How Different Cultures Protect New Mothers, by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett

Kathleen Kendall-Tackett examines how other cultures protect new mothers’ well-being.

Is ours not a strange culture that focuses so much attention on childbirth—virtually all of it based on anxiety and fear—and so little on the crucial time after birth, when patterns are established that will affect the individual and the family for decades? Suzanne Arms.

As citizens of an industrialized nation, we often act as if we have nothing to learn from low-income, developing countries. Yet many of these cultures are doing something extraordinarily right—especially in how they care for new mothers. In their classic paper, Stern and Kruckman (1983) present an anthropological critique of the literature. They found that in the cultures they studied, postpartum disorders, including the “baby blues,” were virtually nonexistent. By contrast, 50% to 85% of new mothers in industrialized nations experience the “baby blues,” and 15% to 25% (or more) experience postpartum depression.

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Ken Tackett

What makes the difference?

Stern and Kruckman noted that cultures who had a low incidence of postpartum mood disorders all had rituals that provided support and care for new mothers. These cultures, although quite different from each other, all shared

5 protective social structures

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Ken Tackett
  1. A distinct postpartum period. In these other cultures, the postpartum period is recognized as a time that is distinct from normal life. It is a time when the mother is supposed to recuperate. Her activities are limited and her female relatives take care of her. This type of care was also common in colonial America, when postpartum was referred to as the “lying-in” period. This period functioned as a time of “apprenticeship,” when more experienced mothers mentored the new mother.
  2. Protective measures reflecting the new mother’s vulnerability. During the postpartum period, new mothers are recognized as being especially vulnerable. Ritual bathing, washing of hair, massage, binding of the abdomen, and other types of personal care are prominent in the postpartum rituals of rural Guatemala, Mayan women in the Yucatan, Latina women both in the United States and Mexico. These rituals also mark the postpartum period as distinct from other times in women’s lives.
  3. Social seclusion and mandated rest. Postpartum is a time for the mother to rest, regain strength, and care for the baby. Related to the concept of vulnerability is the widespread practice of social seclusion for new mothers. For example, in the Punjab, women and their babies are secluded from everyone but female relatives and their midwives for five days. Seclusion is said to promote breastfeeding and it limits a woman’s normal activities. In contrast, many American mothers are expected to entertain others—even during their hospital stay. Once they get home, this practice continues as they are often expected to entertain family and friends who come to see the baby.
  4. Functional assistance. In order for seclusion and mandated rest to occur, mothers must be relieved of their normal workload. In these cultures, women are provided with someone to take care of older children and perform their household duties. As in the colonial period in the United States, women often return to the homes of their family of origin to ensure that this type of assistance is available.
  5. Social recognition of her new role and status. In the cultures Stern and Kruckman studied, there was a great deal of personal attention given to the mother. In China and Nepal, very little attention is paid to the pregnancy; much more attention is focused on the mother after the baby is born. This has been described as “mothering the mother.” For example, the status of the new mother is recognized through social rituals and gifts. In Punjabi culture, there is the “stepping-out ceremony,” which includes ritual bathing and hair washing performed by the midwife, and a ceremonial meal prepared by a Brahmin. When the mother returns to her husband’s family, she returns with many gifts she has been given for herself and the baby. The following is a description of a postpartum ritual performed by the Chagga of Uganda. It differs quite a bit from what mothers in industrialized countries may experience. 

Three months after the birth of her child, the Chagga woman’s head is shaved and crowned with a bead tiara, she is robed in an ancient skin garment worked with beads, a staff such as the elders carry is put in her hand, and she emerges from her hut for her first public appearance with her baby. Proceeding slowly towards the market, they are greeted with songs such as are sung to warriors returning from battle. She and her baby have survived the weeks of danger. The child is no longer vulnerable, but a baby who has learned what love means, has smiled its first smiles, and is now ready to learn about the bright, loud world outside (Dunham, 1992; p. 148).

What American mothers experience

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Ken Tackett

By contrast, American mothers often find that people are more concerned about them before the birth. While a woman is pregnant, people may offer to help her carry things or to open doors or to ask how she is feeling. Friends will give her a baby shower, where she will receive emotional support and gifts for her baby. There are prenatal classes and prenatal checkups, and many people wanting to know about the details of her daily experience.

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below….)

https://womenshealthtoday.blog/2017/07/30/how-cultures-protect-the-new-mother/amp/

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Even Science Agrees, You Literally Can’t Spoil A Baby, by Wendy Wisner

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“Don’t you ever put that baby down?”

“Aren’t you going to spoil him?”

