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There are remarkable similarities in the ways that women are cared for all around the world after they give birth. While specifics may differ, what is shared across cultures is the attention to creating an environment that respects the five universal postpartum needs.

Those needs are:

  • An extended rest period
  • Nourishing food
  • Loving touch
  • The presence of wise women and spiritual companionship
  • Contact with nature

1. Extended rest period

Around the world, new mothers are expected to rest for the first 20 to 60 days after giving birth. Women are literally sequestered in order to rest. Women are cared for so that they can direct all their care toward their babies. A new mother is supported in resting so as to give her body, mind and spirit time to harmonize and process everything she has just experienced. Both classical Chinese medicine and Ayurveda—the two modalities that offered me the most healing support—view this time as the most critical in ensuring a woman's long-term health.

The Chinese call this period zuo yuezi, which means "sitting out the month," sometimes translated as "confinement." I have also heard it referred to as the golden month.

In India, this period is called the sacred window, and women move from their marital house back into their mothers' houses so they have no household responsibilities: they know if a woman is in her own house, she won't resist housekeeping!

Vietnamese women respect this time called nằmổ, "lying in a nest," by eating tonics and soups, and sitting over charcoal stream prepared by their aunts and mothers.

In Mexico and Guatemala, this 40-day rest period for healing and mother-infant bonding is called la cuarentena.

This immediate 40-day window postpartum is considered so potent that a woman can heal lifelong illnesses and restore her health, or she can become vulnerable to diseases that take a lifetime to attend to. As noted just above, our modern six-week postpartum health-care checkup is a nod to this knowledge that the six-week mark is a significant moment in the health of mother and baby. Yet it is not accompanied by the intensive nurturing between the birth and the visit itself.

2. Nourishing food

Food is a fundamental human need and makes up the building blocks of our body. More importantly, food is medicine. New mothers need special foods during this time. A new mother should consume certain herbs and foods, so she can complete the cleansing of the uterus, eliminate any old blood still remaining, and rebuild her strength. These foods also help a woman to produce milk with more ease. Since a new mother is vulnerable to cold and wind, she needs foods that are both warm in temperature and that have an internal warming effect due to the spices used.

In Hong Kong, women are fed special soups, first for elimination and ease of digestion, and then to rebuild blood and life force. In Korea, soups are made with many kinds of seaweed, which is full of rich minerals. While there are variations in ingredients and spices from culture to culture, what the postpartum foods have in common across cultures is that they are warming, easy to digest, mineral rich and collagen dense.

3. Loving touch

During the birth and postpartum period, women's bodies are going through tremendous changes. Organs are returning to their optimal positions. The body is returning to a normal blood and fluid volume. Hormones are recalibrating.

To assist in all these changes, to flush the lymph and to optimize circulation, bodywork is an integral part of a woman's recovery to vibrant health. Because of this understanding, Asian cultures pamper new mothers.

In Korea, a new mother gets a massage every day for 40 days to help restore organ position and circulation.

In India, women receive abhyanga, circulatory massage with herbal-infused oils, from sisters and aunts.

In Mexico, women are taken through a "closing of the bones" ceremony that includes massage, herbal steam, cathartic release, and being tightly wrapped.

In the Indo-Malay tradition, women's bellies are intricately wrapped, and that practice is now also in Singapore, India, Nepal, Taiwan, and Hong Kong too.

It's important to have caring touch during this time period, whichever tradition you decide to incorporate into your healing.

4. Presence of wise women and spiritual companionship

In most cultures, birth and new motherhood are still considered the territory of women. Therefore, women are surrounded by and tended to by other women who are in different stages of life and who can offer them soul comfort as well as knowledge from experience as aunts, mothers, and grandmothers. There are the practical considerations, such as how to breastfeed, how to care for any small vaginal tears, and what to eat. Then there is the very real fluctuating emotional state, and having other women who have been where you are and can share their experiences is balm to the sensitive heart and nerves.

In many countries, this post-birth time is respected as a delicate one, physically and spiritually, for mothers and babies.

In Hopi and Mayan traditions, unmarried and elder women take care of new mothers, so they are relieved of their normal duties and responsibilities and can simply care for their babies during this time.

In Turkey, women are kept in the company of loved ones for forty days. The idea is to distract the evil spirits and to keep people from looking directly into the baby's eyes, possibly stealing a part of their spirit.

