Postpartum Traditions - Myths vs. Facts
Changes in the postpartum period -
Are you missing a full 8 hours of sleep? Experiencing hormonal changes? Feeling anxious over the baby’s health? These are some of the changes that are involved in the postpartum period. There are several other changes that a mother experiences, such as abdominal cramps, vaginal bleeding, fatigue, constipation, and body aches.
Why is Postpartum Care important?
When you hold your little bundle of joy, all your pains and worries may fade away. But that shouldn’t let you forget how important it is to take care of yourself.
The postpartum period starts after childbirth and lasts around 6-8 weeks. This is the time for the mother’s mind and body to recover and return to their pre-pregnancy state. It is also a crucial stage to strengthen the mother and baby’s bond.
With changing times and traditions, it has become harder for mothers to follow all the elaborate practices that have been passed on for generations. This is why it is important to know which traditions yield results and which ones are simply baseless myths.
Traditional Indian Style of Postpartum Care -
After pregnancy and delivery, every decision you make affects you as well as the baby. This is why it is important to take care of your physical and mental well-being. The postpartum traditions and rituals followed in India focus on strengthening immunity, boosting lactation, and encouraging healing.
A vast majority of these traditions originate from Ayurveda. This 5000-year-old healing tradition is based on the principle that good health depends upon balance. Any imbalance can be treated with the help of herbal concoctions, easily digestible foods, and massages.
Postpartum care practices -
1. Confinement period -
Purpose: After delivery, the mother stays at home for approximately 40 days. This confinement period emphasizes on rest.
‘Mothering the mother.’ Typically, the new mother goes to her mother’s house during birth and this stage or is taken care of by other relatives. She is only supposed to rest and replenish in these few weeks, while all the people around her take care of all the housework or stressful activities, and pamper her with love and care.
Guests aren’t allowed to visit the mother during this phase. The reason for this is to ensure the safety of the mother and the baby. Outsiders may carry germs that can cause infections.
Myth: The mother is in a state of impurity or pollution after childbirth. The stage after birth is considered ‘dirty’ and according to some customs, no one can touch the mother. This is an old-fashioned belief that has no scientific reasoning.
2. Diet and nutrition
Purpose: In order to recover from pregnancy, you need to have a healthy and balanced diet. Apart from that, you need to be mindful of your diet while you’re breastfeeding since that is what you will pass on to your baby.
It is believed that giving birth puts your body in a ‘cold state’ since you lose a lot of fluids and body heat. Therefore it is suggested that the mother eats heating foods such as papaya, garlic, sesame seeds, fenugreek seeds, dried ginger, and pineapples.
Sweets made out of edible gum (gond), wheat, and dry nuts are given to the mother to strengthen her body. Vegetables like carrots, green leaves, beans and beetroots are cooked in ghee (clarified butter) to help digestion and nourish the body.
Apart from caffeine and alcohol, it is also best to avoid oily and gassy foods that are hard to digest.
1) Ghee strengthens your joints - In reality, it simply acts as a grease. It helps in moving the joints easily and without pain but it has no relation to joint strength.
2) Eating betel leaves (paan) helps with digestion - However, it is important to know that it has extremely harmful side effects such as the risk of cancer.
3) Higher the intake of milk, the higher the milk production.
While milk is nutrient-dense and should be consumed, lactation can be enhanced with any fluids. So you can drink water or herbal preparations instead as well.
3. Massages -
Purpose: Massages during the postnatal phase have multiple benefits:
- Stress reduction
- Enhances lactation
- Better sleep
- Reduces swelling
- Regulates hormones
- Reduces anxiety
New mothers are given a hot oil massage (maalish) every day. These massages can be done using several different oils, each with its own benefits. Sesame oil helps control blood pressure and reduces stress with its cooling properties. Coconut oil, which is generally used for head massages, has a cooling and hydrating effect. It also helps reduce stretch marks. Olive oil is beneficial to your hair and skin.
