Culturally, a new mother living in a foreign country may find herself in unfamiliar territory during the postpartum period. Everyone loves a new baby and visiting the mother is a great way for family and friends to show support and love. However, there may be different cultural expectations of entertaining guests or performing various postpartum rituals in keeping with the local customs.
Giving birth in different cultures is always an adventure. Mothers should always expect the unexpected when living in a foreign country.
In the article, Top 10 Rules For Visiting A New Mom there are some great suggestions for visitors of American moms but what can new moms in foreign countries expect from visitors?
I asked mothers around the world about their experiences during that postpartum period, and they shared what is customary to expect from visitors as new moms in their local culture.
What Should New Moms And Their Visitors Expect In Foreign Countries?
In Singapore, the Chinese locals won’t visit you for a month. Postpartum practices allow for a “confinement period” in which a new mom is expected to rest, recover her strength and eat only certain foods and avoid anything cold, including cold showers! When Mariam Ottimofiore gave birth in Singapore, her Chinese neighbors down the hall in the apartment condo left hot soups at her door but never came in to visit until her baby was four-weeks-old.
In Pakistani culture (where Mariam is from), it is customary for a new mom to either move in with her parents right after giving birth. Family looks after the new mother, and if you’re an expat, it is customary to have your mom or mother-in-law visit and spend at least a month with you, helping to take care of you and your new baby. When your family does visit, there are certain traditional customs to be followed, such as singing the azaan (the call to prayer) in the baby’s ears and shaving off the baby’s hair (this is known as an “aqiqah”) with the notion that the hair will grow back thicker and better.
United Arab Emirates
In Dubai, UAE, where Mariam gave birth to her second child, the Arabs place a lot of importance on the name you have chosen for your baby. Arab tradition places emphasis on a name with a good meaning, so during those first visits at the hospital and at home, new moms should be prepared to explain the baby’s name, meaning, and the reason why it was chosen to all visitors.
In Malaysia, mothers are treated to a postnatal massage with the intention of improving blood circulation, lifting the womb, breaking down fat, toning and shaping the postpartum body, and speeding up the overall recovery from labor and birth.
In the Netherlands, visitors may be welcome or asked to stay away depending on the parents’ wishes, according to Amanda van Mulligen at Expat Life With A Double Buggy. Parents will usually send birth cards with visiting rules stated on the card—times, how long to wait before visiting, etc. or they ask that you call and arrange a time/day. Beschuit met muisjes (baked biscuit with colored sprinkles—blue or pink) are traditionally served during these visits.
Also in the Netherlands, new moms have a postpartum helper called the kraamzorg, who is there for a week to help the mother with daily chores, assist with breastfeeding, and ensure that the mother is resting. If visitors try to see the baby during this period, the kraamzorg may keep visitors at bay. Kraamfeetjes are becoming popular and instead of entertaining friends and family individually, new parents are hosting large groups of people at a time. Olga Mecking, The European Mama, asked her kraamzorg to keep all visitors away so she could have quiet time with her new baby.
In India, Charu Chhitwal the parents of the new mother often bring in silver spoons and bowls (baby size) as a blessing and silver bangles with black beads to ward off evil. And of course as an Indian tradition, women generally deliver their baby at their parent’s house.
For at least a month following the birth, the new mom is pampered and forbidden from doing any work. She only needs to nurse the baby, look after herself and eat food containing cleansing and strengthening ingredients. Of course, this tradition is phasing out in India as nuclear families are replacing the traditional extended family structure.
Alexandra Madhavan reminds visitors to never show up empty handed. Whenever you visit a baby, an elderly person, or a guru in India, one should always bring fresh fruits, sweets, and gifts for the baby.
Perhaps in keeping with the “bring new mothers fruit” idea, Erin Long found her hospital refrigerator full of fruit juice from visitors after her baby arrived.
In Canada, Alexandra Madhavan advises visitors to bring food like a “freezer meal” that the couple can microwave, fresh flowers, and gifts for the baby.
Melinda Lipkin discovered that friends and extended family just show up to the hospital and want to hold the baby. She was even more shocked when she gave birth and realized that she didn’t care!
In South Africa, Lucille Abendenon says that only very very close family and friends generally visit the new mother and baby at the hospital. Support is given widely after the mom and baby are home in the form of evening meals. On the whole, people are very respectful and supportive. In South Africa, a church group organized meals for her family for eight days which surprised her greatly because she had no prior relationship with that church.
In Turkish culture, visitors come to view the baby and expect the new mom to serve them. In Istanbul, Lucille‘s neighbor was very vocal in her disapproval that she had taken her baby out for a walk at one week old (wrapped up and fast asleep in the pram). Strangers in the street would give her all sorts of advice about keeping her baby’s feet covered and warm even on hot days.
Rosemary Gillan experienced similar shock from strangers in Istanbul when they found out how old her son was as she took him out walking in popular areas and shopping malls shortly after his birth. They’d “ooh” and “ahh” over him, ask to hold him, and then nearly drop him like a hot potato when she told them he was one week old.
Japanese culture dictates that the new mom sets the visiting schedule, and close friends pop in only for a short time, never wanting to be a bother or burden. Visitors will often bring sweets for the family, perhaps flowers, and a baby toy or article of clothing for baby. Melissa Uchiyama introduced her Japanese friends to the foreign concept of an American baby shower which is completely contrary to Japanese culture and tradition.
In Latvia, people usually leave the new mother and newborn in peace until invited to visit for “raudzības,” roughly translated as, “viewing of the baby,” according to Ilze Ievina. This “viewing” originates from the tradition of when close family members would only view but not hold the newborn. Usually, the first guests come once the baby is at least a month old, sometimes even older. In Latvia, receiving items for the baby before is born is considered to be bad luck so visiting guests bring gifts—most often baby clothes, toys, and other items that may be more typical for baby showers in the US.
Regardless of culture, visitors should always check with the new parents before visiting, never arrive empty handed, and try to be helpful instead of a burden. If you receive silence in response to your request for an invitation, wait a few more weeks before trying again.
Read more about multicultural approaches to pregnancy, birth, and parenting in Knocked Up Abroad.
A special thank you to everyone who contributed their cultural experiences. You can read more about their lives in foreign countries and how they approach parenting around the globe.
Mariam Ottimofiore at http://www.andthenwemovedto.com/
Amanda van Mulligen at http://lifewithadoublebuggy.blogspot.se/
Olga Mecking at http://www.europeanmama.com/
Charu Chhitwal at https://www.instagram.com/kidzlens/
Alexandra Madhavan at http://madh-mama.blogspot.se/
Lucille Abendenon at http://expitterpattica.com
Rosemary Gillan at https://www.facebook.com/Write.SaidRose/
Melissa Uchiyama at https://melibelleintokyo.com/
Ilze Ievina at http://www.letthejourneybegin.eu/