When a child is born, a mother too is born. A woman’s transition into motherhood sparks unprecedented physical and emotional changes – hello hormone surges, sleep deprivation and leaking boobs!
Old priorities fade as you fall into a rhythm of feeding, settling and washing all of the tiny human things. It’s equal parts magical and trying. And then there’s the steep learning curve that is getting to know this brand-new being and learning their weird and wonderful ways. Which cry means what? Why are they still hungry after a feed? Is that poop GREEN?!
Well-meaning family and friends arrive to make a fuss of the newborn, bringing miniature outfits, asking baby-centric questions and queuing for their turn to hold. Most (or all) of the emphasis is on this perfect new human. And, of course, this tiny miracle deserves an outpouring of love.
But what about mama’s miraculous feat in growing a person and bringing them into the world? Rarely, do we pause to acknowledge and support woman in her glorious and momentous transition to mother. Once the procession of visitors has had their fill of newborn cuteness, mama is left alone with baby to ride the radical wave of new motherhood.
The modern mother has lost her village
We humans are intrinsically social creatures, wired to connect and communicate. From the beginning of the Neolithic period, some 12,000 years ago, we abandoned a nomadic lifestyle and settled in small communities. While there is much argument as to what prompted this shift, it seems abundantly obvious. We came to appreciate strength in numbers – that we could accomplish much more together than we ever could in isolation.
The sense of wellbeing and belonging one gains from membership to a community is immense. Imagine, sharing the peaks and pitfalls of everyday life with a tight-knit, multigenerational group of families, within which, each member is valued and fills an integral place. In this setting, new mamas are held and supported by female family, friends and elders, benefiting from their knowledge, experience, many hands and watchful eyes.
Sadly though, due to urbanisation, cultural shifts and a surging cost of living, this village has fallen away in western nations. Today’s mother bears the lion’s share of parental (and domestic) responsibility.
At best, she has a hands-on partner, who is financially able to take a few weeks of leave after baby is born, and a supportive network, who hold space for her and bring a few heat ‘n’ eat meals, so that she doesn’t subsist on toast and coffee.
At worst, she is disconnected and lonely, still reeling from a medicalised birth experience that can be frightening and disempowering. Her would-be ‘village’ works full time or lives interstate. She finds it tricky to plan vital health appointments, social outings and exercise around baby’s schedule and bitter disdain for car-rides.
Her village absent, the new mother carries a tremendous burden, filling the role of many, with limited support. It’s in this environment that postnatal depletion, depression and anxiety can manifest.
To improve the experience of new mothers, we need to reclaim our village, leaning on each other for friendship, care, nourishment and some reprieve from the demands of motherhood. The village is what we strive to recreate for each golden mother – a supportive sisterhood who honour her journey, providing holistic post-partum care, grounded in nutrition, Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The first forty days
Ayurveda holds that a mother’s first forty days postpartum will shape the next forty years of her life. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views new mothers as physically depleted from an imbalance of yin and yang, caused by the immense energy expended during labour and delivery, and accompanying loss of blood and fluids.
Postnatal care in TCM replenishes the mother so that she can maintain her wellbeing, as she nourishes her baby and weathers the trials and triumphs of new motherhood. This sets her on course for a positive parenting experience and a healthy life.
In-depth postnatal care can be seen in cultures all over the world. In South East Asia, the fourth trimester is a period of confinement, during which, the mother can rest at home with her baby, while tended to by others. In China, this is called ‘zuo yue zi’, or ‘month of sitting’. The woman’s mother, mother-in-law, aunties and willing family cook nourishing meals and look after baby so that mama can bathe and rest.
The main issue for modern mothers is that close female relatives either don’t live nearby, have their own young children to tend to, or have to work. In Malaysia and Singapore, hiring an experienced ‘confinement lady’ is commonplace when family members can’t provide care.
But in western cultures, such care is deemed taboo and a luxury – something we are adamant about changing! Why must it be shameful or indulgent for a new mum to seek support at a time when she is physically depleted and adapting to the demands of parenting a newborn?
This ancient ayurvedic text, Ashtanga Sangraha, underscores the importance of nurturing the postpartum mother: “the woman plays the key role in this ashrama (family life). Hence the health of the woman should be protected by all means. If the woman is protected, in turn she will protect the whole community.”
Extreme feminism and media have created distorted stereotypes of the perfect mother and strong, capable woman, who can tackle anything solo. These misrepresentations don’t serve us; they only add pressure at a time when we are mentally and physically vulnerable, following a superhuman show of strength during pregnancy and birth.
Feminism doesn’t mean that women must always be hard-edged and independent. It’s knowing that we can do whatever the heck we please and still lean into our softness when life calls for it. Seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s knowing exactly what you need and unapologetically claiming it! Now that’s badass!
Healing through food
“Let food be thy medicine.” It’s a millennia old statement credited to Hippocrates, emphasising the role of nutrition in healing the body and preventing illness. In TCM, healing and restoring the new mother with nourishing, warming, easy-to-digest foods is the cornerstone of postpartum care.
This is why you’ll find seasonal, organic produce, warming spices and nutrient-dense wholefoods on our postpartum menu, perfect for restoring blood and qi, or lifeforce energy, and replenishing nutrients lost through pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.
Proper nutrition is key to coping with stressors and periods of poor sleep during motherhood, preventing a spiral of fatigue, high cortisol (stress hormone) and subsequent physical imbalances, which can lead to a raft of long-term issues, like unexplained weight gain, anxiousness and insomnia.
TCM views the new mother as susceptible to cold, thanks to the loss of warming yang energy, blood and qi during birth. It’s important that she is kept warm at this time, dressing in warm clothes, covering the abdomen and sacrum and avoiding cold drinks and common postnatal remedies, like placing ice on a tender perineum or cold cabbage leaves on engorged breasts (use warm sitz baths and room temperature leaves, instead).
A healing regimen of acupuncture and moxa, known as mother warming, is performed on the postpartum woman, about a week out from birth, A moxa is a herbal stick, held above the abdomen and sacrum while gently steaming – much like a sage smudge. This ritual warms the body, tones the uterus, aids circulation, relaxes tender tendons and ligaments and promotes tissue healing. Healing herbal preparations are prescribed to address any special concerns.
If mama has delivered via caesarean, the mother warming is performed around two weeks postpartum. The acupuncture treatment is tweaked to hasten c-section recovery, healing internal adhesions, softening and fading scar tissue and reducing any pain, pinching and numbness.
Rebuilding the sisterhood
Never underestimate the weight of human connection and its power to soothe a weary soul. Each new mother’s experience is as unique as her new baby, but connecting with someone who genuinely listens, who may have walked a similar path and can offer gentle guidance, or simply empathises, without judgement? That’s a powerful thing.
I remember how it felt to connect with a wonderful lactation consultant, after a bumpy introduction to breastfeeding. No one in my life understood what was wrong. Our paediatrician had advised that I give up and formula feed. But this kind lady listened. She was a wealth of knowledge and gentle advice. I’d never felt so heard or seen as a mother and I was relieved to tears that someone finally got it. From here, I no longer felt like a failure and gained the confidence to stay on track with my breastfeeding goals.
During the ‘birth debrief’ we include, as an integral part of our postnatal care packages, and our one-on-one time with you, it is our privilege and opportunity to hold space for the miracle and the mayhem of your journey into motherhood.
We listen to understand, not only so that we can provide you with the most effective treatments to nourish your body and support your early motherhood goals, but so that your soul is nourished by the magic of human connection, just as ours are when we spend time with each of our golden mothers.
Nadia & Carla