“Start teaching him to self-soothe now, before it’s too late.”

Yup, these were things actually said to me when my babies were newborns. Nope, not even when they were a few months old. When they were itty-bitty babies fresh out of the womb, I had strangers, family members — and yes, even doctors — question whether I was going to spoil my babies by holding them all the time.

Looking back, I know how absurd these statements were. My boys are 4 and 9 now, and whiz by me so fast I have to beg them to sit down and cuddle in my lap like they did all those years ago. At the time, though, I didn’t know for sure that my babies would be totally independent eventually, so the critique definitely got under my skin.

The thing is, holding my babies almost 24 hours a day like I did in those months was not exactly a choice. It was a necessity. If I put my babies down, they wailed their little heads off.

Maybe I could have let them do that, and maybe they would have learned to soothe themselves somehow, but every instinct in my body told me that if my baby was crying, he needed to be picked up. And I went with those instincts, despite the fact that I sometimes received dirty looks and judgment.

Turns out, my instincts were absolutely correct. Babies do need to be held whenever they fuss — and not just because they’re sweet and cuddly and their hair smells like heaven. It turns out there’s a ton of research out there to back up the claim that you literally cannot spoil a baby. In fact, holding babies is actually vital for their health and development.

Just a few weeks ago, a study came out in Pediatrics that looked at the effects of skin-to-skin contact on premature infants. It took the long view, looking not just at the immediate effects of holding preemies against your skin in their early weeks, but also how it affected these babies 20 years down the road.

The preemies who experienced skin-to-skin had higher IQs, significantly larger areas of gray matter in the brain, and even earned higher wages at their jobs than those who did not experience skin-to-skin care. The skin-to-skin cohort also showed less propensity toward hyperactivity and aggression in school and were less likely to experience school absences.

Of course, this study looked specifically at premature babies, who are especially vulnerable and in need of TLC. But studies on full-terms babies have similar findings.This 2012 study from the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group’s Trials Register showed that full-term babies who experienced skin-to-skin care in their early days had better cardio-respiratory stability, higher breastfeeding rates, and decreased crying.

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

http://www.scarymommy.com/even-science-agrees-you-literally-cant-spoil-baby/

Wireless Motherhood: When Social Media is the New Village, by Isa Down

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Hey, mamas, anyone else awake? I’m having a really tough time tonight with anxiety, and have no one to talk to.

I wrote that when my son was five-weeks-old. It was 3 a.m. He was sleeping soundly on my chest, and I remember wondering why I couldn’t just enjoy this moment with him. It was so quiet, even the crickets had stopped their incessant chirping. My son’s breaths whispered across my skin with each exhale: it was a completely pristine moment.

Yet there I sat, anxious and alone. There were so many unknowns, and in the middle of the night, as a new single mom, I had no one to talk to. Within moments, women from around the world were commenting that they were thinking of me, sending positive thoughts, hoping everything was okay, there to talk if I needed. They were awake too, facing their own struggles.

In those early weeks and months, I remember feeling more than once that social media was my lifeline. The harsh glare off my phone was a beacon of hope, there in the dark with my son cradled against me.

Anxiety is just one of several perinatal mood disorders (PMD) commonly experienced by women during and after pregnancy. Postpartum depression is the most renowned, but PMDs also include psychosis, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies, to name a few. An estimated 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression alone.

Despite their prevalence, women who experience these disorders can feel incredibly isolated. Depression, insomnia, and panic attacks do not fit the socially constructed mold of blissed-out new motherhood. This sets the stage for mothers to be riddled with guilt and shame for not being able to connect, or sleep, or leave the house. There were so many moments when I sat with friends, smiling and nodding, all the while wanting desperately to say: “I am so overwhelmed. I need help.” It’s hard to show the rawness of motherhood, because it still feels so taboo.

Perinatal mood disorders have been the dirty little secret of motherhood for far too long. It’s becoming easier to talk about, as celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Drew Barrymore, and Kristen Bell come forward and share their experiences. Actress Hayden Panettiere’spersonal struggle was even mirrored in her character’s storyline on the TV show “Nashville” last year.

And that does help. Yet hearing that these seemingly perfect women have also struggled doesn’t necessarily make a mama feel less alienated as she watches the hours tick by in the night, alone and anxious. This is true largely because our society is highly autonomous. We prize individual triumph and the ability to succeed on your own above a group mentality. This mindset has its benefits, but also tends to alienate new mothers. In fact, this has become such a big issue that psychologists have wondered if postpartum depression is a misnomer, and should instead be called postpartum neglect.

