I often find myself thinking about how many women are giving birth right at this moment – up the road at the hospital here and all around the world. It is a fascinating thing to think that someone’s life is changing forever right in this very mundane (for me) moment.
New mums are a very neglected group – throughout pregnancy they are poked and prodded, told to look after themselves, be careful about everything they do, eat, drink – generally take very good care of themselves.
But then they give birth to the baby, literally the moment the baby is out all the focus shifts on to the baby. The new mother becomes the feeding, comforting, nappy changing machine. And after the initial whirlwind dies down they can feel very lonely, sad and even depressed.
It is incredible how much has advanced over the years but some things have been forgotten too. The sense of close community with all the help that entails – we live further from our families, see our friends less. We might be more connected through technology but that is only what we choose to share and see, so harder times can go unnoticed and hence unsupported. In our ever more connected world people are feeling increasingly lonely. Having a baby is no exception to this.
So with this in mind I wanted to talk about the best gifts new mums would find helpful. If they haven’t had the baby yet then maybe my post on dry skin during pregnancy might be helpful.
Postpartum traditions are not something we often consider in the west. We have become so focused on the baby and getting back into “shape” that we don’t give our bodies the time they need to recuperate. Being pregnant and giving birth has to be one of the most emotional and physical things a woman ever does and the birth should not be the end of the story. The first few months are crucial for the mother to get her body fully recovered.
Many cultures have strong traditions to help a new mother with this massive transition:
China – zuo yuezi or confinement is a month long process of rest, recovery and renewal. Where traditionally the mother and baby do not leave the house.
Latin America – la cuarentena (quarantine) is a 40-day period where the new mother’s family takes over all her household chores in order to get her back into the best health which in turn will safeguard her against future illness.
India – new mother goes back to her parents home for up to 3 months of care with Ayurvedic massage, special food and many hands to help with the baby
Korea‘s postpartum tradition of Samchili is at least 21 days of care where the mother is kept warm and well-fed.
In Indonesia a midwife visits daily to massage and bathe the mother in special therapeutic baths
Malaysia has Pantang where the mother is secluded for 40 days, she receives massages, body exfoliation, herbal baths and hot compresses.
These are just some examples but many other countries – Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine etc etc also have similar traditions.
In the west there is so much pressure to get out and get on with life as soon as you come home from the hospital. I appreciate that most people can’t afford to have help at home so inevitably there are many things that need to be done around the house but as a friend or family member putting the new mum high up the priority list is the best gift you can give her and her baby.
I think the number one thing any new mum would tell you is that she is tired. Giving birth is an exhausting feat of human endurance. Your hormones are all over the place – one moment you are pregnant the next you are not but you have a screaming little being next to you who you are supposed to know how to look after. And they want to be looked after all day and night!
So sleep or rest in general is a very scarce commodity with a newborn. So even a 20 minute break is the best gift for a new mum.
Tip: offer to take the baby out for a walk around the block. You might need to encourage the mother that this is a good idea as she will feel protective and worried about anyone else taking the baby out but reassure her and stay close by so you can get back to mum if the baby needs anything. It is very important that you take the baby away – just sitting holding the baby will not help so much. If the baby is still in the house, the mum probably will not be able relax – speaking from experience – you are wired to that cry and if you hear it you’ll be up in a flash.
Food is as important as rest. You need it! The new mum will be so focused on her baby and how to feed her that she will probably forget to feed herself. But unless she is fed with good, healthy, balanced food, then she will get even more tired and life may get overwhelming.
The new mum needs to get their strength back after the pregnancy and birth – they will need lots of additional nutrients and regular meals and snacks for breastfeeding.
Tip: The best gifts new mums can get is a home cooked meal – bring one with you and put it in their freezer, or some bliss balls – I like this recipe which helps with milk supply.
If I had known this when I visited friends with new babies I would have always taken some food along with the baby present – why do we always only think of the baby?
This one is a little trickier – depending on how well you know someone but speaking to friends the thing that they found completely overwhelming was the washing and cleaning.
Tip: can you stack the dishwasher – don’t ask just do it. Do the dishes? Fold some clothes? Get the vacuum out? If you are a family member or close friend don’t wait to be asked just start doing things. In 99% of cases they will be eternally grateful.
If we lived in a culture where new mothers were secluded for a month or two to fully recover. If they were surrounded by family and a support network of helpers – to massage, bathe and generally pamper them, then how different would be a new mother’s experience of those first few months be. Most mothers I know talk about how grueling that time was.
Tip: offer to look after the baby while the new mum goes for a massage. Offer to give the massage. Get someone to come over to give the massage. Soak her feet in warm water and rub with coconut oil – there are so many little things you can do to make her feel pampered which will do tremendous things to shift her mindset.
A great book – The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother you can get to understand more about the traditions of the confinement period with lots of tips of how to do this in a modern way.
If you want to hear more about the philosophy behind this book listen to this podcast with the authors:
Everyone wants to hold the baby, in the excitement of the new arrival we do not acknowledge the monumental transition for the mother. The focus on the baby can make the mother feel alone and not understood.
It is no surprise to me that we have ever-increasing levels of anxiety and depression in new mothers. Society puts so much pressure on us to conform to the social media versions of celebrities and friends.
From my experience in those first weeks and months of getting to know my baby and my new self the best gifts were those of kindness and understanding. When people didn’t wait to be asked to help but they just came in and did it.
So the best gifts new mums will truly appreciate are any way that helps them rest, rejuvenate and discover the new them and of course the newest addition to their family.