Honoring La Cuarentena: Traditional 40-Day Postpartum Care Rituals from Latin America

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here are rules to La Cuarentena, the traditional 40-day postpartum healing ritual observed in Latin-American cultures. This period provides rest and recovery to a new mom and can be executed by family members (both male and female) or a Midwife (Partera) who was culturally trained.

While the traditions vary by country, and even by region within each country, there is one main end-goal: To help new mothers recover after birth and provide support for bonding with their babies. In the U.S., where postpartum care is often overlooked, La Cuarentena traditions offer a powerful example of how we can prioritize the well-being of new mothers and lower the maternal morbidity rates as a result.

Here are 9 ways La Cuarentena is observed:

1.

Warm compresses and massages

Applied to the abdomen, back, and legs to help with pain, swelling, and healing., warm compresses and massages are used during the postpartum period in various ways to support the new mother’s recovery and comfort. Here are some examples. They are valuable tools during the postpartum period, promoting recovery and comfort for new mothers. Warm compresses are applied to the abdomen to help shrink the uterus and reduce bleeding, while also easing pain and swelling in the perineum after a vaginal birth or episiotomy. Additionally, they are used on the breasts to facilitate milk letdown and relieve engorgement, and on the back and shoulders to relax tense muscles. Massages, meanwhile, target the abdomen to aid uterine involution and reduce bloating, the back and shoulders to alleviate tension and stress, the breasts to support milk flow and relieve engorgement, and the perineum to promote healing and reduce scar tissue.

2.

Herbal teas and remedies
 

In La Cuarentena, herbs for milk production, energy boosting, reduce inflammation, and aid are used in various ways to support the new mother’s recovery and well-being. Herbal remedies help support lactation and breastfeeding, reduce pain and inflammation, promote relaxation and stress relief, aid digestion and bowel movements, support uterine health and healing, and boost energy and iron levels. Some common herbs used include red clover for hormonal balance and breastfeeding support, chamomile for calming and relaxation, ginger to reduce inflammation and aid digestion, raspberry leaf to support uterine health and breastfeeding, nettle for iron and energy boosting, and lavender for calming and promoting sleep. These herbs are used in different forms, such as teas, infusions, decoctions, poultices, and tinctures, to provide various health benefits.

3.

Nutritious food

Traditional dishes like chicken soup, atole (a warm beverage hailing from pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica that’s sweet or savory and full of B vitamins, antioxidants, magnesium, zinc, fiber, and potassium), healing bone broths and organ meats, known for having potent iron, are prepared to nourish and strengthen the new mother during La Cuarentena. Chicken soup, made with chicken, vegetables, and broth, provides protein, vitamins, and minerals to help rebuild strength and energy. Atole, a warm beverage from pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, is made from corn flour, water, and sweetener, and is rich in B vitamins, antioxidants, magnesium, zinc, fiber, and potassium, making it a nutritious and warming drink. Tamales, consisting of corn dough filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables and steamed in a leaf wrapper, provide sustained energy, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals. These dishes, often prepared with love and care by family members or friends, are served warm to help the new mother’s body heal and recover, promoting strength, lactation, healing, comfort, immune support, and digestive health during La Cuarentena, the 40-day period of rest and recovery after childbirth.

4.

Support from family and community

Women often receive help with household chores, childcare, and emotional support during this time.
Family and friends can provide various types of support during La Cuarentena, including emotional support by listening, comforting, and reassuring the new mother, practical support by helping with household chores, cooking, and childcare, physical support by assisting with breastfeeding, bathing, and caring for the newborn, spiritual support by offering prayers, blessings, and spiritual guidance, nutritional support by preparing traditional dishes and nourishing meals, rest and relaxation support by encouraging the new mother to rest and relax, errand running, childcare support by watching older siblings and other children in the household, light household chores, respite care by giving the new mother a break and taking care of the baby for a few hours, breastfeeding support, emotional validation by validating the new mother’s feelings and emotions, and connection and companionship by keeping the new mother connected and accompanied during this time. This support can be invaluable in helping the new mother recover, bond with her baby, and transition into her new role.

5.

Traditional midwives (parteras)

Many mothers opt for traditional midwives, who provide prenatal, delivery, and postpartum care, often using natural remedies and techniques. The traditional midwife, also known as a “partera” or “curandera,” plays a vital role in La Cuarentena, serving as a guardian of ancestral knowledge and a provider of holistic care. She is responsible for creating a safe and nurturing environment, providing emotional support, and performing various rituals and ceremonies to promote the new mother’s physical and spiritual recovery. The midwife prepares and administers traditional remedies, such as herbal teas and baths, and performs massages and other bodywork techniques to aid in healing and relaxation. She also provides guidance on breastfeeding, newborn care, and postpartum recovery, while honoring the cultural and spiritual traditions of the family. As a respected member of the community, the traditional midwife is often sought out for her wisdom, compassion, and expertise, and is cherished for her role in preserving the cultural heritage and traditions of La Cuarentena.

6.

Postpartum massages (sobadas)

Various massages are performed to support the new mother’s recovery and well-being. Abdominal massages help to shrink the uterus, reduce bloating, and improve digestion. Back and shoulder massages relieve tension and stress, while breast massages help to improve milk flow and reduce engorgement. Perineal massages promote healing and reduce scar tissue, while pelvic floor massages help to restore tone and strength. These massages also promote relaxation, reduce pain and inflammation, improve circulation, and support the body’s natural healing processes. Additionally, massages can help to reduce stress hormones, promote oxytocin release, and support emotional well-being, fostering a sense of calm and connection between the mother and her baby. By incorporating massage into La Cuarentena, new mothers can experience enhanced physical and emotional recovery, setting them on a path to optimal postpartum wellness.

7.

Bathing and hygiene rituals

During La Cuarentena, warm baths, steam inhalation, and gentle cleansing practices are used to promote recovery and relaxation. These bathing and hygiene rituals help to reduce pain and inflammation, improve circulation, and support the healing of the perineum and uterus. Warm baths also help to relax the muscles, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote better sleep. Steam inhalation helps to clear congestion and promote respiratory health, while gentle cleansing practices help to prevent infection and promote hygiene. Additionally, some families use herbal remedies like chamomile, calendula, and rose petals in bathwater for their anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, which can aid in healing and relaxation. These rituals not only promote physical healing but also provide emotional comfort and support during the postpartum period.

8.

Emotional support and companionship

Family and friends can provide various types of support during La Cuarentena, including emotional support by listening, comforting, and reassuring the new mother, practical support by helping with household chores, cooking, and childcare, physical support by assisting with breastfeeding, bathing, and caring for the newborn, spiritual support by offering prayers, blessings, and spiritual guidance, nutritional support by preparing traditional dishes and nourishing meals, rest and relaxation support by encouraging the new mother to rest and relax, errand running, childcare support by watching older siblings and other children in the household, light household chores, respite care by giving the new mother a break and taking care of the baby for a few hours, breastfeeding support, emotional validation by validating the new mother’s feelings and emotions, and connection and companionship by keeping the new mother connected and accompanied during this time. This support can be invaluable in helping the new mother recover, bond with her baby, and transition into her new role.

9.

Respect for the new mother’s rest

Family and community members often respect the new mother’s need for rest, allowing her to focus on recovery, assisting as needed, and giving time to bonding with her baby.

 

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