5 things that surprised me about postpartum life in the UK
Traditionally, women in Japan are expected to stay in bed for about a month to heal after giving birth. That was not how my life went in London after having a baby. Compared to traditional Japanese women, my daughter and I probably had a rather busy first couple of months. These are 5 things that surprised me after having a baby in London.
1.. You are out from the hospital quickly
In Japan: Women typically stay 5 to 7 nights in the hospital after giving a healthy vaginal birth. Midwives teach new mums how to feed, bath, change nappies.
In Britain: Ever-budget-tight NHS hospitals in the UK cannot afford to do so. My hospital brochure said, “you may be able to return home after about 6 hours after giving birth”. Remember, Kate Middleton left hospital some hours after having a baby? Even the royal family don’t stay in the hospital so long.
So when my daughter was born in the early morning, I was nervously waiting when we would be kicked out from the room and told to go home on that day. In reality, I ended up with staying for a night with my husband. I think it depends on how you are healing, and also how you get on with breastfeeding.
But a little over 24 hours after having the baby, we were already on our way back home. I must admit, after walking just between my bed and the on-suite toilet, it was a mission to walk out from the big hospital and go to a taxi stop across the street!
2.. Go for a walk, mum!
In Japan: It is commonly said that if you start moving too soon after labour, you will suffer from severe menopause. Your pelvic joints are loose after making way for your baby. Your organs are trying to get back into the right place after being squished for nearly 10 months. You need proper rest to recover from all that, is the argument Japanese make. My mum from Japan sent me a strict order via text, “stay in bed except when you breastfeed or go to the toilet!”. I heard this is also common in other Asian countries.
In Britain: New mums are encouraged to take a little walk as soon as they feel comfortable. I told midwives and GP about what I learned in Japan and asked if there should be any medical reasons to stay in bed. “In the UK, we never really advised women not to walk around”, said a GP. “It’s probably just a cultural difference.” So all these years what I believed to be a medical advice was just shrugged off as a cultural difference. Huh!
When my mum came to help us out 2 weeks after I had the baby, she discovered that I was already pottering around, doing small household chores, and taking a small walk outside. I was totally busted not following her order, but I think she was glad to see me doing ok in the end.
3.. Babies can go out too
In Japan: Babies are expected to stay home until the 6-week checkup to build up the immune system. Mums are not expected to go out either during that time anyway as mentioned above, so why should babies go out by themselves?
In Britain: If mums are encouraged to go out as soon as they can, so are the babies. When a midwife came to see us on the third day after my daughter was born, she told my husband to take the baby out after the feed, so that I can sleep. My husband happily followed this instruction, so my baby girl was out in the park on the third day of her life.
I was worried about taking her to public transportation, especially notoriously filthy London Underground. Midwives told us not to worry. (I suppose if we were so concerned about the air quality, we might as well move out from the city eventually.)
Before her 6-week checkup, my daughter already rode on bus, train and tube, had a picnic in the park, and even visited Borough Market!
4.. Breastfeed anywhere. Really.
In Japan: Most women look for nursery rooms in large department stores. I think younger generation started to breastfeed more publicly in cafes and restaurants, using capes. But I’m afraid breastfeeding in public is still considered taboo, definitely if you are not discreet.
In Britain: I went out for a coffee with my local mum friend while I was pregnant. I was amazed when she casually started to breastfeed her newborn daughter in front of me. She unhooked her nursing tank top strap and offered her breast. No cape. No muslin. And she kept talking while munching her avocado sandwich. A male customer sitting next to our table didn’t care. Nobody cared. This was definitely a culture shock to me.
Now that I have to breastfeed in public, I feel very fortunate to be in this country. When the little one starts screaming in a cafe, I don’t feel like I have time to put on a cape. I just want to soothe her as quickly as possible! It wasn’t as embarrassing as I thought. After all, the baby’s head covers most of the breast, and you aren’t exposing your nipple for minutes. Having said that, I do use a muslin to cover us, as much as possible.
5.. How do you keep your little ones clean
In Japan: In a country with a culture of onsen (hot spring), keeping the newborn clean is a big deal. Midwives teach new mums how to bath the baby at the hospital. So before the baby turns 5-day old, she would be bathed at least a couple of times by then.
You are expected to bath the baby in the baby bath every day. Then in a month or so, she can start having a bath with adults when her immune system builds up. The first bath with daddy is often an important photo moment!
In Britain: British people don’t seem to be in a hurry at all to bath a newborn. When I asked midwives when I should bath the baby, the answer was always “You can bath her already, if you want to, but you don’t have to”. My husband didn’t feel like we should bath her until the umbilical cord healed a little bit. I felt more and more guilty as the days went by without cleaning my baby. “Don’t worry. The longer you wait, the more babies enjoy the first bath!”, said one of the visiting midwives.
About a week after my baby was born, my mum asked how we were bathing her. I hesitantly told her that we hadn’t bathed her yet. I could almost hear her gasp when she replied “Oh dear. When I come over to London, I will bath her every day!”
Eventually, we did give her a bath. But we didn’t start bathing her every day until recently. In Britain, the general rule seems to be to bath a baby every two to three days initially. Also, it is considered totally fine to bath with an adult from the first time, as it would make babies feel safe and relaxed.
What I learned from all these…
Frankly, these differences used to stress me out. Should I bath her or not bath her? Should I go for a walk or not walk? I didn’t know what to believe and found different pieces of advice overwhelming.
What I eventually concluded is that there is no correct way to raise a child. Everyone has an opinion. Every culture has different opinions. And yet, in each society, there are thousands of newborn every year and they all seem to be mostly growing up fine. So as far as the babies are safe and happy, then I don’t think we need to stress so much.