Women need to know that they are not all alone, that they can relax because there are other women around who can care for the home, care for the baby, and care for the mother in this new, vulnerable state.

5. Contact with nature

In our high-tech, fast-paced lives, we often forget about the tremendous teacher and resource we have in the natural world. In nature, a seed sprouts, a flower bud blossoms—each process in its own time. We can't force it to happen faster. We can provide the conditions—the right soil, sunlight, and water—for optimal growth, but we cannot push it to happen any faster than its natural rhythm.

This is the same in the fourth trimester; life takes on its own pace, one that is entirely unique in its golden languorous quality. Connection to nature can help you feel the beauty and rightness of the slower pace at this time.

It's not necessary to go hiking or camping to feel the power of nature. You can do simple things.

Set up a nursing station near a window with a view.

Take a sponge bath in warm herbal infusions, as the women do in Mexico, Guatemala, and Brazil.

Relish the multilayered flavors of herbal teas.

Imbibe the earthy qualities of herbs in your sitz baths and steams.

Trade screen time for sitting outside, bundled up, absorbing the feeling of the elements around you.

Allow yourself to breathe fully. Feel the air coming into your body, follow its trail and then consciously exchange it back out into the environment.

These are all simple ways to reconnect with the elements of nature, the life force around you.

In conclusion

In places where the culture is not explicitly designed to honor this time immediately after birth, women have to take measures to create their own sanctuaries of relaxation and restoration. At first, the amount of support we need seems surprising, maybe even excessive, especially given the superwoman ideal currently prevalent in the Western world. Women are supposed to give birth and bounce back without missing a beat. Yet the truth is, a new mother needs to be mothered herself, so she can help and effectively learn how to mother her baby.

The five universal postpartum needs are shared across cultures because they follow our physiological design and needs as women. In Native American tradition, our physiological reality and right relationship to that reality are called "original instructions." These original instructions guide us to live in harmony with nature, so our own bodies thrive as our planet also thrives. Our separation from these instructions is what causes ill health and disease. Our return to them is a return to health, harmony, and wholeness.

From The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Ann Johnson, © 2017 by Kimberly Ann Johnson. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.

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Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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By: Justine LoMonaco


From the moment my daughter was born, I felt an innate need to care for her. The more I experienced motherhood, I realized that sometimes this was simple―after all, I was hardwired to respond to her cries and quickly came to know her better than anyone else ever could―but sometimes it came with mountains of self-doubt.

This was especially true when it came to feeding. Originally, I told myself we would breastfeed―exclusively. I had built up the idea in my mind that this was the correct way of feeding my child, and that anything else was somehow cheating. Plus, I love the connection it brought us, and so many of my favorite early memories are just my baby and me (at all hours of night), as close as two people can be as I fed her from my breast.

Over time, though, something started to shift. I realized I felt trapped by my daughter's feeding schedule. I felt isolated in the fact that she needed me―only me―and that I couldn't ask for help with this monumental task even if I truly needed it. While I was still so grateful that I was able to breastfeed without much difficulty, a growing part of me began fantasizing about the freedom and shared burden that would come if we bottle fed, even just on occasion.

I was unsure what to expect the first time we tried a bottle. I worried it would upset her stomach or cause uncomfortable gas. I worried she would reject the bottle entirely, meaning the freedom I hoped for would remain out of reach. But in just a few seconds, those worries disappeared as I watched her happily feed from the bottle.

What I really didn't expect? The guilt that came as I watched her do so. Was I robbing her of that original connection we'd had with breastfeeding? Was I setting her up for confusion if and when we did go back to nursing? Was I failing at something without even realizing it?

In discussing with my friends, I've learned this guilt is an all too common thing. But I've also learned there are so many reasons why it's time to let it go.

1) I'm letting go of guilt because...I shouldn't feel guilty about sharing the connection with my baby. It's true that now I'm no longer the only one who can feed and comfort her any time of day or night. But what that really means is that now the door is open for other people who love her (my partner, grandparents, older siblings) to take part in this incredible gift. The first time I watched my husband's eyes light up as he fed our baby, I knew that I had made the right choice.

2) I'm letting go of guilt because...the right bottle will prevent any discomfort. It took us a bit of trial and error to find the right bottle that worked for my baby, but once we did, we rarely dealt with gas or discomfort―and the convenience of being able to pack along a meal for my child meant she never had to wait to eat when she was hungry. Dr. Brown's became my partner in this process, offering a wide variety of bottles and nipples designed to mimic the flow of my own milk and reduce colic and excess spitting up. When we found the right one, it changed everything.