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

parent.co/wireless-motherhood-when-social-media-is-the-new-village/

“Babywearing”: Through History and Today, by Anna Hughes, Co-director of “Wearing Your Baby”

1909 Maori Women FY

Babywearing is the act of carrying your baby hands free using a fabric carrier. Dr William Sears coined the phrase in the 80’s when his wife started carrying one of their eight children in a sling she’d made out of a bed sheet. She commented that she really enjoyed ‘wearing’ him, hence came the term ‘babywearing’.

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“Baby in a basket”: a traditional Chinese baby carrier.

It’s a growing trend here in New Zealand and many other Western countries, but for many of the world’s people babywearing is what they have always done and continue to do. On arrival in New Zealand the British observed Māori carrying their babies on their backs, “…an old man (if not a chief) might be seen toiling all day at his work with his little grandchild strapped on his back.” (Tregear, E. 1904). Carriers were made from muka of the harakeke (flax). It would have taken weeks to make enough muka strong enough for a baby carrier. When the old army issue blankets became readily available to Māori they mostly used these as baby carriers. From the 50’s the practice of babywearing was rare in Māori society. Dr Fredrick Truby King’s Mothercare book and nurses who worked for the newly formed Plunket society discouraged the practice of even holding your baby more than necessary for fear of spoiling them or passing on germs that might cause sickness or death.

It wasn’t until the 70’s that babywearing started to reappear in New Zealand and La Leche League played at integral part in the resurgence. LLL has always been a strong supporter of holding your baby close. With your baby secured against you in a carrier you are hands free to continue with jobs while still being able respond to your baby’s needs in the present moment, particularly that of breastfeeding.

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The Yequana people of the Venezuelan jungle: a mother wearing her baby.

A pattern for the traditional Chinese Mei tai carrier was published in a NZ, LLL magazine in the 70’s. Along with the increased ease and decreasing cost of international travel, LLL being an international organization, provided information about how other cultures managed and treated their babies. Jean Leidloff’s book ‘The Continuum Concept’ was first published in 1975. After living with the Yequana people of the Venezuelan jungle for two years she questioned the way in which our Western culture was treating it’s newest members. She developed the idea of the ‘in-arms’ phase of a baby’s life. A time from birth to 9 months or more, when the ‘rightful’ place of a baby is in the arms of another human being. She believed a baby has an innate biological expectation to be held, “…just as our waterproof skin has the expectation of rain.” (Leidloff, J. 1975). Leidloff’s controversial book, still read by many expectant parents today, contributed to the return of babywearing in the West.

The practicality of babywearing for parents is just one of many benefits. A study of Canadian mothers and their infants showed that babies who were carried more, (4.4 hours per day compared to 2.7 hours per day), cried for a significantly shorter amount of time “- a 43 percent difference.” (Barr, R.G. 1991). The frequency of crying was similar but the duration far less at the peak crying age of 8 weeks. A follow on study looked at whether increased carrying for babies labeled colicky at 8 weeks of age decreased the amount of crying for these babies.It was found that it did not. It might be concluded that increased carrying from birth may have a preventative effect when it comes to crying or colic.

A recent study by Ken Blaiklock of Unitec Institute of Technology in Auckland showed that there is minimal interaction between a baby and parent when they are placed in a forward facing pushchair. Interaction and vocalizing increased slightly when the baby was orientated towards the parent but not many of these prams were observed. The conclusion was that interaction between parent and baby was at its highest when the baby was facing and at a similar height to the parent, notably when in a supermarket trolley. Although Blaiklock observed babies being carried there was no discussion of the levels of interaction occurring. Suzanne Zeedyk published similarfindings from her 2008 research in the UK. She stressed the importance of being able to see your baby to respond to their needs and to facilitate verbal interaction essential for language acquisition.

Source for this photo: "Yummy Mummy".

Source for this photo: “Yummy Mummy”.

Like everything you do or use with your baby there are some safety considerations you must know. The FITS acronym covers the main points. Your baby must be Firm against you, particularly through the upper spine with the base of the newborn or sleeping baby’s head supported by the carrier. This ensures the chin is lifted off the chest allowing for an unrestricted airway. Your baby needs to be In sight, sound or feel. The carrier or clothing should not cover your baby’s face. The Top of your baby’s head needs to be up at your neck height. This allows for easy monitoring and a more ergonomic carrying position for you. You must ensure your baby’s hips and spine are well Supported by the carrier. You can read more about this last point below.

