Discover the clever ways mums around the globe make those first days go smoothly
MEET THE EXPERT
Brigid McConville is the author of On Becoming a Mother: Welcoming Your New Baby and Your New Life with Wisdom from Around the World
ARE you all set to have your baby? It’s an odd thing that in Britain we mums focus on how we’d like to give birth, but often don’t consider what those incredible first few days with our babies will be like. “In the UK, we’ve lost a lot of our customs surrounding the care of new mums and babies,” says Brigid McConville. “But in other cultures around the globe, those customs are still alive and have a positive impact on everyone’s happiness and health.”
Some of these practices might be less appropriate in Milton Keynes, say, than Malawi. But with a few adaptations, they can work well for you and your baby in his first few weeks to help you both feel content. So, we’ve looked around the world and taken on board wisdom from other mums.
“There is a tradition among the Igbo people of Nigeria called ‘omugwo’,” says Brigid. As soon as a woman gives birth, her own mother moves in for between one and three months, to take care of her and her newborn, and do the cooking and the housework. This leaves mum free to get on with the important business of bonding with her baby. And while this might not be possible if your family members are working or are separated from you by geography, why not organise a casual rota before your due date, in which your closest girlfriends drop by in daily succession during your baby’s first few weeks to help put a load of laundry on, do the dishes or even simply hold your baby while you have a bath?
“In the Dutch custom of ‘kraamzorg’, the caregiver who assisted you during your labour will stay with you for eight subsequent days,” says Brigid. So, have a think if there’s anyone you feel close to who might be able to support you in this way.
“Another tradition I love comes from the Kilimanjaro region of northern Tanzania,” says Brigid. Here it is customary for the husbands of new mothers to take over all the cooking in the first few weeks after birth. “And the local butchers give him the best cuts of meat,” she adds, “to keep his wife strong.” So, put your partner in charge of feeding you and your other children, if you have them, so the only person you have to worry about feeding is your baby. And when friends offer new baby gifts, suggest a home-cooked meal instead to make the load easier.
Traditions like these, which aim to support and strengthen new mothers in the weeks after birth, exist across the globe. “In Nepal, both baby and mother are given oil massages to help them relax,” says Brigid. “In Mexico, a tradition called ‘closing the bones’ involves giving mum a warm bath with herbal infusions then wrapping them up from head to toe. All these experiences are about enveloping the new mother in loving kindness and care, relaxing her mind and getting her into a zone in which she trusts and feels at ease with her body.” So, take the time to soak in a warm bath, ask your partner for a gentle shoulder rub, or book yourself a professional massage and bring a relative along to hold your baby while you enjoy the benefits.
Because, yes, you deserve the best possible care, as well as your baby. During the Dutch kraamzorg, new parents receive a basket of small gifts, to be opened one by one each day. And in among the babygros and little socks, there are 10 pampering presents for the new mother, such as bath oils and scents. So, rather than having a conventional baby shower and opening your gifts before giving birth, ask friends to contribute something small and practical to your post-birth basket. Then you’ll get your gifts in the period when they will most lift your mood.