Oxytocin, along with the other mothering hormones, sets the stage for the cocooning period. For time eternal, babies have been born. And for time eternal, moms and babies have been tucked in for the first 30-40 days after birth. Others have cared for them as they transition during this sensitive time and each culture has a special name for the postpartum period. This name refers to more than just postpartum as a time frame—it is a philosophy and has a specific intent.
In Korea it is known as Saam-chil-il (three-seven days). In Mexico and Puerto Rico it is called la cuarentena (the quarantine). China refers to the concept of Zuo Ye Zi (sitting month). It is known as sarántisma (fortifying) in Greece. In India there is a saying, “the first 40 days of life will impact the next 40 years of life.”
And in the United States it is called nothing. It is just, well, postpartum.
Each culture has its own specific approach to this period, some antiquated and some as modern today as they were 1,000 years ago. They all have in common respect for the impact of the early postpartum period on the entire family.
If you have had a baby in the United States you are more than aware that this cultural approach is not the American way. Not even close. If you were lucky, you had help from family members and friends. If you were really fortunate, you hired a postpartum doula. Even with help, our overall society has shown little concern for the changes that happen in those crucial early weeks. As a result, we have rates of postpartum depression and anxiety that other countries can’t even imagine.
Some of our mamas are preparing to return to work by six weeks postpartum. Some may actually get 12 weeks unpaid leave. But for every couple of those, I meet a mama who must return to work in two weeks time so that her family will not lose their home. Most of the world cannot believe we do this to our precious, new families.
It is time for us to change the conversation and transform the reality. Instead of just talking about postpartum as 6 weeks in length, let us give it a deeper meaning. I am calling the first 4-6 weeks postpartum the cocooning period. If we truly care about the health and well-being of our new families then cocooning is a must. During cocooning mama and baby are taken care of in their home. If they have loved ones who can devote time needed to their transition, fabulous.
If not, the ideal is that they receive guidance and care from a postpartum doula. Parents are able to learn the skills of parenting with the safety net/security blanket of the doula present. The doula cheers them on, helps them recognize their strengths, celebrate their successes and to see within themselves the ability to parent this beautiful baby.
Yes, the doula does practical tasks for the family so that the mother can rest and the family is cared for in a more peaceful-feeling home. The insanity of the outside world can stop, or at least slow down, as the family moves through this transition. The best part–the doula does so much more than just practical duties. Training in the significance of the psycho-social changes and challenges for each member of the family gives a depth and width to everything the doula doulas. Above all, the postpartum doula fully understands and respects the importance of the cocooning period. And by role modeling this respect, permission is given for the parents to cocoon as they heal and grow as a family.
Let us use language to help families know that this time is important enough to have its own term. When we role model appreciation for this period, the families (and hopefully, the rest of our culture) will follow.
Ann Grauer (31 Years in the Birthing & Parenting World)