Rice Paddy Birth and Other Lies We Tell Pregnant Women

(Photo found here)

Any pregnant woman has heard about it.  The rice paddy birth.  

It usually goes something like this:

"We make such a big deal about having babies in this country.  Classes, hospitals, pain, blah blah blah.  You know in country XYZ, women are working in the rice paddies and they just squat, give birth, pick the baby up and keep on working."

Really?  Is there video proof of this?

Actually, to be fair, women have probably done this. 

Women ARE strong.  Birth IS a natural function.  And rice paddy birth is not only possible but has almost definitely happened.

Still, I really don't like the rice paddy birth story.  Let me tell you why.

First, it implies that birth is so easy that we could/should just jump back into our regular lives as soon as possible.  And I  happen to think this is totally bogus.  (Did I just make it obvious that I am a born and bred California girl, or what?)

You know what I think the truth is?  I think if I asked a woman who had given birth in a rice paddy and kept on working WHY she did that the answer would be kind of sad.  I bet she did it because she HAD TO in order TO SURVIVE.

My guess is that women who have to resume work that quickly after giving birth do so out of necessity, not a burning desire to prove their empowerment.

Let me tell you another guess I have about this overworked woman.  I bet she is less likely to survive birth and I bet her baby is less likely to survive too.   

I have no doubt that a lifestyle filled with exercise, squatting and activity can make birth quicker and easier.  I also have no doubt that birth is still hard work, hard on the body, and is designed to have a recovery period.

Some things happen whenever a woman gives birth--

1)  She loses blood. 

She made extra blood while pregnant so she can handle this loss, but still, blood loss can be exhausting.  She will continue to lose blood for weeks.  My humble, unprofessional opinion?  She should rest until the loss of blood comes to a complete stop and her baby is nursing and growing well.  

2)  She has a 6-9 pound child come out of her vagina. 

I had a friend recently tell me that after having children she felt like a freight train had come out of her crotch. I certainly believe that the female body is amazing and is designed to give birth and all that jazz.  I have however actually given birth and I concur with the above statement.  To say the very least, things are sore for a while. 


3)  She must nurture a baby outside of her body. 

This requires her to feed constantly a growing child for a little while.  The new baby needs mama all the time.  Mama must feed this baby constantly and so must also feed herself and stay rested so she can provide adequate care.  Being immediately and outrageously active is not necessarily conducive to either healing a body or feeding a baby. 
~~
When I talk to people from other cultures about how they honor the time of birth, I never hear stories about being at Walmart two days post-partum to buy toilet paper. 

What I do hear are women being taken care of, surrounded with love and family.  I hear about special diets, nutritious foods, and limits on when she is allowed to even leave her bed or her baby. 

And what I see underlying this reverence and care given to a woman when she has just given birth is also a reverence for birth, for babies and for the real work it is to bring life into the world.  A time of recovery and rest after birth is not unusual for women.  It shows that people the world over valued this time and saw the importance of taking it seriously so that both mom and baby could survive and thrive. 

I see something quite different when Western women are expected to jump right back into their "normal" life as soon as possible after having a baby.  I see a culture that doesn't value childbirth or the childbearing time.  I see a people who expect women to have  even surgery and then be fully functional within days.  I see a country that does not recognize or value the real work that is involved in motherhood or birth. 

Before you get upset and tell me how FABULOUS you felt after your natural birth, let me say this.  I have had natural births too and seen many other women have them.  A great birth IS often followed by a period of euphoria and energy.  In my experience it lasts a few days. 

In my experience though too- if you over-do it in those first few days when you are on your "birth high" you will pay for it later and it can cause your recovery to literally take weeks longer.

So let's stop discounting the work, the energy and yes, even the pain, that can be involved just after giving birth.  Instead let's reverence these few weeks and take them to rest, recover, and nurture our babies AND ourselves.  I think we could see some incredible improvements in both postpartum female recovery, breastfeeding rates, and even baby contentment. 

Birth in peace mama. 

And then take a nap. 

Comments

Kimberly O. said…
Only with my second baby did I get to take a break. And it was short lived. I would have loved a full blown "4th trimester" of laying around with my baby and nursing and resting. Unfortunately, that wasn't an option. After my first birth, my daughters natural father was back to work within 72 hours and I watched his other two kids. With my second and third, I had only 10 days with my husband home and then I was forced back into daily life. But with my second, it was so much easier....I had a 4 year old who was pretty independent and didn't need my help to do much and then a newborn.

