A snapshot of cultural practices from around the world.
Pregnancy and childbirth are a huge milestone in our lives, and it’s such a special time for not only the mother, but the whole community involved in bringing a new life to the world. For generations there have been traditions, rituals, and recipes used to help new mothers stay strong, connect with their babies, and improve the healing process. Many of these traditions are similar across different cultures around the world. Three women generously shared with us how their own roots, and knowledge passed down, has shaped their experience and approach to pregnancy and postpartum care.
Food As Healing & A Mother’s Love
Rebecca recalls the way that observing traditional Chinese practices made her feel loved and cherished after she gave birth to her daughter. Her mother and mother-in-law were at the forefront of her postpartum care. ”My mom made a pig’s feet vinegar soup…The interesting part was that she made it not just for me but she gave most of it away in little portions to friends and family, I think as a way to celebrate with us.”
This particular dish—and the generosity around it—is steeped in tradition and postpartum wisdom. Traditional Chinese medicine links this recipe (also known as Cantonese Pork Knuckles with Ginger and Vinegar - 猪脚姜) to many healing benefits, such as the improvement of Qi, warming the blood, restoring strength, and ultimately helping mothers recover from childbirth.
“It’s usually made by the grandmother (mom of the new mom) prior to the arrival of the baby, but it's only consumed after the baby has arrived, because it helps the uterus contract. Also, the new mom should only have it for a few weeks to a month postpartum. The tradition is that the grandmother not only makes this dish for her daughter to eat, but enough to share with their friends and extended family to celebrate with them.”
“My mom had to buy a specific, very large clay pot for this dish, a specific vinegar, and a few trips to different grocery stores to get enough ginger. She spent a few days hunting for these items! I've had this dish growing up and thought it was very gingery, but as a mom eating it postpartum, I found it to be very delicious. They say it's because if your body needs the ginger, you won't taste it. When you don't, you'll find it to be quite spicy.”
Ruchi Vij also sheds light on how traditional Indian food practices helped her feel nurtured at this important time in her life. Like Rebecca, Ruchi found comfort in the care of her mother, who so often showed her love through sharing Ayurvedic remedies and recipes with her children.
“When I had babies, my mom made something called Katlu. It is made of flour, almonds, coconut, jaggery, a powder of 32 spices, and ghee. This barfi was given to women after having children to help heal their entire body from the inside out. It helps to gain back energy, balance hormones, minimize back and joint pain, shrink the womb, and even helps with sleep. I ate this pretty much every day along with a glass of warm milk mixed with ground almonds (to help with milk production) for 40 days.”
Finding Wholeness In Traditions
For Lira Lee, a Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist and Postpartum Care Provider, with family lineage roots in Europe and Guatemala, supporting mothers and babies with traditional care and attuned bodywork therapy is part of her life’s work. "When I care for mothers, families, and women, I am caring for the future because healthy women and family is central to healthy life.” Through her training as a birth doula, personal studies of matrescence, as well as her role as an Innate postpartum care provider along with children who are of Guatemalan descent, Lira has reverence for the pregnancy and postpartum practices found in Central American cultures.
Lira shares with us some of the ways she utilizes traditional postpartum practices to help mothers thrive, heal, and recover instead of survive in the period after birth and while becoming a mother to their newborn. Part of her approach involves utilizing traditional practices that are (or once were) integral to cultures, traditions and methods from around the world; practices have consistent underlying themes for how to care for a postpartum women because women's physiologic needs are the same everywhere on the planet. She clarifies, postpartum is the period after a live birth as well as after a birth loss including miscarriage, stillbirth and abortion.
The goal is also to honour that how a women is cared for in the postpartum period safeguards her long term health and wellbeing as well as supports her journey as a mother and the bond she has with her baby. Multiple approaches may be observed, like the ones below:
Rebozo: “shawl” - Spanish
This item is a traditional scarf worn by Mexican women. There are similar woven fabrics used in other cultures around the world for similar use. It can be present both during the birthing process and postpartum - first providing comfort and help during labour, used as a ritual and gentle massaging cocoon in the postpartum to close the postpartum woman's bones after birth, and then it then can also be used as a baby carrier.
Postpartum warming therapies
These therapies can include yoni steaming, the use of castor oil packs, medicine baths, and other techniques which can be utilized in the postpartum.
Abayanga: “massage” - Sanskrit
This Ayurvedic practice involves massaging the body with warm oils (which are sometimes infused with herbs). Its many benefits include relaxing the muscles and calming the nervous system as well as supporting the body system to rest for a long period after birth.
Faja - “belt/strip” - Spanish
This item is often used as a belly binder, to contain the women in the postpartum period, to support the pelvic bowl as well as to keep the womb centred after birth.
Nourising foods and herbs
Warming spices and herbs from around the world that bring heat back to the postpartum body, that support breastmilk production, foods that are easy to digest, and that support the connective tissue to heal after birth and pregnancy.
Strengthening Bonds Through Birth
Although approaches to pregnancy and postpartum vary across cultures and each is unique, what many traditional practices have in common is a focus on nurturing and strengthening the bonds between mothers and their children, and the communities they live in. When these traditions are observed, the time of pregnancy and postpartum can be a healing one that support the long term health of the women and bond with her baby - where love, support and time honoured traditions can be shared through intricate and simple acts of care.
What is your experience with pregnancy and/or postpartum? Were there any traditions observed that you associate with your cultural or family roots? Share in the comments below!