We’re used to the concept of pregnant women needing special treatment. From deserving a seat on public transport, to regular doctor appointments, and countless books and workshops devoted to prenatal preparation, expectant women are deservedly treated with a special kind of reverence. Once baby comes along, though, all that indulgent TLC is redirected onto the new arrival. While there’s ample literature on raising your newborn or improving your breastfeeding skills, the focus is always, understandably, very much on bubs. The new mum herself – her own nutritional needs, the intricacies of her physical wellbeing, her emotional highs and lows – suddenly takes a backseat.
And yet, with minimal maternity leave allowances of just six weeks for private-sector workers in the UAE, that postnatal period is a crucial time of healing and regrouping for the mother, especially if she needs to return to work imminently. Plus, the high rates of postnatal depression globally (13% to 20% in developed and developing countries respectively, according to the World Health Organisation) are often connected to feeling ‘unsupported’ or ‘isolated’ in the weeks after birth, according to British Medical Journal research.
In response to this, a growing body of birth workers and medical experts are looking to ancient wisdom to revive traditions of hands-on, postnatal maternal care that many believe may improve your postpartum recovery period and dramatically reduce your risk of postpartum depression.
While Western culture’s post-birth ‘lying-in’ traditions have long since fallen by the wayside, across Asia and the Middle East they are still very much alive. However, research shows that the effectiveness of these confinement traditions – the custom of a woman remaining indoors for the first 30 to 60 days post-delivery and being cared for, often by a relative – in making a mother feel supported, varies drastically depending on how flexible they are and how much autonomy the new mother feels she has.
One tradition that has caught particular international attention is Malaysia’s ‘Malay Pantang’, the core principles of which are largely followed by members of all the main ethnic backgrounds in Malaysia, and which many believe may be the explanation behind Malaysia’s extremely low rate of postpartum depression: under 3%, which is the lowest officially reported in the world. This ancient routine consists of regular massage, binding, hot compresses and a special diet during the first six weeks postpartum, and it has recently been adapted for a modern audience by a woman called Valerie Lynn in her book The Mommy Plan. She plans to bring this tradition to the UAE in the form of specially trained therapists – we spoke to one Dubai-based new mum, Alisha Malhotra, from the UK, who was the first woman to make use of Valerie’s expertise in the UAE, about her experience and how she thinks it helped her and could help others...
Alisha’s ‘Mommy Plan’
Dubai-based Alisha Malhotra, from the UK, hired a therapist from Malaysia to care for her in the six weeks after giving birth to her baby girl Amaara. Here’s her story...
“I knew I wanted to get up and running soon after giving birth, so I took a lot of time to focus on finding a good post-birth recovery plan. I liaised with Valerie Lynn, author of The Mommy Plan, which blends food science, anatomy and medical science with core tenets of the Malay postnatal care. Valerie recommended a therapist experienced in the Malaysian postnatal tradition, Rohani, and after a video interview I decided to hire her.
“We purchased Rohani a ticket to fly from her home country of Malaysia and had her on standby around my delivery date. She flew to Dubai five days after I gave birth and stayed with us in our home for 40 days, which is the normal practice. Rohani became like part of the family; I loved her being around and miss her lots since she has left. I would definitely recommend her to every mum!
“Every morning would start with Rohani giving my baby girl a massage and bath while I freshened up and had breakfast. Then, once I fed the baby and she was asleep, my postnatal treatments would begin. These consisted of a special body massage, including a hot stone on the tummy, followed by a bath with herbs that were specially prepared and cooked in the morning. These traditional Malay herbs have been used for generations by women in Malaysia. I was also given specially prepared nutritional food every few hours.
“There were some other treatments every other day, such as a vaginal steam, body scrub and acupuncture, as well as a calming herbal paste applied to the forehead to ease the baby blues and refresh a tired mind and eyes. There was also abdominal wrapping for the hips – intended to help close the cervix and help protect a new mother from bacteria and infection, as well as to support a weakened core.
“Having experienced the Malay postnatal confinement care I can say it’s nothing short of extraordinary. The body treatments alone felt amazing after going through pregnancy and childbirth. The postnatal meals that Rohani made for me were warming and delicious, while the ingredients felt healing and nourishing.
“Rohani also used her time to care for my baby, including bathing, massage and wrapping of her tummy to reduce the risk of colic.
“After all of this postnatal care I feel wonderful and have good energy levels. My physical healing and hormonal re-balancing has been very good and happened in such a short time, and my milk supply has been consistent and I nurse my daughter without complication. I’d definitely recommend it!”
Alisha’s daily menu
Pre-digestive: Cup of chicken broth
Breakfast: Postnatal Porridge
Snack: Lactation Balls / Mejool Dates
Lunch: Chicken Rice Soup and Vegetables
Beverage: Red Dates Tea/ Ginger Tea
Snack: Guacamole / Panjiri
Dinner: Baked Salmon with Honey, Ginger and Coriander with Basmati rice
Treat: Nepali Postnatal Pudding
The cost of hiring a therapist like Alisha did varies depending on the package you take, starting from Dh250 a day for a minimum of 14 days. Hiring a therapist for six weeks of body treatments, abdominal massage and wrapping of the core, baby care and meal preparation, starts from Dh11,000. See Themommyplan.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org