Wel­come to THE WORLD

Dis­cover the clever ways mums around the globe make those first days go smoothly

Mother & Baby (Australia) - - Celeb Mama -

Are you all set to have your baby? It’s an odd thing that we mums fo­cus on how we’d like to give birth, but of­ten don’t con­sider what those first in­cred­i­ble days with our ba­bies will be like. Brigid McConville, au­thor of On Be­com­ing a Mother: wel­com­ing your new baby & your new life with wis­dom from

around the world (Blooms­bury, $19.99), says that when it comes to the first days of our ba­bies’ lives, mod­ern women have lost many of the cus­toms and tra­di­tions sur­round­ing the care of new mums and ba­bies. “But in other cul­tures around the world, these cus­toms are still alive and have a pos­i­tive im­pact on ev­ery­one’s health and hap­pi­ness,” she says. Some of these prac­tices might be less ap­pro­pri­ate in Mel­bourne, say, than Malawi, but with a few adap­tions, they can still work well for you and your baby in the first few weeks to help you both feel con­tent. So we’ve looked around the world and taken on board wis­dom from other mums.

SUP­PORT­IVE TRIBES

“There is a tra­di­tion among the Igbo peo­ple of Nige­ria called ‘Omugwo’,” says Brigid. When a woman gives birth, her 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 bond­ing with her baby. And while this might not be pos­si­ble if your family mem­bers are work­ing or live far away, why not or­gan­ise a ca­sual ros­ter be­fore your due date in which your clos­est girl­friends drop in daily dur­ing your baby’s first weeks to help put a load of wash­ing on, do the dishes or hold your baby while you have a shower?

“In the Dutch cus­tom of ‘kraam­zorg’ the care­giver who as­sisted you dur­ing labour stays with you for eight days,” says Brigid. So have a think if there’s any­one who might be able to sup­port you in this way.

“An­other tra­di­tion I love comes from north­ern Tan­za­nia,” says Brigid. “Here it is cus­tom­ary for hus­bands of new moth­ers to take over the cook­ing in the first few weeks af­ter giv­ing birth.” So put your part­ner in charge of mak­ing all meals, so the only per­son you have to worry about feed­ing is your baby. And when friends of­fer gifts, suggest a home-cooked meal or meal de­liv­ery sub­scrip­tion such as Marley Spoon or Hel­loFresh in­stead.

Or­gan­ise a ca­sual ros­ter where friends drop in daily to do the dishes or hold your baby.

MIND MAT­TERS

Tra­di­tions that aim to sup­port 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 her up from head to toe. All these ex­pe­ri­ences are en­velop­ing the new mother in lov­ing care, re­lax­ing her mind and get­ting her into a zone in which she feels at ease with her body.” So soak in a warm bath, ask your part­ner for a shoul­der rub, or book your­self in for a massage and bring a rel­a­tive along to hold your baby. Be­cause, yes, you de­serve the best pos­si­ble care as well as your baby. Dur­ing Dutch kraam­zorg, new par­ents re­ceive a bas­ket of small gifts, to be opened one by one each day. And in among the rompers and lit­tle socks, there are 10 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 a pe­riod when they will most lift your mood. Many cul­tures tra­di­tion­ally feed spe­cific foods to a new mum in the first 40 days af­ter birth to strengthen her body and boost her milk sup­ply. “In Per­sia, for ex­am­ple, the el­der women in the family pre­pare a va­ri­ety of meals to give the new baby the nu­tri­tion he needs through his mother’s milk,” says Brigid. A typ­i­cal break­fast might in­volve a warm, thick mix­ture of fresh cream and honey, ac­com­pa­nied by lamb blended with bar­ley and sprinkled with cin­na­mon.

In Latin Amer­ica, dur­ing the 40-day pe­riod of rest known as ‘cuar­entena’, new mums eat chicken soup and car­rots, while sea­weed soup is tra­di­tional in South Korea be­cause of its high lev­els of cal­cium and io­dine.

“The in­gre­di­ents vary,” says Brigid, “but the prin­ci­ple holds true: good nu­tri­tion is vi­tal to new mums. So, in the weeks be­fore birth, build up a bank of easy recipes – with in­gre­di­ents you love – to give you the nour­ish­ment you need in those first few weeks.”

These cus­toms also cre­ate an early bond be­tween fe­male rel­a­tives.

Many of these cus­toms, in which women swoop in to sup­port the mother, have an­other con­se­quence, too – it cre­ates an early bond be­tween fe­male rel­a­tives and the new baby. In West Africa, one of the most im­por­tant ‘Yoruba’ tra­di­tions is the baby’s first bath, given by an el­derly woman in the family and con­sid­ered to sym­bol­ise the child’s first step into the world. “We tend to live fairly nu­clear lives, but cus­toms like this will weave other family mem­bers into your close-knit cir­cle,” says Brigid.

PRAC­TI­CAL MAT­TERS

“In some So­mali cul­tures, af­ter a baby is born, a small hut is built be­side the family home and the hus­band moves into it for 40 days, leav­ing mother and baby at peace,” says Brigid. And the rea­sons be­hind this cus­tom are in­trigu­ing. “The tra­di­tion, in essence, is that the hus­band and wife shouldn’t have sex at that time,” she con­tin­ues. “The great thing about it is that it gives the ces­sa­tion of sex a cul­tural en­dorse­ment.” And while mov­ing out might seem a lit­tle ex­treme to us in Aus­tralia, it’s def­i­nitely a good idea to talk about how you feel about sex post-birth, so you both clearly un­der­stand each other.

And while you’re think­ing about how close you want to get to your hus­band in the first few weeks of moth­er­hood, con­sider how close you want to keep your baby, too. Across East Africa, brightly pat­terned pieces of cloth known as ‘kan­gas’ are used to keep ba­bies close to their mums. “New­borns are wrapped in kan­gas di­rectly af­ter birth and then are car­ried around in them, tied to their moth­ers’ backs, un­til they are tod­dlers,” ex­plains Brigid. “Car­ried that way, they feel se­cure and loved. They can see the world, so are stim­u­lated. And it lets mums get on with ev­ery­thing they need to do hands-free.” So think about whether a sling could work for you too, to keep your baby close when you’re pot­ter­ing around the house in those early few days.

When you and your baby have fin­ished nest­ing and are ready to let the world in again, there’s a Cam­bo­dian ‘out­com­ing’ cer­e­mony that might serve as in­spi­ra­tion. “When a baby reaches the age of one month,” Brigid ex­plains, “he has a spe­cial cer­e­mony in which ex­tended friends and family are in­vited to ‘meet the baby’.” A big can­dle is lit and tra­di­tional wel­com­ing drinks, such as tea and whisky, are served along­side cus­tom­ary foods, in­clud­ing long noo­dles which sym­bol­ise long life.

And the urge to show your baby off, once you’ve had the pri­vate space in which to bond and heal, knows no ge­o­graph­i­cal bound­aries. Why wait un­til his first birth­day to shout about this gor­geous new ad­di­tion to your family? When you’ve taken the time to re­gen­er­ate your body af­ter preg­nancy and birth, and grow a strong bond with your baby, you’ll be ready to kick up your heels and cel­e­brate.

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