3) I'm letting go of guilt because...I've found my joy in motherhood again. That trapped feeling that had started to overwhelm me? It's completely gone. By removing the pressure on myself to feed my baby a certain way, I realized that it was possible to keep her nourished and healthy―while also letting myself thrive.

So now, sometimes we use the bottle. Sometimes we don't. But no matter how I keep my baby fed, I know we've found the right way―guilt free.


This article is sponsored by Dr. Browns. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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Learn + Play

The first time my daughter told me someone named Ashley painted her nails at Daddy's house I thought I was going to implode. Another woman was loving on my daughter in the family I built. I texted my ex, "Who is Ashley and how long have you known her and why is she painting my daughter's nails?"

What should have come next was, I feel replaced. I am jealous. I am competitive. I am angry. I am heartbroken.

Instead, I told myself it was my "mama lion" coming out; the woman who wanted to protect her child from a string of girlfriends and hold her little heart safely in my hands. It was partly true, but the hysteria and anger I felt signaled that much deeper hurt was bubbling its way to the surface and using "it's for our daughter" as an excuse to play out my pain.

It took a full 24 hours of deep anger, soul searching, crying and finally surrender, to realize that my daughter would have other women in her life and I had no say in how they entered, behaved or left.

I had to give up my desire to control what happened at Daddy's house. My only power lied in my influence over my daughter and on that day I chose to believe that she would be a much healthier human being if she was raised by strong women who came together to support her in life.

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Women have been programmed to compete for jobs, security and partners in our patriarchal society. It is understandable that we feel competitive when another woman falls in love with the man we once did, and tucks the children that came from our bodies into beds that aren't made by us.

It is programming, but that doesn't mean it is permanent. It also doesn't mean there isn't pain to be felt, processed and released. You have to heal your wounds so you can approach the new members of your child's life with grace and forge new relationships.

It requires a shift in mindset and a retooling of your previous relationship, a lot of confidence and respect on all parts, and a focus on the child first. You have to recognize the influence a stepparent will have on your child and that it is better to be teamed up and kid-centered, as opposed to stewing over past issues, sitting in blame, regret or jealousy. I had to discover who I was as a newly single woman and co-parenting mother without old stories.

Ashley only painted Olivia's nails for a year or so, and her dad and I had great conversations about how and when we would bring people into our daughter's life. When he met Jessica he called me, "I've met someone and I'd like to introduce her to Olivia, but wanted to talk to you about it."

My only question has ever been, "Is she a good person?" We talked about Jessica, his feelings and certainty, and over time they met and we did too. I sent him a text after a brief and completely casual encounter, "I like her. Don't mess it up."

Jessica and I ran into one another at a yoga studio shortly after they all moved in together. She asked how I felt Olivia was handling the change and very sweetly offered, "You are always the mom!" I smiled, appreciative of the unnecessary gesture, and told her that Olivia loves feminine energy and that she'd thrive having Jessica in the same house.

Several years later I not only love Jessica, I love their son, Luke, as well. Our entire little blended family lucked out. Jessica treats Olivia as her own but is so conscientious about my role in Olivia's life that I've never felt threatened. I am thrilled my daughter is supported by a strong, confident woman and that she sees us getting along as a village, as opposed to competitors.

Jessica recently called me concerned that Olivia was receiving poor messages at school about the importance of pretty as opposed to smart. We came up with a plan, laid down a few rules for messaging in both houses and in no time we had a little feminist running around with t-shirts announcing "Girls Are Smart, Strong and Brave." We spend Christmas mornings together, Halloween trick or treating, and have deep respect for one another and our passions, relationships and careers.

When I recently vacationed in Tanzania I had to update my estate plan and asked Jessica if, in the extreme unlikelihood that both of Olivia's parents were to pass while she was a minor, would she become Olivia's guardian? It's important to me that Olivia grows up with the brother she adores and a woman who loves her (almost) as much as I do.

There wasn't a missed beat, "Absolutely. I want them to stay together." While Luke doesn't care for me as much since I keep Olivia away from him every other week, "Sissy mommy, go home," we work.

We are blessed that each one of us, at some point, made a choice to let fears, ego, jealousy, blame and hurt go for the sake of one little girl and our collective family.

Excerpt from LORE: Harnessing Your Past to Create Your Future with permission from Balboa Press.

