By Janelle Boyington, RM, CPM
Following her birth, a mother has accomplished an amazing physical feat, experienced an emotional revolution, and is bathing in the hormones designed to help her transition from pregnant woman to mother. It is no wonder that this, combined with joy, sleep deprivation, and new breastfeeding that she may feel overwhelmed. The psychoanalyst Donald Winicott noted that in the perinatal period there is a special mental state of the mother in which she has a greatly increased sensitivity to, and focus upon the needs of her baby. Such a state begins toward the end of the pregnancy and continues for a few weeks after the birth of the child. Mothers need support, nurturing, and a protected environment to develop and maintain this state. “Only if a mother is sensitized in the way I am describing,” wrote Winicott, “can she feel herself into her infant’s place, and so meet the infant’s needs.” Communities that support women and babies during this precious time see less postpartum depression, healthier babies, higher rates of long-term breastfeeding success, and more confident mothers.
The provision of food, water, warmth, and a private time for the mother and infant to get to know each other is the rule in most cultures. In most non-industrialized societies the mother and baby are placed together, with support, protection, and isolation from other demands and people often for the first number of weeks following the birth.
In many industrialized societies in Europe (and Canada), parental leave is provided, ranging from a minimum of three months to a year or more, with partial to full pay compensation. Here in the U.S., though generally some weeks of maternity leave are provided, our culture of “Mothering the Mother” has dwindled. Often the media and our culture drives a “back to
work, back to pre-baby body” mentality that does not serve women, their babies, or the family.
In some communities, however, a shift has been occurring. Friends and families are being enlisted at baby showers, at blessingways, at family and religious functions. A trusted person in the new family’s life invites the community to support them as they cross this threshold. Websites such as www.mealtrain.com are becoming popular to aid in folks signing up for their support online. These “many hands” then bring meals, provide older sibling childcare, household support, and so much more. Together a community can unburden the added need following the birth of a baby, providing immeasurable support to the family during this sacred time.
Janelle Boyington, RM, CPM is a midwife providing homebirths, well-woman care and lactation services; seeing clients at Stillwater Healing Arts Clinic, here in Lyons.