Have you heard the news? Seen the social media posts? Followed the Instagram ‘influencers’? If so you would be convinced of their message – that it’s perfectly acceptable and even reasonable to ‘bounce-back’ after you’ve had a baby. Bounce back into your old jeans, bounce back into your pre-baby body, bounce back into your old life. You just need to work hard enough, eat the right ‘diet’, do the right workout and take the right supplements.
Well, I call bullshit on this and I’ll tell you why. Because I have personally witnessed the fall out of this lie. As a postpartum maternal care specialist (doula) with over 15 years experience of working with new mothers and families, I have seen first hand the distress, pain, anxiety and depression that comes with this totally unrealistic and downright damaging fantasy. The expectation that we can and should go back to how we were before.
Only recently, in a moving and emotional interview, Meghan Markle had the courage to admit to a journalist that she was not ok and that the pressures of becoming a mother had been overwhelming for her. Her gratitude at being asked ‘how are you doing?’ as opposed to ‘how is the baby?’ was palpable and resonated with so many new mothers around the world.
“The mother is expected to care for the baby …. but who cares for the mother?”
It hasn’t always been this way. Historically, the ‘first forty days’ postpartum has been respected as a time when a woman needed and deserved the ultimate in tender loving care and nurturing from her community. Traditional postpartum care practices from around the world differ depending on the culture in which they are based but there are overriding themes throughout. These include a set period of time (often 30 to 40 days) of bed rest and total abdication from household tasks. There may be daily massages and bodywork including abdominal binding to support her belly and pelvis as well as warm nourishing foods cooked for and served to the new mother. At the end of this period of time, there is also often a ritual or celebration recognising and honouring her entry into this new stage of her life. It is widely acknowledged that, after the arduous process of pregnancy and childbirth, a new mother requires time and space to regain her energy, heal her body and learn to bond with, fall in love and breastfeed her baby. ‘The Golden Month’ in China, ‘The Sacred Window’ in India, ‘La Dieta’ in Ecuador – a period of time when the community looks after, nurtures and nourishes her so that she can offer the same to her baby from a place of optimal health, love and support.
More recently modern-day neuroscience has begun to recognise the last few weeks of pregnancy and the first months postpartum as a time of great significance. A time when a woman can experience a period of hormonally driven neuro-plasticity that changes the structure of her brain and nervous system in a deep and pervasive way in order to prepare her for the tasks and challenges of parenthood. Anthropologist, Dana Raphael coined the term ‘matrescence’ to compare this process to adolescence, a similar seismic shift earlier in life. However, modern-day motherhood demands that when we are experiencing one of the greatest mental, physical and emotional upheavals of our lives and caring for a vulnerable dependant infant 24/7, we are also expected to carry on juggling all of our previous demands all with an Instagram ready smile.
Something has to give. And in my experience, that something is often the physical and mental health and wellbeing of the new mother as she struggles to assimilate into this new identity with no road map or cultural care practices focused on her wellbeing and healing. I’m not alone in my concern. Postpartum mood disorders are on the rise and
It is my belief and that of many other postpartum professionals, that we need to change this distressing paradigm by rebelling against the damaging ‘superwoman’ trend. As part of my Slow Postpartum movement, I encourage and educate new mothers and families worldwide as to the importance of the postpartum weeks, urging them to both slow down and to stand up for their right to be nurtured, loved and cared for during this potent yet often challenging time. To see the importance of the ‘village’ to raise a mother as well as a baby.
The benefits for those that do are profound and long-lasting. In the traditional Indian medicine system of Ayurveda, it is stated ’42 Days for 42 Years’. This statement eludes to the belief that the way that a woman is cared for, nourished and rested in the postpartum weeks will have a direct effect on her health and wellbeing for the 42 years following, especially during the hormonal shifts of her menopause. More recently, health practitioners such as Dr Oscar Serrallach author of The Postnatal Depletion Cure have hypothesised that lack of adequate postpartum rest, healing and optimal nutrition can cause or exacerbate many health conditions specifically auto-immune disease.
The sooner we break down the myth of the ‘bounce back’ culture, the sooner we can begin to prioritise the health and wellbeing of new mothers worldwide with the benefits rippling out to their babies, families and communities. I hope you will join me in supporting a Slow Postpartum revolution.
Jojo Hogan is an international postpartum care specialist and mentor and the founder of Slow Postpartum – a movement that works to educate and empower society as to the importance of honouring the postpartum ‘sacred window’ and caring for mothers and babies worldwide. To find out more or to work with Jojo to create your Slow Postpartum visit slowpostpartum.com