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I gave birth to my daughter, Emerson, at age 37 and my son, Liam, at age 38. My children are intentionally only 18 months apart because I didn't want to tempt the hands of time.

I was induced at 37 weeks for both births, impressed that my body could withstand natural childbirth considering that my biggest fear was that I wouldn't be able to push them out on my own. But I did and our healthy babies were here at last.

For me, being of an "advanced maternal age" has its physical limitations. The toddler years were exhausting, the bones in my feet crack when I do something as simple as walk across a room, and if I try anything remotely athletic—like jump on the trampoline with my now 6-and-7-year-old—there's a good chance I'll pee my pants.

Despite the fact that I don't have as much energy as I used to (coffee helps, but let's be honest), I'm so happy I had my kids when I did. Here are the advantages I've found in older motherhood.

1. I don't feel like I'm missing out.

Before I got married, I traveled the world, as far as Greece, Thailand and Japan. I spent summers after college living with friends in a tiny bungalow a few blocks from the beach. I earned my master's degree while working at a publishing house in New York City—those years of my life earmarked by intellectual freedom, spontaneous happy hours and long stretches of time when I could simply wander the city with nowhere in particular to go.

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Now I have a busier schedule and I'm responsible for more humans, but I'm just as happy going to the shore for a week each summer and taking short road trips with our children. And when my friends tell me they're going on a family vacation to the tropics, I'm not envious, but rather relieved that I'll be sitting on my couch binge-watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey while they're flying across the ocean with their kids.

2. I think differently about friendship.

Do I want to be well-liked by the moms at my kids' school? Of course. Do I need to be in the "popular" mom group? No. I don't feel pressure to get invited to every at-home jewelry party or moms' night out and, if it weren't for Facebook, I'd be oblivious to what other moms do on the weekends anyway.

I have amazing girlfriends and spending quality time with these women keeps me feeling like myself. But I'm more invested in my kids' social well-being than my own. Do they have kind friends? Are they happy at school? Are they able to resolve big-kid conflicts fairly quickly? And if my children have a playdate at someone else's house, can I stay?

I'm not lingering at playdates to check out the condition of the playroom or scan the medicine cabinet for questionable prescription labels but because I genuinely want to get to know the parents of my kids' friends. They'll be spending a lot of time together, and as the kids' friendship grows, hopefully, ours will too.

3. I'm not afraid to speak up.

Maybe I'm a bit overzealous about checking for strep throat or ask too many questions during my kids' wellness visits, but our pediatrician and I have come to a mutual understanding. I respect that she's the one with the medical degree (not Google), and she knows I'm vigilant about my kids' health not because I'm too much, but because I'm confident enough to trust my gut.

While my younger self would avoid confrontation AT ALL COSTS, the older me doesn't waste any time if I sense that something is off at school or not quite right with my child. Whether I'm talking to their doctor, coach or teacher, I approach the conversation as if I'm speaking with an equal who also has the best interest of my kids at heart.

4. I see the big picture.

When I was a kid, I put a ton of pressure on myself to get straight A's to the point of hyperventilating when I got a B on a test only to be sent to the nurse's office to breathe into a brown paper bag (true story). No child should be that worried about grades because even though I graduated at the top of my high school class, I don't remember much except for that time my friend Jen made crepes on an electric skillet during French class.

When it comes to my kids' education, less homework is more. Longer recess and more independent play are best. Does my child have an outdoorsy teacher who hatches baby chicks in class? Great! Do they have a nice group of friends to sit with at lunch? Even better!

I'm 100% confident my kids will learn everything they need to in school without having to stress over it, something I might have overlooked when I was still focused on the small details.

5. I've learned to slooow down.

Growing up, my younger sister and I would build forts out of cardboard boxes and ride our bikes until it was time to come inside for dinner. We shared a bedroom until I was 10, wore hand-me-downs and spent most of our childhood outside.

Today I realize that my kids don't need overpacked schedules, fancy vacations or expensive toys to be happy. What they do need is downtime, trips to the library, nature walks, unstructured play, and lazy summers when we swim every day and eat dinner outside every night.

I also take a more laid-back approach to discipline than I would have before. I don't react to their overreactions. We talk, I give them the reasons behind what I say and do, and I'm quick to apologize if I do something wrong. Although this approach isn't fool-proof, it makes them feel safe to express a wide range of emotions in front of me without feeling bad about it.

