Care After Birth: Different Moms, Different Realities

Giving birth to a child is a physical and emotional experience that's as exhausting as it is exhilarating. Afterward, every new mom needs recovery time, even if she had a relatively easy birth. Factor in a C-section or other complications and the need for care after birth increases exponentially.

For many women around the world postpartum support comes from partners, family, and friends who rally to help out and give the new mom a chance to regain her strength and focus on bonding with her baby. The type of support moms get and the length of time they receive that support vary around the world.

In Asia and India, many new moms practice the tradition of postpartum confinement after the birth of a child. Confinement is a period of time, usually from 30 to 40 days after the birth of a child, when a new mom rests and avoids physical work. The mom stays home and is attended by close family and friends. Some women even hire a professional confinement "lady" or maid. These helpers cook special recovery meals for the new mom, teach her how to bathe, swaddle, and care for her newborn, and tend to the baby when mom needs rest.

"I credit the support and help I received during my confinement period for a relatively stress-free transition into motherhood," said Mei Leng Wong, Editor of BabyCenter Malaysia. "The confinement period gave me time to learn about my babies and still know they were getting good care. I was stepping away from my old life and into the new, and the confinement period was a wonderful bridge between the two."

In India the confinement period can last anywhere from 40 to 60 days depending on where the woman lives. In addition to rest and special meals, the "confined" new mom might also receive a daily massage to soothe her body and help her blood circulation.

Parts of Latin America (such as Mexico, Panama, Cuba and countries in Central America) practice the tradition of "cuarentena" which can last up to 40 days. Relatives (usually a mother or mother-in-law) help the new mom so she can rest and bond with her baby. "During these days, the relative cooks special meals for the new mother, mostly healthy meals cooked from scratch," explains Isidra Mencos, editor of BabyCenter en Espanol. "Prepackaged meals, sweets or unhealthy food are not given to the new mom, although they do feed her things she likes and craves that are healthy."

Cuarentena is not as common today in urban areas, but it's still followed in many rural areas. In a recent poll on BabyCenter en Espanol, 37% of moms said they had a traditional cuarentena, while 36% said they had a partial cuarentena that didn't last all 40 days.

Part of the reason confinement and cuarantena traditions aren't more widespread is that forty days at home, with or without professional help, is a luxury that's out of reach for most women. In fact, many new moms around the world have to go back to work as soon as possible after their child is born because they have no access to paid maternity leave.

Lack of paid maternity leave is an issue in the developing world, but it's also a problem in the United States. The U.S. is one of the only developed countries without a national paid maternity leave program. Compare that to countries like Sweden where new mothers and fathers are eligible for 48 weeks each of paid leave after the birth of a child, the UK (39 weeks) and Russia (28 weeks). Even India and Malaysia both offer 12 weeks of paid leave to their new mothers.

No matter what the cultural beliefs and legal policies surrounding new mothers globally, one thing is certain: every new mom needs all the help she can get in those first weeks after the birth of a child. If you know someone who's recently had a baby, reach out and offer your support. You'll have a grateful mother and child forever in your debt.

Tell us -- how have you supported friends or loved ones after they delivered a child? Did you get any special help from family and friends?

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