Closing the bones is a postpartum ritual that is designed to help nurture and heal a new mother. It usually involves a massage followed by a tightening of scarves around several points on the body. Depending on the culture it can also incorporate bathing and sweating rituals. At its heart, it is a process to bring the mother back to herself after the birth.
I first learnt Mexican and Ecuadorian versions about 10 years ago. Doing research over this time has shown me that it is not restricted to South America, and is present around the world. In this article I share the countries in which I have found versions of this ritual ,along with links illustrating this.
It makes sense to have the same practice around the world, because the changes new mothers undergo are the same regardless of culture. During pregnancy, the body undergoes tremendous modifications to accommodate the growing baby: the pelvis tilts and widens, the spine curvature increases, the abdomen stretches to accommodate the growing uterus, which in turn also pushes all the internal abdominal organs up. The ribs also flare up to make room for this. During the birth the pelvis opens. Then after the birth all of this has to happen in reverse: the uterus shrinks back to its pre-pregnancy size, and the abdominal organs descend back into place.
Closing the bones rituals are designed to provide much needed nurturing, as well as speed up the healing process on a physical, emotional and energetic/spiritual level. New mothers are very open, as the bones and soft tissues are stretched and loose after the birth. On the physical level, the massage and the tightening helps to move the tissues around and support the process of moving from opening to closure.
New mothers are also open emotionally and spiritually, and the tightening of scarves around the body helps on this level too. The wrapping helps us feel the contour of our bodies, provides a sense of being contained, and brings us back to ourselves. On an energetic and spiritual level, the ritual helps new mothers come back to themselves, and provide a much needed space to process the complex feelings and emotions that can accompany new motherhood.
- The Mexican postpartum ritual that I learnt from Mexican midwife Naoli Vinaver includes a full body massage, followed by a steam bath (called a Temazcal), a period of sweating under blankets, and finally the tightening with rebozos around 7 points on the body.
- I learnt the closing the bones ritual from Dr Rocio Alarcon.
- The ritual involves a rocking of the pelvis with a rebozo (or Manta as its called in Ecuador), followed by a massage of the abdomen, chest and arms, and then the tightening of scarves around the pelvis (or around several points around the body)
- Gabi Pezo, a doula from Ecuador also shares this comment: Closing of the Bones (Encaderamiento) Fajada is something that has been practised for millenia in Ecuador. In rural parts of my country (Ecuador) Traditional Midwives have done this.
- My friend Laura Leongomez, a doula from Colombia told me the following: I learned this technique in Colombia where it is practised by different indigenous groups and traditional Afro-Colombian communities.
- Laura also introduced me to the Chumbe belt which is used during menstruation, pregnancy and the postpartum and was the inspiration for my womb belts.
- I have heard accounts of various versions being practised in most countries in South America.
- In an old midwifery book I found this reference to the use of a binder during the postpartum
- “The binder should consist of a piece of stout calico, or other strong material, about 18 inches wide and 4 feet long. When applied, the lower border should reach a hand’s breadth below the widest part of the hips and should be drawn tightly and fastened securely with a safety pin or long straight pin, so that it may not work up above the hips. The middle part of the binder must be made sufficiently tight to give a sense of support, but the upper border should be rather lose as to not interfere with the patient’s respiration. The binder is used merely to give external support to the loose abdominal wall.”
- I found reference to postnatal binding in an old medical dictionary, which talks about applying cotton on the belly then a bandage around the whole belly.
- I have also talked to Doula Celia , who has done extensive research and found evidence of a European version of closing the bones, called Le soin des matrones (Matrones being the equivalent of traditional midwives). Here is an article that describes this treatment, (use google translate or AI for translation from French into your language). It includes a steam bath, a full body massage, and tightening of a cloth around the pelvis.
- Dutch friends mentioned an old fashioned binder called sluitlakens, and acquired such a wrap myself. It looks a lot like the traditional Malaysian binding, which is perhaps not surprising given the historical colonisation of Malaysia by the Duch.
- A massage therapist friend has worked there and found reference to it being practised in the past
- Odile Tresch, an ancient Greece historian, mentions a traditional Greek postpartum belt. She has teamed up with a French seamstress to recreate it and she offers training in using it.
- I attended a workshop in London with Layla B who explained and demonstrated the process. The wrapping is preceded by some time in the traditional wet room/steam bath (called a Hammam), and the scarves used are called Kourziyas. I have also found reference to the Moroccan tradition in the thesis of French midwife Juliette Danis
- I was the doula of a Somalian mother and her mother showed me how to do the binding after birth. I also met a Somalian midwife who told me the traditional shawl, called a Garbasar, is used in very much the same way as rebozos.
- I met a new mother who told me of steam baths, vaginal steaming, and binding done with the sarong type fabric used to carry babies
- I have also found accounts of it in Ivory Coast, South Africa, and Uganda (from books, blog posts, and articles)
- The closing the bones massage and wrapping is done using Fouta towels (similar to Turkish towels)
- I massaged a new mother from Mauritius. Her grandmother was present and she told me the practice back home was quite similar to what I did.
- An Israeli doula told me of finding out it was practised back home after learning the practise with me
- This article shows closing the bones with cloths done in a very similar way to the Mexican ritual.
- There is a similar practice to the Mexican closing which is called seven locks. The text is in Russian but you can see the process in the video.
- I have massaged several Indian mothers who told me of similar practises.
- The Bengkung belly binding treatment involves a massage, herbal paste applied to the belly and binding of the hips and belly with a long cloth.
- A similar massage/binding combos called Jamu which origin from Malaysia is found in most of SouthEast Asia (Hong Kong, and Singapore in particular)
- My husband is from Hong Kong and when I visited I found out that the Jamu massages are available in packages of 5, 10, 15 and 20 massages during the postpartum. My mother in law also showed me how she had been shown how to wrap herself with a towel in the hospital after she gave birth.
- A mother who gave birth in Thailand told me how they wrapped her in the hospital the day after her caesarean.
- I have also found evidence of uterine massage and binding in Vietnam (from midwife Juliette Danis’s thesis), and in Thailand, Cambodia and Burma wrapping (scientific papers)
- The binder used which is called a Sarashi.
Here is a couple of other overview articles that cover the same overview topic as this blog post:
I hope you find this as inspiring as I did, and if you know of other countries or stories, I would love you to share them so I can add them to this post.