The older I get, the more appreciative I am of those fleeting childhood moments.

Like when Emerson says "I love you" first.

Or when Liam calls me an "adorable, normal mom" and we both laugh because neither one of us is exactly sure what he means but it's funny anyway.

When Emerson reaches for my hand or Liam needs to be consoled a little longer because it's not only his knee that hurts.

When they dance while brushing their teeth, admiring themselves in a spit-speckled mirror.

When they laugh so hard together I thank God they'll have each other—even long after I'm gone.

I'm aware that my time with them is limited—they will grow up, go to college, move out and start their own families while I watch proudly from the sidelines. But until then, I'll give them all of me and continue to parent from an older—albeit not perfect but hopefully a bit wiser—perspective.

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Life

Adele's albums have soothed many hearts through hard times, and now she's going through a big relationship transition of her own.

The singer is separating from her husband Simon Konecki, the father of her 6-year-old son, Angelo James.

"Adele and her partner have separated," Adele's people wrote in a statement to the Associated Press. "They are committed to raising their son together lovingly. As always they ask for privacy. There will be no further comment."

Our hearts go out to Adele. Of course, she doesn't owe anyone any further explanation or discussion of her separation, but by announcing it publicly, she is shining a light on a family dynamic that is so common but not talked about as much as it should be: Co-parenting.

Parenting with an ex is a reality for so many mothers. According to the Pew Research Center, "the likelihood of a child – even one born to two married parents – spending part of their childhood in an unmarried parent household is on the rise."

Angelo James' experience will be similar to many of his peers.

"Increases in divorce mean that more than one-in-five children born within a marriage will experience a parental breakup by age 9, as will more than half of children born within a cohabiting union," Pew notes.

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Adele and Konecki already know a thing or two about how co-parenting works, as Konecki has an older child from a previous relationship.

They can make this work because so many parents are making this work. The reality is, two parents can still be a family, and be a team for their child without being romantic partners.

Decades ago, co-parenting after a divorce wasn't the norm, and a body of research (and the experience of a generation of kids) has changed the way parents do things today. Today, divorce isn't about the end of a family. It's about the evolution of one.

Research suggests joint physical custody is linked to better outcomes for kids than divorce arrangements that don't support shared parenting and that divorced couples who have "ongoing personal and emotional involvement with their former spouse"(so, are friends, basically) are more likely to rate their co-parenting relationship positively.

Co-parenting is good for kids, and clearly, Adele and Konecki are committed to being a team for Angelo James.

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News

If you've had a baby in a hospital you know that those first few nights can be really hard. There are so many benefits for babies sharing rooms with their mamas (as opposed to being shipped off to those old-school, glassed-in nurseries) but tired mamas have a lot of conflicting messages coming at them.

You're told to bond with your baby, but not to fall asleep with them in the bed, and to let them rest in their bassinet. But when you're recovering from something that is (at best) the most physically demanding thing a person can do or (at worst) major surgery, moving your baby back and forth from bed to bassinette all night long sure doesn't sound like fun.

That's why this photo of a co-sleeping hospital bed is going viral again, four years after it was first posted by Australian parenting site Belly Belly. The photo continues to attract attention because the bed design is enviable, but is it real? And if so, why aren't more hospitals using it?

The bed is real, and it's Dutch. The photo originated from Gelderse Vallei hospital. As GoodHouskeeping reported back in 2015, the clip-on co-sleepers were introduced as a way to help mom and baby pairs who needed extended hospital stays—anything beyond one night in the maternity ward.

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Plenty of moms stateside wish we had such beds in our maternity wards, but as but Dr. Iffath Hoskins, an OB-GYN, told Yahoo Parenting in 2015, the concept wouldn't be in line with American hospitals' safe sleeping policies.

"If the mother rolls over from exhaustion, there would be the risk of smothering the baby," she told Yahoo. "The mother's arm could go into that space in her sleep and cover the baby, or she could knock a pillow to the side and it's on the baby."

Hoskins also believes that having to get in and out of bed to get to your baby in the night is good for moms who might be otherwise reluctant to move while recovering from C-sections. If you don't move, the risk of blood clots in the legs increases. "An advantage of being forced to get up for the baby is that it forces the mother to move her legs — it's a big plus. However painful it can be, it's important for new moms to move rather than remaining in their hospital beds."

So there you have it. The viral photo is real, but don't expect those beds to show up in American maternity wards any time soon.

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News
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