Golden Month: An Ancient Custom For a Modern Mother

Golden Month: An Ancient Custom For a Modern Mother

By Yahna Fookes   |  

In Eastern cultures, the first 40 days after birth are especially precious and dedicated to the mother's recovery.

In many cultures around the world (especially in the east), the first 40 days after birth are considered to be especially precious: this period is often referred to as the Golden Month. You may have heard its traditional terminology, referred to as “month in sitting” or “month in confinement” but this period reflects the foundations of a thriving mother with an aim of restoring balance in the body to achieve optimal health for the mother and baby. Here, the focus is on the mother because a strong and thriving mother will echo in their child. In China, this is taken so seriously that the mother takes bed rest for the entire period, she is bathed, her village there to feed her, she does not cook, clean or leave the house until her period is over.

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When preparing for the birth of my daughter, participating in a Golden Month, postpartum was a non-negotiable. I knew that birth was uncontrollable in so many ways, but had learned how Golden Month could totally transform the way I entered matresence. My lineage is Korean and even though I was brought up with anglo adoptive parents I saw this as an opportunity to pay respect to both my and my daughter's ancestors as we connected more deeply with our Korean heritage.

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In preparation, I had loose roles for the core people in my life. I had read the book Golden Month by Jenny Allison, a gift from my acupuncturist, and had used these learnings to communicate my needs. My husband took five weeks off work. He plays music so didn’t take bookings during this period and worked tirelessly leading up to give us the freedom to do it this way. I realise this might seem like lots of time for some dads/partners and I am fortunate (he works for himself so has flexibility) but you’ll be surprised how little money you need when they are tiny. We just made it work and made it a priority. Leading up to the birth he learnt how to cook some really easy and simple meals I liked (I had always been the cook) and he knew his role was to make sure that we always had a full fridge, to do the morning routines (take our baby for a walk) and helped with everything that wasn’t breastfeeding. In hindsight, this set us up for a co-parenting dynamic where we both pulled equal weight.

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My parents live in NSW and I am based in inner south Melbourne. They had planned to be with me for the birth but due to my daughter’s late arrival, they came a few hours after she arrived and started preparing for our return. They hired an Airbnb in a neighbouring suburb and it was their role to do lunch, some dinners, coffee runs, put on a load of washing and some light housework. Keep me company so I never felt alone but also had enough space to find my own feet. I felt really held, seen and nurtured. And I enjoyed breastfeeding.

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The world was slow back then. I didn’t have latte dates or walk the botanical gardens like the other mothers, in fact, I barely left the house. I simply was. The reach to sustain gentleness with oneself can seem impossible in the modern world. As a society we undervalue moving slow, glorify the busy and in this noise have lost our ability to truly tap into intuition.

In the first weeks of becoming a new mother, a woman's body and mind go through an unparalleled journey. The combination of endless hours of feeding and rocking, surging hormones, combined with sleep deprivation while you process your birth is something only a mother can truly understand. Leaning into your new skin after birth can be one of the most challenging things to do, particularly with the external pressures put on mothers in western society. The bounce-back culture in the west is truly toxic for new mothers. When I first attended my council mothers group I met a woman who had slipped her disc five weeks postpartum at high-intensity training after having a caesarean section birth. If only there was a re-education or unlearning that rest is as powerful as moving. And instead of grieving our old jeans we simply bought new ones. That we valued ‘sitting and being’ as much as we did ‘rushing and doing’.

To better explain why, I’ll dissect some traditional terminology from the Chinese Medicinal system which is based on the energy flow of the body.

The tomb is open

In the period after birth, the east says the tomb is open. Physically this makes sense as there is a gaping hole where once your placenta and baby grew for the past nine months. Philosophically, it refers to how vulnerable the body is to contract pathogens. If taken care of properly during a Golden Month, it is said you can reverse existing ailments before the tomb closes.

Resorting our Jing

Jing translates to our ‘essence’ and its most simplistic form is considered our most profound and most vital energy source. Childbirth and pregnancy deplete us of this precious resource and after it’s used, it must be built up again. Restoring this precious resource through rest and good nourishment in the immediate period after birth will help the mother to thrive as a parent and eventually in preparation for subsequent pregnancies.


Now I realise that for some, a month or rest feels far from achievable and for others may seem even extreme, but I believe that through the sharing of experiences and other traditions we can learn so much about the landscape of motherhood and its diverse languages and rituals. You can perhaps take something small from this - a ritual, a guide - and translate it into the modern vortex, so here is an explaination of the four components to a Golden Month. They are rest, nourishment, physical treatment and support. If you are looking to participate in your own Golden Month, in whatever capacity, it's good to have an understanding of each.

Rest

Sleep is deeply healing medicine, no doubt your baby will need waking in regular intervals to feed, so taking rests in the day, and napping regularly is essential. If you can’t sleep, lie horizontally. This might look like saying no to a couple of coffee dates or asking visitors to rock your baby whilst you get some shut-eye. Remember, you are not a host, you are a new mother.

Nourishing food

Warm, rich and nutritious food is best for rebuilding the body’s resources. Include warm spices like ginger and cinnamon, slow-cooked soups and stews, a variety of whole grains and cooked vegetables. Avoid cold, frozen food, drinks and smoothies even in warmer weather. Maybe when planning your baby shower, get your guest to bring a meal to stock up your freezer, or if you are usually the cook at home, teach your partner to be able to reproduce a few of your favourite meals.

Physical treatment

There are so many beneficial treatments for new mothers that address the physical, emotional and hormonal changes your body goes through. A massage, mother roasting, acupuncture or even a lovely hot bath are such simple yet beautiful rituals you can give to yourself to ease the transition into motherhood.

Emotional support

Parenthood is not a solo undertaking. We were designed to live in villages so allow yourself to rely on others, accept care. Don’t be afraid to ask those around you for what you need most – including food, rest, space, or even an adult conversation.

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