Western cultures tend to gloss over the extraordinary metamorphosis of woman to mother. The pregnant woman is revered – strangers pat her belly, offer up their seats for her in waiting areas and coo at her mere presence, asking how she’s feeling, and guessing at her baby’s gender. She undergoes a barrage of tests and health appointments to ensure her welfare, and that of her child. But then she gives birth, and those loving pats are exchanged for disapproving gawks when she breastfeeds in public, or baby won’t settle quickly enough. Her postpartum care amounts to an average of three days in hospital, along with three, in-home midwife visits and a six-week check-up, which are all but entirely baby-centric. After that, the clear message from western society is ‘suck it up sister, you’re on your own!’
Becoming mother alters a woman to her core – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Many new mothers feel broken apart after birth: body, mind and spirit must unfurl and yield to make space for a brand-new being. She must surrender completely to an earth-shattering, painful, and potentially traumatic experience to bring this precious new soul into the world. After the birth, there can be feelings of anxiety, vulnerability, and grief as she processes her birth story, heals from the marathon of childbirth, strives to meet the demands of new motherhood, and mourns her pre-baby independence.
Western postpartum care, or lack thereof, pays little reverence to the new mother’s tremendous feats in childbirth and the months after – mastering baby’s needs and rhythms and the art of breastfeeding, expressing, and/or washing and sterilising thousands of bottles, all while physically depleted and functioning on impaired sleep. One in seven Australian women suffer from postpartum depression, while one in five suffer from postnatal anxiety, and lack of social support is an established risk factor. Perhaps that’s why soaring numbers of western women are demanding better for themselves and embracing the traditions of diverse cultures, who believe that the new mother should be cared for, just as intently as her baby.
Our beautiful Nadia’s rich experience in women’s health massage and yoga draws on Ayurvedic and South American traditions, which harmonise with Dr Carla’s genius in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), to create a synergy of holistic postnatal care and ensure a better reality for new mothers. In our last article, we discussed the many ways our care offerings are enriched by TCM. Below, we detail the wealth of modern and traditional postnatal care offerings that Nadia brings into the fold.
Closing the bones
Grounded in Mexican midwifery, or partería, closing the bones is a gentle and supportive postpartum ritual, which honours the new mother and releases any trauma that her body may be holding after childbirth. It can be performed within hours of birth but is beneficial even years later, to help her process the complex interplay of feelings around her child’s birth and gain closure.
According to partería tradition, a woman is at her most open during pregnancy, physically, energetically, and spiritually, to make room for the new soul and lifeform inside of her. Your hips and pelvis widen, to accommodate your growing baby and prepare your body for birth. The warming, rhythmic massage used in closing the bones works to physically close and balance your pelvis, after birth, while recentring you spiritually, allowing you to come back to yourself.
Ayurvedically, the pelvis is home to the second chakra, svadhisthana, which is closely tied to emotions and the unconscious; and scientifically, our hip muscles are programmed to easily activate the fight, flight, or freeze response. When we experience trauma, we instinctively clench these muscles deep within. When emotions and trauma go unresolved, these muscles remain clenched. This can manifest as a build-up of adrenaline crystals around the hips, and in pelvic instability. Partería holds that a woman will leak energy through her pelvis without a closing of the bones.
The ceremony involves a combination of massage, using traditional woven shawls, or rebozo, and hand massage with warming oils, to mobilise the abdomen and pelvis and loosen the lower vertebrae. The result is increased blood flow to the area, which stimulates the passing of old blood and tissue and activates the immune system; a toning and shrinking of the uterus and bladder; the release of tension and stagnant energy, activation of the parasympathetic nervous system; and the return of pelvic and hip bones to their natural position. Following the massage, the rebozo are wrapped tightly around the mother’s hips and she is covered with a blanket and allowed time to rest.
Beyond the physical benefits of closing the bones, creating a safe space for, and nurturing the new mother encourages her to feel cared for and worthy of love, helping her to release negative emotions and call home her energy, lifeforce and sense of self.
Yoni means ‘sacred place’ in Sanskrit, and is the title afforded to female genitalia, the womb, and the vagina. This description pays homage to the divine feminine and the significance of a woman’s sexual organs as the sacred portal which brings new beings onto our earthly plane. Dating back to Mayan civilisation, yoni steaming is an ancient healing practice which cleanses the feminine organs, and is still commonplace in Central America, India, Korea, and Eastern Europe, where it is embraced as a form of self-care.
Yoni steams use the warmth of herbal steam to gently enter the vagina and ascend to cleanse the uterus. This is most beneficial after birth or in the case of problematic periods, but is also a beautiful act of self-love to perform regularly and give reverence to your feminine magic. Encompassed in your postpartum care, yoni steaming warms and nourishes the pelvis and female organs, tonifies the uterus, promotes the release of old blood and tissue, aids the repair of vaginal wounds and caesarean scars, reduces uterine weakness or prolapse, promotes haemorrhoid healing and detoxes the womb.
To create your yoni steam, carefully chosen herbs are brewed in a steam pot, which is placed underneath you. Blankets and sheets are wrapped around your torso to trap the steam, while you relax and let the healing steam enter your body through your yoni, cleansing your abdominal organs and rising through a deep central channel towards your heart, to promote positivity and wellbeing.
Women’s health massage
Further honouring the work of the pelvis and yoni in receiving new life, women’s health massage nurtures these areas with gentle internal massage and external pelvic palpation, focusing on trigger points and myofascial release. Pioneered by women’s health physiotherapist, Tami Kent, pelvic massage works to correct pelvic floor imbalance and address womb health at our physical, energetic, and emotional core. According to Kent, pelvic care ‘nourishes the heart of your mothering place and is incredibly restorative postpartum’.
Physically, bringing the pelvis and womb into alignment balances hormones and encourages healthy blood and lymphatic flow. Energetically, the whole being is aligned, as the emotion-centred root chakra comes into balance, promoting feelings of wellbeing and healthy emotional release.
In addition to resolving pelvic pain, discomfort and muscle weakness, pelvic massage can aid recovery from birth trauma and increase libido and sexual pleasure. You needn’t have had a vaginal birth to benefit from pelvic care: the methods used help to alleviate imbalances and physical trauma, due to prolonged attempts at vaginal delivery, as well as process any grief or disappointment, at experiencing a surgical birth.
Castor oil packs
Castor oil is derived from the seed of the Ricinus Communis plant. Used for centuries for its healing properties, traditional midwives use castor oil packs to resolve health challenges within the abdomen, particularly related to the digestive and reproductive organs. Castor oil is applied using a cloth and heat is used to help the oil permeate the skin and penetrate deeply within.
Castor oil packs stimulate the lymphatic system and help detoxify the body, which is particularly important postpartum, to clear away dead tissue, heal scar tissue and adhesions, and detox from any chemical anaesthetics and labour inducers used during birth. Castor oil has also been used to reduce pain and inflammation, soothing tender abdominal wounds and alleviating any cramps felt as your uterus shrinks after birth. Some mothers have also found that castor oil pack therapy stimulates breastmilk production, to help get your feeding journey off to the best start possible.
Growing numbers of western women are shaking off outdated and unhelpful notions that postpartum care is a luxury. Caring for new mothers is essential to the wellbeing of mother, baby, and society at large. Happy, well-adjusted mums raise happy, well-adjusted children, who grow to become happy, well-adjusted adults and contribute positively to society. While we wait for western health and social systems to catch on to this fact at painfully slow rate, we’re busy loving on our Golden Mamas with a combination of proven modern healing modalities and nourishing therapies that have been passed down among midwives for centuries.