Mother roasting refers to the almost universal practice of keeping mothers warm immediately after the birth and in the weeks that follow. It is believed to seal the gateways, which have been opened by the birth, and to keep wind and cold from entering a vulnerable new mother’s body.
In cultures all over the world, mothers, and thereby babies, have been kept warm through various means. In Malaysia rocks are heated and placed over the new mother’s shrinking abdomen. In other parts of Southeast Asia, new fathers traditionally light a fire that is kept burning for weeks near (or under) the mother’s bed. In still other parts of the world, sand, oil, and herbs are heated and applied to the mother in various fashions. American women, meanwhile, rarely find themselves near a fire after they have their babies, and, more often than not, are offered a cup of ice water and a cold pack for their bottom!
It is always important for new mothers to stay warm, especially during these upcoming chilly and windy months. I have compiled a toasty postpartum treatment, one you can put together for yourself, or one you can give as a thoughtful baby shower gift. The practice of warming a new mother need not be as exotic and unwieldy as building a fire under the mother’s bed, and can be as simple as a placing herbs in a pot and boiling the water. Try it during your postpartum, and see if you don’t feel rejuvenated and deeply nourished.
Warm Oil Massage
Mothers in India know the benefits of warm oil massages post-birth; along with their babies, they are traditionally given warm oil massages each day after birth for 40 days. Many benefits arise from postpartum massage, including the gentle realignment of ligaments and tissues, which have been stretched from pregnancy and childbirth. Uterine massage also helps decrease bleeding and provide relief from those nasty after pains. Luckily, self -massage is just as effective.
4 ounce plastic bottle with shampoo top
Glass measuring cup
Essential oils – try lavender, geranium, jasmine, vanilla, or clary sage
Fill the plastic bottle with sesame oil, leaving some room at the top for essential oils. Add 20 to 40 drops of your desired essential oil or blend. Place in the measuring cup. Pour boiled water over measuring cup around the bottle of oil and let sit for five minutes. Be sure the room is sufficiently heated. Squeeze a small amount of warm scented oil into your palm. With an open palm, massage your scalp. Gathering more warm oil, move to your face, putting special attention on your temples and jaw. Slowly massage the entire ear, holding it between thumb and forefinger. After your face, apply oil to entire body, which will allow the oil to seep into the tissues, providing nourishment and heat. Then move back to the neck and shoulders, which deserve deeper strokes and are often sore immediately after birth. To the arms apply long, vigorous strokes, except at the elbow and wrist joints, which receive a circular motion. The breasts can benefit from some light easy massage, and the oil has the added benefit of soothing sore nipples. Moving over the abdomen in clockwise circles aids digestion. The uterus can be gently massaged as well, although in the early days this may cause cramping. If you can, reach around to your back, rubbing out any kinks. Take special care around the hips and buttocks, which can be especially sore after delivery, but a firm touch here can aid the ligaments in reconnecting and finding their proper place. Legs should be treated like the arms, long strokes everywhere but the knee and ankle joints, which get circles. Finally, massaging the feet is pleasurable and immune enhancing. Use your thumbs to dig into the soles of the feet. Gently pull on each toe.
Nursing Tea and Sitz Bath Herbs
Tea is another form of warmth, and one that can help in producing and maintaining mama’s milk supply, aid digestion, and heal sore bottoms. If you have a thermos, make some of the nursing tea in the morning, pour it into the thermos, and sip from it throughout the day. Sitz bath herbs are another excellent way to provide heat and healing to tears, episiotomies, or cesarean scars. They can also be brewed in the morning and strained whenever you are ready for a bath. The extra can be put in a peri bottle and used as a rinse after using the restroom. It is so soothing!
1/3 part fenugreek seeds
1/3 part fennel seeds
1/3 part anise seeds
Sitz Bath Herbs
2 ounces comfrey leaf
1 ounce calendula flowers
1 ounce lavender flowers
1 ounce rosemary
1 ounce sage leaves
½ cup sea salt (add at the time of bath)
In the morning, boil 2 to 3 tsp of the tea in a teapot. Let steep for up to ten minutes. Strain and put in thermos. Drink throughout the day. Simultaneously, put a handful of the sitz bath herbs (except the sea salt) in a soup pot, or around 2 to 3 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, then shut off the heat, and cover until ready to use. When you are ready for a bath (ideally after your massage), strain the herbs directly into the bathtub, or if you prefer into a sitz bath. Add sea salt to bath just before stepping in. Drink your tea in the bath!
Wrapping the belly, or uterus, is another universal postpartum practice. Besides warming the abdomen and uterus, wrapping the belly also decreases bleeding, speeds weight loss, and reorients a mother with her core muscles. All it takes is a strip of fabric 8 to 12 inches wide and about 5 feet long along with a few pins to secure.
Place the fabric above your pubic bone and rising to your navel. Wrap the fabric around your waist like a sash.
Wrap the fabric alternately using diagonal and straight wraps until you reach the end of your strip. Secure with pins. Keep your belly wrapped for the entire day and night if it’s comfortable. Most women love the feeling of tightness in the area that was so stretched during the previous months. In some cultures, the wrap itself is a sign of motherhood.
I hope these postpartum care practices bring you and your loved ones a restful and rejuvenating postpartum period. Mothers deserve it and the entire family will benefit. In baskets for new mothers, I have also included a hot water bottle, great for achy, sore muscles and easing after pains. Babies of course, need to be kept warm too. Skin to skin contact is the best way for babies to stay toasty, but I have included a hat as well.
Shannon Staloch is a mother and a midwife in Oakland, California. Having had her second baby recently, she can attest to the restorative powers of roasting moms postpartum! She keeps a blog at hakimamidwifery.
Thanks to Aviva Jill Romm and Raven Lang for their contributions to the care of postpartum women, and whose work I relied on for this article.