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La Cuarentena

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Guest blogger Christina Fiedler: Two weekends ago I was at a picnic, and my girlfriend came by with her new baby girl. (By the way, I don't care what anyone says, there is a difference between holding a little girl and a little boy. They just feel different.) The baby couldn't have been more than a few weeks old. Aside from becoming nostalgic for the sweet, sweet smell and gurgling of a newborn, it reminded me of something my loving grandmother once told me.

christina montoya fiedler sleeping with her baby

When I first had my son Joseph, she said that in her day, her mother wouldn't have let her out of the house unless two months had passed since she had the baby. This is the old myth of 40 days of rest -- that both mother, and baby, should not leave the house and have someone care for them for a forty-day period, so that the mother can heal and the baby can grow strong.

Considering that my grandmother was the same person who also told me that 1) sitting on cold concrete could give you hemorrhoids and that 2) if you do not remove a splinter it could travel through your system and straight to your heart, I brushed it off as another old wives' tale.

Since I never died from a splinter and my husband has never had hemorrhoids (he's from Colorado where concrete is usually cold), I nearly forgot about this grandmotherly advice until I ventured out one day when Joseph was about four weeks old. We went to pick up dry cleaning, and the owner of the store, who for the past nine months took delight in seeing me grow to the size of a small house, rushed out before I had even walked through the front door. She ordered me back home. In fact, she went so far as to double check the baby to be sure he was all bundled and secure. She said to me in Spanish, "Get back home! It's been less than 40 days! You should not be out!" My dry cleaner happens to be from Guadalajara.

Further research revealed that this is not just a Mexican belief. It is typical of most Latin American countries. According to the American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, most Latinas observe the cuarentena -- 40 days of rest and recuperation after birth. During this time some will not take showers during the first days, won't stand up or pick up heavy things, and won't eat hot meals or beans in order to prevent gas. Some believe that it is not healthy to leave the home for the first weeks and may even miss the first post-partum appointments.

For those of you at home right now with a newborn, loads of unfolded laundry and a sink of dirty dishes, I bet you're wondering when the heck your cuarentena starts?

I'd like mine to start now please.

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12 comments so far | Post a comment now
redmum February 10, 2009, 7:00 AM

I’d say as well there’s a similarity to the Churching Ceremony that used to be performed by the Catholic Church. A woman was not allowed to go to Church until this was done. And if she died during childbirth because she had not been churched sometimes resulted in being buried outside the church grounds.

There was a belief that a woman was unclean after birth as in Leviticus 12 2:8. It was believed that after birth it was unlucky for a woman to leave her house to go out at all after confinement till she went to be churched.

I’d say there’s an element in that too, I know other cultures have the same type of thing.

Cyn February 10, 2009, 10:22 AM

My husbands family also does this. I am 7 weeks preggo with my 3rd and haven’t ever been able to do this before. I’m hoping his mom comes this time. I could use some sleep and help. I think it’s a really good idea if you have someone to help you.

Emma February 10, 2009, 11:53 AM

Yes I did this with my first because I had my mother and grandparents with me.

lkd February 10, 2009, 1:25 PM

Do you think I can get in on this even if I don’t have kids?

Sarah February 10, 2009, 9:06 PM

My grandma would stay a few weeks. It was the best! I’ve seen people give looks and even comment on mothers out with their newborns. Everyone has an opinion. Maybe you’ll get your cuarentena next time.

Chelsea Clark February 10, 2009, 10:34 PM

Similar traditions are practiced all over the world for different reasons. In France and other European countries, a care provider comes to help with housework for several weeks after a baby is born. In my state, there is insurance that will reimburse a family for the services of a postpartum doula. Postpartum doulas are hired to provide added support to a new family. I think this is a modern twist on an age old tradition.

Chrissy February 10, 2009, 10:53 PM

I think some people are concerned about the immune system of a newborn not being able to handle all the new germs they will be exposed to.
Some parent wait even longer - six months before they venture out.
Yes, it’s not unsual for a family member to come and help out,especially with the first born.
But that whole not showering thing is a bit much.

ashley February 12, 2009, 7:17 AM

I was still living with my parents when I had my first. My mom wouldn’t let anyone touch him and she wouldn’t let me go anywhere. She barely let me go to his 2 week check up and was livid when she found out that we stopped at a friends house on the way home. He was 6 weeks old and I was trying to throw together a quickie wedding and had to take him with me to several stores and she was not happy. She was so afraid he would get GERMS!!!

JD February 12, 2009, 9:27 AM

My PuertoRican grandma squawked about the same thing. My PuertoRican mother just told me to avoid the areas in the neighborhood where I might see abuela. =)

Sandy February 16, 2009, 8:38 PM

My mom spent 2 weeks with us to help out with the housework, meals and even give the baby his or her first bath. The only place I went was for baby’s checkup, but I couldn’t drive. She did the Cuarentena thing 17 times herself, but she took a bath!

lymari February 16, 2009, 8:54 PM

If you think about it, your body went to a complete transformation during nine whole months. It makes sense to let your body heal and your baby to build his/her immune system before facing the world again. Our abuelas and the ladies before them were wise people and quite healthy too!

Jupuinws June 22, 2009, 8:22 PM

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