It IS tiring and I wish we had more of a "it takes a village" mentality, and I wasn't so separated from my family who would help out when they could.

I do have to say though, I felt much better physically after my last birth than I did with any of my previous births...sure, I was tired, and had to deal with getting my kid off to school and then have a newborn and toddler at home, but it all seemed a little more doable than I had anticipated.
mamamia said…
Hear! Hear! And I have birthed 11 babies and I agree wholeheartedly!
I wish there was more help for new mamas and their families. I admit to being just a little bit jealous of other cultures who revere babies and new mothers.
Alanna said…
Just a few days after I had my 3rd kid, my in-laws invited us over for dinner. My Mom had arrived to help out, and so my father-in-law was asking what we'd been up to during the last few days, like he expected us to be out sightseeing or something. I gave him my most blank stare and said, "Well... I gave birth. I thought that was enough."

He quickly shut up.
Mommy Baby Spot said…
YES! (btw I love Alanna's response to her FIL). I wish we had a true 4th trimester...I bet PPD and PTSD would go down as well as postpartum problems because we're doing too much (like pulling over our toddlers or lifting all sorts of craziness) a few days after pushing a person out of our bodies.
With my second, I was finishing my last semester of my BA and gave birth the Friday before Thanksgiving Break...missed Mon and Tues of classes, wrote papers over break and was back in school wearing baby the following Monday (so a bit over a week). I was living with my parents and did NOT get to rest or recover like I should have...I'm still tired 4 mos later and having a few postpartum problems (like prolapse) that I think is partially due to me not taking it easy.
But, I did finally graduate after working at it for 10 years YAY!
Misty Pratt said…
Oh, the rice paddy birth story! Heard it so many times. Yes, I'd like some proof that this actually exists. I've also heard the "just squat by a tree and birth" story from Africa too. Many, many cultures take time to pamper their mothers, and I think unless it is extreme poverty or war that is preventing this from happening, most women will take a rest period.
NOELLE ALOUD said…
"My guess is that women who have to resume work that quickly after giving birth do so out of necessity, not a burning desire to prove their empowerment."

I think you hit the nail on the head with this one. Also, I've never really understood what's supposed to be empowering about immediately resuming one's work or "normal life" after birth. Acting like nothing happened? That's empowering? I don't buy it.
Erin said…
I have midwifed in Bali Indonesia along-side the rice paddies. Outside midwives come in and criticize because we "make" mothers stay for 48 hours with their first baby and second+ time moms at least 24 hours. Why do we "make" them? For one, to make sure breastfeeding is going well. But also, because otherwise, they'd be home cooking, cleaning, sewing, rice, making offerings, etc. Women's work. I remember one mother who had a wonderful easy birth and just loved her 2 days with her new baby and seemed so sad to leave. Why? Because the next day she had to be back at work climbing and picking over mountains of trash in the dump.... at 3 days postpartum.
The symbolic rice-paddy birth is there, just in a little clinic, where poor mothers have no postpartum as soon as they leave. Comparing this to most other mothers is comparing apples to oranges. And it is not a birth or postpartum any woman should have.
Mama Birth said…
Thank you all for your perspective and experience!
Jennie Carter said…
My four children were born (in the UK) between 1970 and 1977, when things were very different to how they are now. When I was expecting my fourth baby, and was at an ante natal class, the midwife was explaining that she would visit every day for ten days after the baby was born. One of the women asked when she could start going out with her baby, and was told that she could go out when she liked, but "when you haemmorhage, my dear, don't call me!"
We were expected to stay at home until the tenth day, and rest, and most importantly, bond with our babies. We were not expected to stay in bed, as our mothers had been, but it was recognized that we had been through an exhausting and life changing experience, and that we deserved and needed to be cared for during this time. This is one instance where I think things have not changed for the better.
Nika M. said…
Last year, I went into pre-term labor during my 5th month. The baby was obviously much smaller than a full term birth would have been, but I still went through a horribly painful labor. My doctor tried to send me back to work THE NEXT DAY.
Mama Eve said…
Thank you so much for writing this. The myth of women squatting and returning to work has been used to shame women for resting after childbirth as well as an excuse to justify the miserable maternity leave we have in the U.S.

