My cousin is getting ready to have her second baby and our moms and sisters are making plans for how we will help her when the new baby comes. Someone will help with laundry, someone will help with cooking and cleaning while another one will likely help take care of the toddler so that Mom can rest and feed the new baby.
This is the traditon in my family. When someone has a new baby, the other women will gather and figure out ways to help by making food, helping with childcare, or helping care for the house. Yes, husbands and partners are around but the focus is on the new mom and her baby.
Similar ways of helping occur in countries around the world. In Finland, the state will send a box of gifts for the new mom and her little one. This tradition dates back to post-war when infant mortality was high and the government felt providing cold-weather essentials such as blankets and snow suits would help address this.
A Dominican tradition of "doing the month" after birth is called cuarentena and is a period of roughly four weeks after giving birth. During this time, female family members help the new mom by caring for her, helping her to stay nourished and rested while taking care of her home and older children. This tradition is credited with helping improve the infant survival rates in this culture.
The Mandarin term zuo yhezi indicates "sitting the month" and is a similar approach. Chinese women have a post partum confinement for approximately 30 days after having their baby and it's also a time when female members of the extended family will come to help the new mom. The main focus is to help the mom rest, eat well, and focus on caring for the newest family member.
Israel has maternity hotels, such as Jerusalem's Hadaassah Baby, where new moms can recover and rest after having their newborns. Some maternity hotels provide breastfeeding classes, nursery services, and partner sleepovers. Typically, the first night is free (picked up by most HMOs) but a new mom can check in up to one month post-partum to take advantage of the services provided.
Here in the U.S., a woman could hire a post-partum doula who helps the family adjust to life with the newborn. The primary focus of a post-partum doula is the new mother, but he or she will help with breastfeeding advice, caring for the baby, and preparing meals for the mom so that she can get as much rest as possible after birth. (Baby nurses are also gaining popularity across America but their primary focus is caring for the baby not the mother).
Whether your own mom or aunt (or doula or maternity hotel employee or even your next door neighbor) are helping you when you care for your new baby, we as moms know that any help is welcomed and appreciated. Just having another person near you to offer encouragement, support, warmth, and smiles is surprisingly helpful - especially when you are exhausted, overwhelmed, and sleep-deprived after having a new baby.
Trust us, we've been there.