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Post-Natal Rituals

Jan 24, 2008
It's day three after giving birth to my daughter Alana. With my newborn tucked up in a sling and under-eye bags the size of suitcases, I am in a supermarket wondering what to get for dinner. Thousands of miles away in Malaysia (my dad's home country), my cousin, who has also just given birth, is enjoying being fussed over by her mum, her mother-in-law and two sisters.

By 'fussed over,' I mean a daily massage (a special post-natal wrap to help bring the tummy back into shape), all meals cooked for her plus help with the housework and about half-a-dozen pairs of hands to help look after the baby so that she can 'have a rest'. All this for, give or take, 40 days.

Sounds blissful? Well yes, but more importantly in Malaysia and in many other countries, these customs aren't just about 'spoiling' mum. These rituals are considered essential, in recognition of the fact that giving birth and being a new mum is really, really hard work and a woman needs time to both heal and become accustomed to her new role. By allowing a new mother this time for rest, recuperation and quiet-time with baby, means more time to bond with her baby and the time and peace to establish breast-feeding.

Another important factor and one that is considerably different in our culture is that a new mum would rarely be left alone after birth. Even in other Western European countries, such as France, Spain and Italy, it is common tradition that a new mum would be surrounded by a close and supportive network of women including her mother, or a sister, cousin or close aunt, who would look after her needs by cooking, helping with housework, shopping etc. Also, let's not forget that the advice and support, she receives from the more practiced mothers around her, will play a critical role in building her own confidence as a new mother.

But asides from providing valuable help and support to the mother, it probably comes as no surprise that in countries where post-natal rituals are practiced, the incidence of post-natal depression is much lower. Baby blues are so rare in more mother-orientated cultures, writes baby expert Penelope Leach, that the concept is hard to even communicate to local mothers.

So what can we do, in a culture where as new mothers we take a far more 'get-up and go' approach? The simple answer is perhaps to take a moment to stop and create a bit of 'me-time'.

Whilst many of us don't have access to the same support as the women in these other countries, we should try to create a space and time every day where we focus on ourselves - even if it is just for 15 minutes!

So next time, when the baby is asleep instead of rushing around tidying up, why not sit down, read a magazine, have a cup of tea or just do nothing!

EXPERT TIP:

As a baby yoga and baby massage teacher, I make it a point to include simple relaxation techniques in my classes that can be practised anywhere:

1. Cliché as it sounds the key really is to focus on the breath. The way we should do that is to breathe long and deep into the belly. Most of us don't - we breathe in to our chest. So start by paying attention to this - it can help to put your hand on your tummy and imagine a vase. As you breathe in (inhalation) your belly swells and as you breathe out (exhalation) you draw your tummy in. Repeat this slowly and deeply for about three-to-four breaths. This automatically will bring down your stress levels and help bring oxygen to all the vital organs thus energising the body and the mind.

2. Shoulder rolls - in my line of work, I find many mums suffer from shoulder and back pain, hardly surprising since we seem to spend a lot of time lugging baby and a car seat about. Plus most mums are used to feeding in non-too-perfect positions when they are out and about. So to accompany the breathing above, a simple tension-releasing exercise is to raise and tense your shoulders on the inhalation and then completely release and drop the shoulders on the exhalation. Make a point of the movement and the sound of the breath as if you are physically shrugging the tension and the stress away from your body and mind.

3. Focus on you. During pregnancy, we're happy to allow ourselves to pampered and nurtured yet all of this goes out of the window when baby is here, the time when we actually need it most. So make time and do something for yourself and don't feel guilty about it. You probably would agree that you've just accomplished the most worthwhile thing of your life, so quite frankly if you don't deserve it now when do you?
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