In reality, the only women who ever give birth and return immediately to work are those who are poor, marginalized, or enslaved. It happened to slaves in America, and it happens to the impoverished women in the developing world far too often.

Traditional cultures revere childbirth and give women time to rest and recuperate, often with special treatment and food to help them recover. In rural Thailand, where my mother is from, and other Asian cultures, new mothers are given a special hut with a fire that is always tended, and they are given nourishing soups and teas to ensure milk comes in and their bodies heal. It has nothing to do with being weak or strong, but with how we view labor, birth, and newborns.
Jen W said…
Yes, like you said if these "rice paddy" births did occur it was out of necessity. Usually when we hear these stories they are linked to Asian countries. In reality a woman who gave birth in China and had some amount of money and family support was not allowed to even let her feet touch the ground after giving birth for weeks. It was all about her recovery and taking care of her newborn baby. This is how it should be...ok, my feet may have to touch the ground occasionally:)
It is different for every woman, and ideally, we should all be honored to do what's right for us postpartum.
What if we supported and allowed each woman to make the best choices for her, rather than pressure to conform? That's what I would ideally like to see, along with a whole lot more eduction about what is actually involved in all the phases of conception, pregnancy, and parenting.
K said…
If I don't get up and do it, no one will. I have been in the store a couple days postpartum, multiple times. I had my tenth baby less than two weeks ago. I've already put a couple hundred miles on ky car running around. Today I'm baking, tomorrow I have a pp appt (earlier than usual due to pre-eclampsia), a weight and color check and pku for the baby and then I will drive 6 hours to see my oldest and introduce her to her brother. The closest thing I get to a babymoon is laying down for an hour or so in the afternoons if I am lucky. I am not superwoman, I am tired, I'd love to lay around and stare at my baby all day unfortunately life doesn't stop because I've had a baby. The mire babies you have, the less help you get. Counterintuituve but true.
I love this post. I had heard that so much, what mother's in other countries did and what I should expect after a natural birth. Even in the Bradley books they talk about women handwalking down the hallway after birth. So when I had my daughter, naturally at home, hemorraghed, and then barely had the energy to go to the bathroom for a week; I felt like a failure. In fact, I still do. I can't shake it. I was fit, healthy, lifting and running and all of the things that made people ooh and ahh, I was supposed to get up out of the tub and carry my baby girl back to bed. Instead my husband had to carry me; too weak and woozy to make it around the couch, let alone down the hallway. Our expectations greatly color our experiences and I wish I had expected to need rest, to deserve rest, instead of looking at it as a weakness.
melkhorn said…
I agree that there should be a rest period and that very few respect that these days...after months of saying I wouldn't do it, I somehow agreed to move immediately following my son' s birth. My husband had been livivg 3 hours away, preparing a house for our family and my in laws were in town working on the house with q limited amount of time left. When I was 41 weeks I started getting serious pressure to induce because of this. No one wanted to continue to wait around any longer. Then I got the low fluid story from my Dr and caved to the induction(still no pain mess though). The hospital was awful and I pushed to get out asap do they would leave me alone. We left at 24hours and drove the 3hours to our new home. So I literally moved 24 hours after giving birth. And to top it off, I was left alone the next day to care for myself, my newborn and my 4 year old in a new house with all unpacked boxes. Talk about working right away! I did feel good after my north, but I still can't believe my family expected so much of me. No rest. I was just at the point where I was too worn out/down to protest...and I couldn't take them all on. I really wish I had been given time to rest and bond. Thankfully, my mother came two weeks later to take care of me.
Tori said…
BEST POST EVER!!! After having my first naturally, I tried to act like everything was fine and I went back "to work" about a week after (my husband is a youth pastor and assists the pastor at our church, it's rather large and I help him a lot) I suffered physically and mentally (with lots of bleeding, exhaustion and pain and PPD). After my second natural birth, my mom stayed with me for 2 weeks and literally did everything. Even after she left I rested a lot and didn't take part in all of my normal activities. Didn't go grocery shopping for a month! I feel so great (I'm at 8wks postpartum today) and mentally clear and no ppd. Loving life, and my midwife for making me sit on my butt and be taken care of for awhile! :)
apaigeatatime said…
I love this! I did feel amazing after my natural birth, but I also had an amazing husband and family that pampered me and made sure I took it easy in the days following my daughter's birth. I think women put so much pressure on themselves to do and have it all, but there are many times when have to just let ourselves be taken care of and birth is one of those times.
SStoddard said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
SStoddard said…
As much as I hated having to resort to a c~section after 30 hours of labor with a baby that wouldn't drop, the 5 day hospital stay was heavenly. All I had to do was lay around and nap, eat, and, nurse my baby. My husband or the nurses even changed all the diapers. I don't think I would have gotten/taken that kind of rest at home. Mixed blessings?
momto5 said…
i could have sworn i posted a comment here. i was one of those mamas who was at walmart about 24 hours after my oldest was born. i used it as some sort of badge of honor... look i can give birth and it "wasn't a big deal". but the thing is, is it is a big deal. because i did that once, it was expected every single time after that. i had to FIGHT with my last two to get a few days to just chill. i wish i had made it a priority with all 6 babies. because why the hell shouldn't i get a couple days/weeks to be just able BE, and get to know this new person.
if it is at all possible EVERY mom should have at least a week to have people do all the stuff she normally does while she lays in bed most of the day nursing the baby and reading a book (or what ever she wants).
Tom and Juli said…
My mom always jokes that after the birth of babies (she had 6 c-sections) is the only time she ever wished she was a polygamist because she sure could use some sister wives to take care of the other kids and clean the house and make her meals. haha.

