As birth workers, we know how important the postpartum period is. For those of us in the United States, we often experience a lack of postpartum traditions and support. Of course, some of us are fortunate to have a circle, culture, etc., within the US which values postpartum support. However, postpartum support in the US tends to be lacking.
For doulas, learning about postpartum traditions and support around the world can help improve the support we offer our clients. While we may not change US culture immediately, we can be part of normalizing postpartum support for our clients.
In the US, it is common for parents to feel obligated to do everything on their own. It’s also common for people around them to expect them to be independent.
Sure, plenty of us survive welcoming a baby with little support. However, as doulas, we know support can mean thriving and getting to enjoy the early weeks and months with a new baby.
Postpartum Traditions – “Sitting The Month” and Other Resting Traditions
In the US, we consider the first six weeks to be ‘postpartum’ and it’s suggested we rest. However, while medically we are told to rest, many do not. It is not uncommon to hit a store on the way home from the hospital. Some parents throw ‘meet the baby’ parties and more within the first couple weeks postpartum.
There is nothing inherently wrong with not resting a lot. However, many new parents do look back and wish they had rested more. Many parents feel obligated to play host, just back into life, and even get back to work.
In fact, one survey found 25% of US birthing parents were back to work or school within two weeks of giving birth.
This is a huge contrast to the Chinese tradition of sitting the month. Korean culture often encourages a similar tradition of one week to four months, with twenty-one days being common. Omugwo is the traditional postpartum care amongst the Igbo people of South-Eastern Nigeria and lasts forty days.
During these days and weeks of rest, warm and nutrient dense foods are eaten. There is a focus on rest, restoring nutrition, and healing.
While often thought of as policies and not tradition, some western European countries offer postpartum support through regular postpartum nurse visits. One example is the kraamverzorgster visits in the Netherlands. Parents are provided with several hours of postpartum support per day for 8-10 days after giving birth.
As doulas, especially postpartum doulas, we can offer support and encourage rest through education and practical support.
A Focus on Nutrition
The standard American diet is not always ideal for overall health and wellness. We are fortunate that many foods are fortified so even less than ideal diets are protective against clinical level malnutrition.
However, pregnancy and lactation can deplete some nutrition stores in parents. This is especially true of women with prolonged or severe morning sickness, dietary restrictions, and certain chronic conditions.
Birth and postpartum bleeding can also impact iron levels.
In many cultures, including the African diaspora in the US, we see traditional postpartum foods which are rich in iron, protein, and other vital nutrients.
At the International Doula Institute, we recognize the importance of nutrition and the wisdom of many different cultures. Part of our training includes not just understanding general nutrition but also understanding dietary traditions in a variety of cultures.
You will learn more in your postpartum doula training, but here are just two links to learn more about postpartum nutrition in different cultures:
Postpartum Traditions – Parental Leave
As doulas, we cannot challenge our clients’ employers for more parental leave. However, we do have the opportunity to encourage parents to take what is available to them. We can also reassure them that taking the leave was the right choice.
Finally, we can also work in advocacy and awareness for policy change. Compared to other developed and even developing countries, the US has abysmal parental leave policies. Some clients will be fortunate enough to work for companies offering appropriate leave, or they are choosing to be an at-home parent.