Wearing your baby helps them to regulate their heart rate, tempperature and breathing and decreases their stress hormones. This is why skin-to-skin contact during Kangaroo Care is so beneficial for a premature baby. With all this regulation done for them by their parent their immature little bodies can put energy into growing and healing. The same is true for the full term baby. The security that babywearing provides decreases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol levels of a baby increase during parent-child separation and intense crying. Contrary to historic belief, when a baby’s need to be ‘clingy’ is met they become more confident and independent in time. The bond and trust that is built up between parent and baby when a baby’s physical and emotional needs are met in the present moment helps the baby to validate themselves as an individual and gives them confidence that they are worthy. Babywearing allows the infant to be close to their parent who can continue with everyday chores. As baby grows babywearing allows them direct and active experience of the world from their parent’s perspective.

Bub & Dad

A father wearing his baby

Fathers find babywearing an empowering parenting tool. They have the ability to provide closeness, comfort and security from the time their child is born as well as having a way to give their partner a break and get their baby to sleep. Babywearing is a powerful bonding tool for fathers and their babies.

Carrying your baby in an upright position provides support to the immature digestive system. Gravity helps food move in the right direction. The upright position in a baby carrier is similar to the position a baby is in during biological nurturing; the main difference being that your baby is higher on your body in a carrier. In the Spring, 2012 edition of Midwifery Today, Suzanne Colson discusses Biological Nurturing, “..the approach in itself encourages mothers to keep the baby in the right place, what Nils Bergman (2008) calls the “mammalian habitat”.

It is therefore not surprising that many mothers say BN helps them get to know their baby sooner.” In a baby carrier baby’s chest is against yours, with as much skin-to-skin as you choose, knees are tucked up above the height of their hips and slightly spread. The ideal baby carrier will firmly and securely support a newborn baby in this position known as the straddle squat or M position.

Another benefit of this position is that it supports the correct development of the baby’s hips and spine. A baby’s spine is in a C shape when born. The upper spine develops its curve around 3 months when baby learns to control his head. The spine continues to develop as baby learns to crawl with the lower spine developing its curveas baby becomes a competent walker. A good baby carrier and carrying style supports the spine in the natural C shape, not forcing it straight, which may contribute to incorrect development.

In the straddle squat position the head of the baby’s femur (thigh bone) fits correctly into the socket of the hip joint. In the opposite position with the baby’s legs pushed straight together or hanging straight down the head of the femur is being pressured outwards which may cause damage to the outer lip of the hip socket. Baby’s are checked for signs of Developmental Dysplasia of the Hips (DDH) by midwives and Well Child nurses in order to pick up on this condition and correct it before it causes long term damage and effects physical development. The treatment is a harness that lifts the knee to hip height and out to the side (the straddle squat position). A baby diagnosed with DDH may have to wear the harness for 3-4 months and in severe cases may need surgery.

The upright position also takes the pressure of the baby’s soft skull. A baby who is always lying in the same position in ababywearingFTW car seat or bassinet is at risk of developing flat spots on his or her skull. As most babies sleep lying down at night having day sleeps and daytime upright in a carrier provides a break from pressure on the skull as well as providing cuddles, closeness and bonding for baby and parent.

In establishing breastfeeding babywearing provides the ideal situation of babyy being close and ideally in as much skin-to-skin contact as possible with mum. Initially it is best to remove your baby from your carrier when she wants to feed to ensure correct breastfeeding technique is established. When you are confident that you and your baby have breastfeeding sorted there are many ways you can feed your baby without removing them from the carrier.

Babywearing provides so many benefits for both parent and baby. There are now a multitude of carrier types available on the market at varying prices. This can be overwhelming for new parents. Wearing Your Baby DVD and Download is a resource created to inspire parents to wear their babies.  It has information on the safety aspectsof babywearing and includes step-by-step instructions on how to use the six most common carrier types in New Zealand. It also includes sections on wearing two babies and on improvising your own carrier, making babywearing affordable for all.

Anna Hughes

Co-director Wearing Your Baby

www.wearingyourbaby.co.nz

Past LLL member, babywearing, co-sleeping, ‘nappy free’ and breastfeeding mother of two boys.

References:

Barr, RG., Hunziker, UA. (1986) Increased carrying reduces infant crying: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics. May 1986. 77(5):641-8.

Blaiklock, K. (2013). Talking With Children When Using Prams While Shopping. In NZ Research in Early Childhood Education Journal. Vol. 16. Pp. 15-28.

Colson, S. (2012). Biological Nurturing: The Laid-back Breastfeeding Revolution. Midwifery Today. Spring edition.

Leidloff, J. (1975). The Continuum Concept.

Tregear, E. (1904). The Māori Race.