I shared this on fb, I wish more women wouldn't push their bodies so hard. I just had a friend who is 2 weeks PP say that she has lost 20 lbs since the birth and wants to lose 20 more in the next 2 weeks. The thought of her putting that much stress on her and her body makes me sad. Where are our priorities these days? t
SStoddard, I am sorry to hear you ended up having a cesarean, I had a 36hr labor with my first and it's rough, that being said I hated the hospital and not being able to do anything at all on my own, not even change a diaper, go to the bathroom, or breastfeed without extra hands and interference. It caused me HUGE PPD. This and many other reasons are why we had our last two babies at home with my husband delivering. My labors were hard and I both agree and disagree with this post. I agree that having babies is extremely taxing on the woman and they need to be able to rest when wanted; HOWEVER, if they want to be out and about they should be able to be. I am a very active person and I was back at work three days after one and 2 days after another, I work at a horse barn and though the work while I'm there is shoveling and lifting and other such physical labor, it is only a few hours, and I can bring my family with me. I was outside just hours after my third to care for my chickens (I run a small poultry farm) and it is not because I am a slave or I had to do it, it was because I wanted to. I love what I do and everyone was napping and I wanted to go work a bit. I agree that we are not 100% and it is harder then anything else we are likely to do but I don't like being forced to rest, and treated as if I don't know my own limitations.
Maria said…
My home is the modern day rice paddy then. My husband took a week off work & slept in after our third child was born. He was born Wed. afternoon and Fri morning I was driving all 3 to take DD to school because he didn't get up. Two hours after his birth, I was carrying laundry baskets & emptying the dishwasher.
Robin said…
I am so grateful for this insight! I have had 9 beautiful natural home births, each time it took it's toll because of judgement and lack of support. i struggled with post-partum depression as a result and believe it is because of a lack of rest and self nurture. I bought into that "rice paddy" model and in my youth, (it has been going around a long time)it cost me dearly! I am a grandma now and I cherish the time I can get to nurture and care of my kids when they are going through it. the trick is to help without judgement and advice. they will do life the way that is right for them and you are only there to help. Let whatever happens be okay and don't create drama, the drama of a new life in the family is enough to deal with for everyone, granny and her "stuff" needs to stay home. Cheers
babycatcher said…
As a homebirth midwife, I have a protocol I ask new mothers to follow: stay in bed with the baby for the first five days, only leaving the bed to use the toilet or shower before returning to bed to rest. For the next five days, stay around the bed, sitting in a chair or sofa in the bedroom, and getting into the bed to nurse and nap. For the third stretch of five days, stay near the bed; take most meals with the rest of the family, begin to receive select, short visits from friends and family, and return to the bed to nap at least once daily.

I always have this conversation with Mom in the presence of her spouse and any family that has arrived to help. Then, I explain that the investment in rest in the immediate two postpartum weeks pays off in dividends in the months to come in terms of reduced incidence of postpartum morbidities: pain and/or improper healing of vaginal/perineal lacerations, hemorrhage, uterine prolapse, mastitis, PPD, and failure-to-thrive or slow-gaining newborn. When I explain it this way, it seems like serious business to keep the new mother in bed and resting.

