What is the “Nest”?
It’s a 40 day “laying in” period immediately following birth where the new mother does nothing but love her baby and herself. She accepts food from others, she basks in the sacred space that naturally follows a birth, while others tend to her needs as well as the needs of her household. Traditionally and historically, this practice has been adhered to as part of the birth experience. But for some reason, we don’t practice it anymore in our culture and I’m beginning to wonder if there is a connection between this loss and the epidemic in postpartum depression.
We all agree that the postpartum time is HARD for EVERYONE. We all agree that the new mom needs endless amounts of support, emotionally and physically. And yet, this nesting period still fails to receive the type of attention we all agree it needs.
After giving birth 6 times, and working with birthing women for many years, I began to have a “hunch” about the importance of an optimal nesting time. I was also able to experience it first hand as I prepared for the birth of my 7th child a couple of years ago I write about the experience and how I created my nest in more detail here.
The short answer is that it changed who I am. While living it, I realized how huge it is, and started doing research about it and writing about it. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:
With the advances in technology - we now have never before known data on how an infant’s brain and emotional intelligence is formed from the beginning of its life. In a nutshell, during the prenatal time, the birth experience and the first few months of life, there is extreme “plasticity” of the brain. The neural connections are just beginning to happen and are firing at a phenomenal rate, a constant explosion of brain activity never matched again in life (these trillions of connections exceed those that you and I adults have, and will subside connecting at around 3 years old - after that, the existing connections are either strengthened or pruned away). These neural connections form the beginning of how this baby will think and feel about life, the world, and itself. During some of these times, there are also “windows” of opportunity that will never be open again after they close. For example, if a baby is born with congenital cataracts, successful surgery allowing the baby to see clearly can be done effectively only if performed before 3 months old. After this window closes, the chances of that person seeing clearly decrease significantly.
This makes me wonder what other things in the brain are so vulnerable and then so cemented at such early ages. The eye/vision thing is easily measurable. But what about things that are not so easy to measure such as the ability to love at a certain level, or the amount of trust that person will be capable of in its life. It is extremely possible that many of these foundational building blocks that are essential for a healthy fulfilling life, are formed during this sensitive time. It just makes sense. The first experiences a person has, shape that person. The epic question “Nature or Nurture” has now been answered fairly well in that these first experiences have a significant impact on shaping a person’s brain wiring. Scientifically speaking anyway (for more great information on “Primal Health”, visit Dr. Michel Odent’s website WombEcology where he explores the lifelong impact of early fetal life experience).
Historically, most other cultures have recognized the importance of the nest, where an honoring of a 40 day “laying in” time seems to have been the norm – the women within the tribes or villages would tend to and care for the new mother by feeding her good healing foods, massaging her daily, taking care of her household needs and sometimes, conducting public ceremonies that introduce motherbaby back into the group for the first time. In many cultures now, these practices still happen. Some countries have even instituted within their government systems, a fully supported postpartum care time both physically and financially. Within the systems that this policy is in place for, sometimes up to 3 years time, it’s not surprising that they have an economic superiority over the rest of the world, as well as an overall superiority within their infrastructure (quality education and social programs, lower mortality rates, etc.). Rainne Eisler writes about this topic in “The Real Wealth of Nations” - where she discusses the many benefits of instituting a “Caring Economics”.
The experiences a person has at the beginning of their life are critical in the development of that person, and on a mass scale, we need to realize that these experiences have a significant impact on a society. It’s important. To everyone.
What I found for myself as a mother during my nesting time, was such a huge loving space that seemed endless. I was able to really process the previous 9 months, I was able to assimilate the whole experience of labor and birth, of my changing body and my changing life. At the end of it, I really felt very prepared for my responsibility as Zara’s mother - and after such a long time of being in my nest, I felt ready to “get out” into life again. Even after going back to regular life, I kept my nest intact for as long as I could, loving that I had a safe, comfortable space for me and my baby anytime I wanted to go back to it. I felt for the first time after all of my other births, that I had fully completed the birth process. I never understood why I had felt so “empty” and vulnerable during the first few weeks postpartum all the other times I had given birth. It all makes sense to me now!
It also makes sense that a happy mother equals a happy baby - and what better way to have a happy mother than to give her a large block of time to do nothing but enjoy her baby and gently adapt into her new mother role. I saw the phrase “honoring confinement rituals” recently and love how this phrase conveys the spirit of this special time.
It’s a huge answer to the loss that so many women feel following a c-section or a birth that didn’t go according to the birth plan. Unlike the birth experience itself, a mother has total control over the creation of and the time spent in the nest. If these mothers had the nest to retreat into, it would be significant in helping them process their experience - not to mention giving them the recovery time they really need. Breastfeeding gets the very best start too and we all know how important that is.
By bringing back the Nest - we give the best to motherbaby.
Mother is honored, respected and revered in a very real practical way. Baby is respectfully welcomed and given the best possible start in its life within a safe loving nest that optimally, follows a safe, peaceful and empowering pregnancy and birth.
Just because this practice has been lost somewhere along the line (maybe when birth started moving into the hospitals?), that doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t still respect this time as much as we can. In fact, for all the same reasons so many of us birth workers have committed our life’s work to birth issues – the nest time deserves the same attention. It’s been the “missing link”, I believe, in our work as birth women and it’s time we start instituting it within our maternal care work. We’ve tended to separate prenatal care, birth and postpartum as different events. I’d like to offer that we begin to move towards a place of CONTINUITY of care where we treat the whole process as one event. Including a 40 day standard postpartum nest time. I can see many people blowing this off as impossible in our modern culture. But, sit with it for a while and see what your inner wise woman says – then start talking to HER about it! My guess is you’ll start seeing this in a new light. Soon, we can all begin to create a dialog about how we can creatively and realistically start instituting the Nest.
By honoring the Nest, we are giving our future a strong advantage in feeling secure and loved, which, compounded, may very well be the thing that will shift humanity into a true civilized state where all living things are treated equally and with respect, ushering in the evolution of our species that we have all been waiting for.