emodied postpartum

‘Embodied Postpartum’.
An essential Birthlight initiative for 2022

What is it?

A package of our best selected practices for ‘holding and handling’ new babies, that we believe can make the most significant difference to the quality of care and attachment between parents and their newborns in the community.

Why are we doing this now?

The pandemic has had a disastrous impact on maternity care and especially on postpartum care. Given staff shortages and limited resources, we need to reach new parents in their communities, in their homes or in local children’s centres.

There is also a rising urgent need in our global culture. Worldwide, more mothers hold a newborn for the first time when they hold their first baby. Right after birth, parents are expected to respond to the demands of little beings who fascinate them but whose language they don’t understand. In the past, ‘holding and handling’, the fundamentals of embodied communication with newborns (Bowlby), were handed down with love from relatives and skilled neighbours. Apps and helplines packed with information and advice cannot fill this crucial gap of true body-based connection.

What do new parents need most?

resources which can ease baby care in the early days and weeks, to make it a mutually enjoyable experience
Birthlight’s embodied new-old ways of handling newborns respond to their needs, help them thrive and trigger an enjoyable two-way communication with parents. Newborns seek connection with all their senses together: touch and movement, eyesight and hearing, smell and taste. Babies whose connection needs are met radiate their contentment to parents, who in turn relax and convey calmness to their infants: this creates an expanding spiral of wellbeing between them.

What does the ‘Embodied Postpartum’ pack consist of?

Nothing out of the ordinary, but done slightly differently, routine baby care becomes filled with wonder.

We focus on three sets of practices that are part of routine baby care and can help parents to discover ‘the wonderful talents’ (Klaus) of their newborns:

Relaxed Holds to feed, burp and pacify infants while providing the anchor of safety and closeness they most need. Congruent with the latest neuro-physiological research on the transition from womb to world, ‘relaxed holds’ coupled with slow breathing sync parents and new babies in ways that best fulfill their respective physiological and psychological adjustments to each other.

Bathing, a universal postnatal practice, can be a pleasurable or dreadful experience for parents and babies. Simple guidance, even online, can ensure that the bath becomes a highlight of newborn care, creating lasting special bonds and happy memories, particularly with fathers.

Relaxation is key to successful infant feeding. Birthlight promotes breastfeeding and its impressive range of health advantages for mother and baby, but we have always supported mums who, for any reason, opt to bottle feed. All babies benefit from being fed in aligned positions by mothers whose relaxation can then engage them in tremendous positive bio-feedback loops of closeness with their infants.

A bonus: early postnatal recovery for new mothers
While facilitating attachment, ‘relaxed holds’ also support new mothers’ early postnatal recovery through micro-movements combined with breathing. Extended exhalations are both calming and help repositioning the organs and toning abdominal muscles after birth. Practices can be fitted into the day at any time and do not require any special equipment.

How to implement ‘Embodied Postpartum’ where and when parents need it, in the early weeks after birth?

‘Hands on’ community support is needed more than ever at a time when health care services are under increased strain and perinatal mental health issues are rising.

Hands on community support is needed more than ever at a time when health care services are under increased strain and perinatal mental health issues are rising.

Birthlight’s commitment to support pregnancy and birth holistically through embodied practices has not changed since Françoise was inspired by her Amazonian indigenous hosts in the 1980s. But nurturing the transition from prenates to newborns now needs to take new, in some ways more basic, forms to supplement the lack of direct skill transmission.

We are currently exploring platforms to make the ‘Embodied Postpartum’ practice pack available to parents in communities with face-to-face or if needed, online transmission at low or zero cost as much as possible through our Birthlight Charity.

We are grateful to Dave Savva, Trustee of Birthlight, for filming a pilot session at the Conewood Children’s Centre, London N5, with Birthlight instructors Kirsteen Ruffell, Liz Thompson and Francoise Freedman (original sound track by Nick Mulvey). The centre is run by Islington Council and it’s thanks to the Bright Start Central Team that it all went ahead. Brian Barnes contributed post-production editing skills. It was a very enjoyable morning for all. Watch the short film above and you will hear what parents say in their own words.

Follow our Embodied Postpartum blog series on the Birthlight website in 2022 (this is our first in a series – watch the bottom of our frontpage for more posts coming soon) and send us your thoughts after watching the films. Hands-on ‘active bonding’ in the early weeks after birth complements prenatal yoga as the best seed that our small Charity can plant at this time for lasting family well being all around.

Please get in touch if you’d like to know more about how to offer these sessions in your centre or organisation.