Sadly, some new mothers suffer from lack of necessary rest and recovery when they do not have family who can or will come, or community to pitch in and bring food or assistance so she can rest with her babe. Many do not have the funds to pay a postpartum doula. This is a support network that is sorely lacking in our culture.
babycatcher said…
As a homebirth midwife, I have a protocol I ask new mothers to follow: stay in bed with the baby for the first five days, only leaving the bed to use the toilet or shower before returning to bed to rest. For the next five days, stay around the bed, sitting in a chair or sofa in the bedroom, and getting into the bed to nurse and nap. For the third stretch of five days, stay near the bed; take most meals with the rest of the family, begin to receive select, short visits from friends and family, and return to the bed to nap at least once daily.

I always have this conversation with Mom in the presence of her spouse and any family that has arrived to help. Then, I explain that the investment in rest in the immediate two postpartum weeks pays off in dividends in the months to come in terms of reduced incidence of postpartum morbidities: pain and/or improper healing of vaginal/perineal lacerations, hemorrhage, uterine prolapse, mastitis, PPD, and failure-to-thrive or slow-gaining newborn. When I explain it this way, it seems like serious business to keep the new mother in bed and resting.

Sadly, some new mothers suffer from lack of necessary rest and recovery when they do not have family who can or will come, or community to pitch in and bring food or assistance so she can rest with her babe. Many do not have the funds to pay a postpartum doula. This is a support network that is sorely lacking in our culture.
K said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kory said…
Thank you for this! I love my mother dearly, but she has told me a million times how she got up and cooked thanksgiving dinner hours after she had me and left the hospital hours after having each child to return to normal life.

With my first I had a c-section and it honestly scared her, so she gave me a break. Because of this I wasn't prepared for the pressure she put me under after the vbac with my second. It was constant, we need to go do this and that and acting like I was depriving my older daughter by not getting her out of the house more and at one point, maybe a week post partum?? I found myself at a carnival, standing in the hot sun, bleeding like nobody's business and almost fainted. I had to sit in the grass behind a ride to try to find shade (I was a might surprised how few people were wiling to give up a seat for a woman in obvious distress with a newborn strapped to her chest) My teeny tiny baby was roasting in the sun and we were both miserable and my mom kept telling my older child we could do 'just one more thing' that 'your mama can wait that long'. Like I was being unreasonable. Impatient.

I'm not sure I've EVER been so mad at my mom.

I went grocery shopping, I went to the park. And my recovery was forever long... I became depressed and angry and resentful.

This time around I am determined to take it easy. To prepare as much as possible and make things as easy as I can so that those first few weeks can be about me being home with my beautiful children recovering and adjusting instead of trying to do everything and please everyone.
Julie Brown said…
I don't want to discount giving child birth at all, and know everyone's experience is different. I have given birth to 3 kids- all without medication. In my 3rd pregnancy, I was in the best shape of my life, and I continued to exercise and eat very healthy the whole time. When I gave birth to her, my labor was under 3 hours, super easy, and she came out without tearing me at all. I felt just slightly tender down there, and felt quite great. The hardest part was when nursing, the cramps it caused to shrink my uterus back up. Other than that I felt amazing! Staying at the hospital was annoying because I felt so good. The day I came home from the hospital, I was out in the yard doing light yard work! I was sure to take it easier than normal because I didn't want to hemorrhage. But at that point I really believed that I could have been out on the plains walking with hand carts, give birth and keep going! So I do believe some of those women could actually do that sort of thing if they were healthy enough. But I don't think they would be able to work at the level they were before pregnancy, but could work. I don't think It's right to criticize women or pressure them in any way. No one knows how you feel except you. I felt great and didn't want people to tell me to not do things when I felt perfectly fine. Same with if someone is not feeling well, to tell them they should be doing more. Such a personal thing and we should respect them to make those kinds of choices for themselves. :) Thanks for the fun article!
Tim Sans said…
You must lead an interesting life
Tim Sans said…
No! This is very very true.
I am Zimbabwe and we tell our women do and they do.
Aside, they not use tree that would be weak women and Zimbabwe women Strong
Tim Sans said…
Why you be lying on us like that?
Tim Sans said…
6! Mrs. Gambino are you on drugs?