In the event you, like most women in our Western culture, don't know what Mother Roasting is, it is simply the practice of keeping a woman warm immediately after birth and in the first few weeks following birth. Cross-culturally, it is believed to seal up emotional, physical, and spiritual gateways that have been opened by birth. It is a way of protecting a woman's body, her newborn, and, as a result, nourish her back into being.
"Many anthropologists interpret the postpartum practices of traditional cultures as ritualistic methods of purifying unclean women after birth. Sometimes this may have been the case, but, in fact, most often these practices were likely done to support the mother in her transition and give her time To rest and bond with her baby (Lang 1987).Worldwide, women in all cultures are encouraged to lie-in during the weeks following birth, allowing other women in their community to take care of them, nourishing, massaging, binding, bathing, and loving on them. They treat the mother with reverence and respect, giving her a safe space to focus solely on her own bodies needs and her babies needs.
When looking at birth from anthropological perspective, it seems that women in traditional societies commonly not only had relatively easy births, but also enjoyed rapid and complete recoveries with minimal complications, especially in regard to postpartum blood loss. Also, rarely were there problems with breast-milk production (Lang 1987)." - Natural Health after Birth: Complete Guide to Postpartum Wellness by Aviva Jill Romm
This alone, without any pomp and ritual, will help a woman to 'come back to' society quicker, by giving her grace and understanding to take a moment to claim and process the recent events and new life she is entrusted with.
In addition to the simplicity of nourishing a woman during her postpartum period, many cultures have specific practices, and sometimes even rituals, to honor this time.
Women of Western culture, on the other hand, rarely find themselves given postpartum massage, rarely find their rooms warmed nicely, rarely practice binding, and, more often than not, are offered a cup of ice water and a cold pack for their bottom and are expected to get back to caring for their homes and guests within 3 days.
Practices Worth Considering
Some of the benefits of postpartum massage include realignment of tissues and ligaments (which can become stressed from the release of relaxin during pregnancy and the birth event itself) and stretching and drawing out of old blood from sore muscles used during the labor and birth event. Uterine massage helps to decrease postpartum bleeding and alleviates discomfort from afterbirth cramping.
Additionally, muscular massage helps to alleviate tension and discomfort associated with the over-worked, tired, or strained muscles used during the act of birthing.
|Korean Seaweed Soup. Photo by Damien Maloney|
Ancient Ayurvedic traditions (5,000 years ago) are still played out in many Indian cultures, where mom and baby are given clear broths and warm oiled meats for the first weeks following birth. In China and other Asian cultures, ‘hot’ foods, like boiled eggs, chicken, warm sesame oils, fish soups, seaweed soups, and clear broths and teas are consumed numerous times throughout the day.
In Laos and Thailand, women are served warm meals from other, elder women for the first 7 days after birth. In Mexico and other Latin, Middle, and South American cultures, regardless of the weather, postpartum women will not drink cold drinks if they have the option of consuming room temperature or lukewarm teas and soups.
Heat has long been used as a way of strengthening the tissues, nerves, and blood vessels that may have been weakened and be in danger of further, or long-term, stress after birth.
"According to traditional Chinese medicine, heat is highly significant for lie woman who has recently given birth. One of the three major factors considered important for the health of postpartum women is "sparing the exterior". According to traditional Chinese herbalist Andy Ellis, this means protecting against wind and avoiding cold drafts. Childbirth is thought to deplete what in Chinese is called wei chi. The Wei Chi is the body's protective immune capacity, found specifically on the surface of the body and in the lungs. Special herbs protect the woman and nourish the wei chi, the woman is expected to remain indoors for 1 month after birth." - Natural Health after Birth: Complete Guide to Postpartum Wellness by Aviva Jill RommNative Alaskan women were traditionally expected to stay indoors, away from wind and cold, for either one month, if she had a boy, and two months, if she had a girl, so as not to become chilled.
Modern medicine can see that a woman 'cools' after birth due to the loss of heat through baby's body, amniotic fluid and blood loss, and general exhaustion and fatigue from labor. Moxa sticks, incense sticks, a hair dryer, hot water bottles, sauna treatments, warmed rooms, hot oils, or hot hands packets are all acceptable forms of mother heating.
In the use of moxibustion, an acupuncturist would work on the upper calf, just to the outside of the shin bone (for the uterus); top of the head (for hemorrhoids); four fingers below the navel; on the sacrum; and on the bottom of the foot toward the toes in the indentation.
In Laos and Thailand, women are treated to steam sauna-like treatments.
"Many of these terpenes have documented antimicrobial and analgesic properties, and some have also synergistic interactions with other terpenes. The mode of application in hotbed and mother roasting differs from the documented mechanisms of action of these terpenes. Plants in these two practices are likely to serve mainly hygienic purposes, by segregating the mother from infection sources such as beds, mats, stools, cloth and towels. Steam sauna medicinal plant use through inhalation of essential oils vapors can possibly have medicinal efficacy, but is unlikely to alleviate the ailments commonly encountered during postpartum convalescence. Steam sauna medicinal plant use through dermal condensation of essential oils, and steam bath cleansing of the perineal area is possibly a pragmatic use of the reported medicinal plants, as terpene constituents have documented antimicrobial, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties." - Steam Sauna and Mother Roasting in Lao
In Malaysia, women are given hot stone treatments; rocks are warmed and placed on her abdomen. In other cultures, a hot water bottle or heating pad is applied to the abdomen to help the uterus shrink and become less swollen.
In other Asiatic and Indigenous Native American cultures, the new father is given the honor and duty to make and keep a fire to be burned for weeks near or under the mother's bed. In Mexico and South Western United States, many Mexican women dress their babies and themselves in layers of blankets, sweaters, hats and scarves whenever they leave their homes. Some will even stuff their ears with cotton to avoid wind.
During pregnancy, a woman's abdominal walls separate and her muscles expand. The spine is stressed and often times becomes misaligned. The pelvic floor muscles relax, skin stretches, abdominal muscles separate, and organs move out of the way of the growing uterus. Within hours after birth, as uterine involution occurs, there is a vast amount of 'unused space' in the abdomen, which quickly fills with extra fluid and air.
Belly binding helps to reduce swelling and fluid retention by bringing in the abdominal walls, disallowing the abdomen to distend and thus, fill, with fluid and air. It also works to compress loose skin, draw the abdominal muscles together, encourage proper posture, and keep loose organs in place - facilitating a more comfortable and quicker recovery with less risk of diastasis recti occuring.
Mother Roasting is a time-honored tradition that seeks to give women the safe space to rest, recuperate, allow their body to come back into balance, and allow their minds, hearts, and selves to focus solely on their new role as mother and the new life of their baby. Mother Roasting encourages and promotes lactation, healthy bodies, and healthy minds. Perhaps it is time for us to start loving on mothers again.
For More Information:
Steam Sauna and Mother Roasting in Lao
Rhythm of Home
What Is Mother Roasting
Korean Seaweed Soup
"After The Baby's Birth", by Robin Lim
"Natural Health after Birth: Complete Guide to Postpartum Wellness", by Aviva Jill Romm
Thanks for your thoughtful and well-written article! I agree that warmth is critical, and found it quite distressing as a nurse to be told to put ice packs on women's perineums, and give them iced juice after birth. I finally stopped working labor and delivery! As massage instructor/therapist I utilize some postpartum massage techniques with hot rocks on the central channel, spleen and gall bladder meridians, to help rebalance, ground, and support lactation after birth. The heat of the stones is so delicious in combo with the warm oils. Leslie wwwtouchforbirth.com
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