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Cuarentena…Mexican Postpartum Rituals.The

When I have a baby, I am finding someone to do this for me. Even if I have to hire someone.

My mother works full time, lives six hours away and doesn’t specialize in nurturing behavior, so it probably won’t be her that comes to perform this ancient ritual for me. 

In the US, as I’ve written about before, we have lost our sense of ritual.  We have developed new ones of course: we  get Starbucks, buy Apple products, eat out as much as we eat in.  We have developed rites of passage: we drink too much when we turn twenty-one, have babies in hospitals, go to college right after highschool, spend too much money to get married.  Obviously, in a country so large and diverse there are many many more rituals, and family specific rituals as well.  But as a collective people we have forgotten the art of celebration.  

Birth especially has suffered this loss.  True, we have developed new rituals around birth, but not all are positive.  We now have a ritual of bringing baby home from hospital, of teaching them to sleep.  The baby shower is an important ritual, the hospital bag, the baby album, the pregnant belly photos.  But I would argue that part of the reason for our mothers suffering from so much postpartum depression has to do with two things: birth power that is taken from mother and given to doctor, and lack of postpartum ritual. 

In Natural Health After Birth Aviva Romm says:

” ‘We have come a long way in our understanding of birth, its physiology, psychology, and spirituality.  The birth experience is recognized as a rite of passage for all involved,’ says Sylvia Reichman in Mothering magazine. ‘But what about afterwards, when the birth experience has taken its place as a part of life and there is the new mom, alone with her new baby?’ she asks.”

Birth has a profound effect on a woman, but so does the postpartum period and I believe mothers need to regain ritual around this time.  As women we should collectively care for each other after babies are born- mothers, sisters and friends should be taught as young women how to care for postpartum mothers, how to be sensitive and truly helpful.  Too often I hear mothers complain about grandparents coming to visit the new baby.  It seems that the grandparents so often come as guests and not as caretakers.  They come to visit the baby and not to care for the mother.  They project their views on childcare and sometimes even defensiveness over the difference in birth experiences between their child and them. 

I recently read in Squat magazine, a great publication on birth, about Cuarentena, the Mexican postpartum ritual.  I knew that Mexican midwives have great wisdom and shared the gift of the rebozo, but this forty-day ritual after birth is yet another blessing from them. 

The medical view of postpartum is six weeks.  If after six weeks postpartum any complications arise, they are no longer even considered birth related.  This means that if you develop an infection from your c-section but it isn’t fatal until after the sixth week, it’s not considered a maternal death.  (This is a particularly scary statistic considering we already have a frighteningly high maternal mortality rate and this tells us we’re not even reporting 100% of the deaths correctly.)  

Having a small window like six weeks as the “postpartum” definition makes mothers feel like they should be back to their pre-pregnancy selves by this time.  Not so!  For the “fourth trimester” there are still so many changes going on within and with baby.  

The Cuarentena has rituals for the forty days postpartum, starting with day 1.   You aren’t to read or strain your eyes, or any part of the body.  Someone is to wash your hair for you, using only fingers so not too much cold air gets to yours scalp.  You lie in bed for the first two weeks.  The ritual involves nutrition, body care, massage, rest.  It’s inclusive.  I think sometimes we spend too much time celebrating the pregnancy and not enough celebrating the birth!  It’s an incredibly important time to empower mothers, let them recover fully, and set them up for success and health in the years to come.  


I would love to see herbal sitz baths, massage, belly binding and other body rituals become part of American mother’s postpartum care. 

What were some of the ways you were cared for postpartum?  What were some of the ways you wish you had been care for postpartum?  What rituals would be helpful for American women?

Read the full article here: Squat Birth Journal, Winter 2012
Natural Health After Birth, Aviva Romm

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