As a young first time mother, I made all the preparations to receive my bundle of joy but nothing would have prepared me for my postpartum experiences especially the personal experience of postpartum depression. The harder I tried to work out how and what I was feeling, the more disturbed I became. One thing was clear, I lacked all the necessary advice concerning the postpartum period.
Consequently, I developed a passion for sharing any information regarding mother and baby. I recently came across a story of a mother who died practicing the tradition of postpartum confinement which prompted me to share some thoughts regarding it. I was struck by this news because while growing up in Africa I watched my relatives practice it successfully.
Confinement is mainly associated with Asian and African cultures. After a woman has given birth, she remains isolated for a period of approximately one month. She is encouraged to avoid bathing (mainly in Asian culture) and to stay within the house to reduce unsafe exposure to wind and cold. New mothers are supported to have a rest while someone else cares for them and are required to follow a special diet (see example) which is aimed at restoring body heat, balance energy and movement.
Confinement may seem torturous and unacceptable in the western culture. However, my focus is on its principles which are in fact advocated for in the western world. Postpartum depression being a problem which affects about 15% of new mothers in the developed world, its effects may be alleviated by these confinement principles.
It is usual for a new mother to experience “baby blues” within a few days of birth. However, they should not last longer than several days to a couple of weeks except in case of postpartum depression. See symptoms.
Many physical and hormonal changes take place in a woman's body after delivery. Coupled with the new demands that baby care presents, quick adaptations must be made. New mothers or those with multiple birth may find it difficult to cope. This presents high risks of anxiety and depression.
The challenge women in the western world face today concerning postpartum rest is not just financial or lack of family support but changing the expectations they have of themselves and others during this time. This is required to create a culture that supports the recovery of new mothers post-delivery.
Confinement is based on a principle which dictates that the new mother should rest as much as possible while relatives usually more experienced individuals look after both the mother and the baby. Apart from providing support for maintaining a healthy diet, they can also teach the mother important things such as latching the baby onto the breast. The NHS supports this principle through the advice published on their NHS choices website.
For the arrival of my third child, having my sister around made all the difference because I was able to rest as she took care of all the duties in my house and the baby after feeding together with my husband. This kind of support may not be readily available, due to several reasons however all is not lost.
Maternity nurses and nannies are professionals trained to look after the mother, the newborn and the siblings. They can help the mother to make the suitable lifestyle adjustments gradually and catch up with some much needed sleep and rest.
Although the confinement practice may advocate for some interesting undertakings such as avoiding baths and staying in the house as mentioned earlier, the key thing is applying some prudence concerning what the mother does in the light of her condition.
About the writer
Hi I am Pamellah Mutenga, I believe that parenthood is a journey which must be enjoyed but it starts with a happy mother. The passion to empower mothers and help children stems from my experience as a mother; wife and a professional maternity nurse. Pamellah is the director and founder of Abundant Life Family Care.