In the case of a C-section, oil massages are only done after the stitches have healed. There are other alternatives that a mother can opt for. For example, acupressure, reflexology, and heat therapy.
Myth: Body massages are needed to get back in shape. A massage has no effect on the shape or size of the body. It simply helps the mother relax and feel more refreshed.
Purpose: A warm, relaxing bath is a great way to soothe a mother’s mind, as well as her body. Usually, warm water that has been boiled with neem leaves, which are a natural antiseptic, is used for bathing. A paste of chickpea flour, turmeric powder, and milk cream is used to replace commercial soaps for the mother as well as the baby.
Myth: The mother is not allowed to take a bath or touch water, for there is a chance of ‘wind’ or ‘Vaayu’ entering the body. This is a baseless belief that shouldn’t be followed since it is important to maintain comfort and personal hygiene.
5: Belly binding -
Belly binding is a common practice amongst new moms. It is an important practice in Ayurveda. A long cotton cloth is wrapped around the mother’s tummy for several hours a day.
It encourages a healthier posture, reduces stomach gas, and supports your healing muscles.
But it is important to be extremely careful while binding your tummy. If you tie it too tight, it can be painful and cause extra damage to your organs. Binding shouldn’t squeeze. It is only to offer support. You should consult your physician before trying belly binding.
Myth: Using a belly wrap helps your stomach get back in shape. This statement is probably not true! There is no scientific evidence to support this.
6: Practices to preserve body heat -
Purpose: After giving birth, mothers are advised to keep their head and ears covered with a scarf. The new mother should preserve her body heat to help her recover faster. It is believed that covering your head can keep you warm and prevent infections. The reason for this is that most of one’s body heat is lost mainly through the head.
For the same reasons, mothers are advised to wear cotton buds in their ears and to wear footwear around the house. This is because these are some of the most vulnerable spots to catch a cold from.
Another practice is to use sake, or heat, to soothe the body and preserve body heat. One can also use smoke therapy or dhoop. It uses camphor to light the Sambrani (aromatic dhoop cones).
It may be uncomfortable for mothers who give birth during summers to cover their head at all times. Hence, it is best for you to follow your body’s cues and do what makes you feel the most comfortable.
Myth: You’ll catch a cold if you don’t cover your head.
There isn’t enough research to support this belief. However, the main reason for covering one’s head is to retain warmth. Many women prefer following all of these traditions, despite some of them being myths. They believe that it is best to follow the traditions that have been practiced for decades.
But with a rise in nuclear families, it is not easy to follow traditional practices which require elaborate preparations. New mothers no longer have the same kind of support system that mothers did decades ago. So it is important for mothers nearing delivery to start building their support system as it will help them create a positive environment for the baby, all while being mindful of the traditions.
Don’t forget- you must be happy and healthy to keep your little one the same!
1) Will belly binding help bring back my pre-pregnancy body?
Belly binding probably does not have much effect on the size of the tummy. But it is still a very common practice as it helps provide support to your healing body.
2) Will my baby catch a cold if I drink cold water?
It is said that cold water can affect the temperature and quality of breastmilk, which in turn can cause the baby to catch a cold. However, many moms around the world drink cold water without facing any harmful effects.
3) Do I have to wait for 40 days before I can leave the house?
Being isolated for 40 days is an exaggerated tradition whose intended purpose is to provide rest. Since you and the baby are at the most vulnerable stage in these weeks, there is a fear of catching an infection. However, with the right precautions, you can go out and get some fresh air.
4) How long before I can do physical activities?
You can start with mild excercises 2-3 days after delivery. Eventually, you can take short walks and gradually increase the time and intensity. If you feel any pain, you should stop immediately. In case of a C-section, your body needs atleast 6 weeks to recover fully.
5) Can I eat spicy food while breastfeeding?
Yes it’s okay to eat spicy food while breastfeeding. Even though a small fraction of what you eat is present in breastmilk, it is unlikely that it would affect the baby. But it is best to try for yourself and see what works best. If spicy food causes you acidity or if the baby seems uncomfortable, opt for a milder diet for a while.