Different cultural practices in the postnatal (puerperium) period

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Different cultural practices offer great insight into providing relief and support for a new mom and her baby.

We are truly privileged to be able to experience the diversity of different cultures in our beautiful country, South Africa. Many of us ‘shy away’ from our cultural practices, as we grow more into the westernised culture. This may at times offend our older generation, and often creates conflict within the home environment. 

The best would be to embrace the cultural practices, as many may be extremely beneficial and the wisdom behind it may be more scientific than meets the eye. The similarities in cultural postpartum practices include specific rest periods, restricted activities, a specific diet, baby care and organised support from family members. 

The common saying: it takes a village to raise a child

After birth, it is beneficial that the mum rests and recover. The support needed after labour, birth or a caesarian section is crucial in hastening the recovery process. Having family assistance with baby baths, nappy changing, baby massaging, food preparations and household chores is extremely beneficial after the arrival of your little one. 

The Indian culture (Ayurvedic) of staying indoors for 40 days

After birth, the moms generally go to their parents or elder for 40 days (the six weeks puerperal period).

During this period a balanced diet rich in natural vitamins, protein, high in natural fat and fibre is prepared for the mum. The food that is prepared is linked to health and restoration; prohibiting food linked to illness (warm food, i.e soup are consumed, and cold food i.e raw food is avoided). This assists in increasing the breastmilk supply and controlling unhealthy weight gain. 

During the 40 days, assistance is provided with the baby’s routine so that the mum can “catch up” on much-needed rest and sleep.

The bone closing ceremony

This ceremony is used to aid with the new mother’s healing process. During the pregnancy, there is an increase in progesterone, relaxation of the pelvic muscles and adjustment of the pelvic and lumbar region to accommodate the growth of the baby. This ceremony helps to realign the bones and the muscles and is said to help the pelvic organs ‘shrink back’ into place and stimulate blood flow to the pelvic area. 

The relaxation of muscles also increases breast milk production. This ceremony is also known to assist if there is a traumatic birth, as the mother is nurtured, at peace and can release any emotions associated with the birth and motherhood.

Bonding

Some cultural and religious believes do not allow the partner to sleep in the same bed after birth while there is a postnatal bleed. During this phase, the mom can have ample time to bond with her newborn, maintain skin to skin contact and enjoy the transition from pregnancy to motherhood.

The traditional African culture

During the puerperium period, the mom is cared for in a warm room. No visitors are allowed to enter the room, and this is extremely beneficial in decreasing infection to the newborn. Baby baths and even the maternal bath after are done with the assistance of an elder. 

The babies are not bathed for the first week-this is however in keeping with practices now implemented in hospitals. A delay in the first bath allows the absorption of vernix promotes seeding and influences the initial colonisation process of the newborn’s microbiome, now proven to have long term benefits in the baby’s immune system.

Other cultural practices

Steaming, belly binding, postnatal massages are used to improve blood flow, abdominal strengthening and promote muscle relaxation.

The wisdom in Cultural Practices has many advantages for the postnatal mom, during the physiological and emotional changes that she undertakes. The puerperium is a time for women to recover as they take on a new role. It may be beneficial to incorporate the use of natural cultural practices during this stage. 


Ruwaida Moola has been practising midwifery since 1999, working in various hospitals and clinics. She currently practices midwifery with Genesis as her main birthing clinic. She has practising rights at Garden City Clinic, Oxford Rd Day Clinic, Brenthurst Clinic and Parklane Hospital and utilizes these hospitals as the emergency back-up hospitals.

She works closely with Obstetricians, Doulas, Chiropractors, Homeopaths, Herbalists, Reflexologists, Acupuncturists, Psychologists, and Paediatricians and believes in a multi-disciplinary approach. I also practice as a senior fertility sister at the BioART Fertility Clinic. She is a Registered Nurse and Fertility Nursing Sister, Nurse Educator and Advanced Midwife.

Find Ruwaida at www.miraclebirths.co.za.

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