnancy and most importantly post-partum period. Our boxes bring some bring joy and respite, inspiring and encouraging mama to take a little time for herself, to be herself and prioritise her wellbeing amongst the chaos of having a tiny human depending upon her so entirely. Our HEAL ME, MAMA box is designed for this exact purpose and contains a soothing post-partum bath sachet to be used in the initial post-birth period, Motherkind tea to help with breastfeeding and 11 other pampering items and treats just for her. Click here to see the full contents. https://www.mamabox.co.uk/product-page/heal-me-mama

Mama's Supporting Mama's. 💛

Partially taken from an article by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett (full article here) https://womenshealthtoday.blog/2017/07/30/how-cultures-protect-the-new-mother/

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