You have probably heard of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid ( if you haven’t here is a good introduction article)
Maslow was a psychologist who introduced the concept of the hierarchy of human needs as something that underpins motivation. This hierarchy suggests that people are motivated to fulfill basic needs before moving on to other, more advanced needs.
I’d like to introduce you to a version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs adapted to the postpartum.
Maslow’s theory dates back from 1943 and since it has been criticized to say that the needs depicted don’t necessarily come into an order as simple as this pyramid, and that they can be in any order. I personally feel that the needs described here are basic needs for any human to thrive, and even more important for a new mother during the first weeks post birth, whilst she learns to mother her infant and find her feet as a new mother.
I like this model because it is well known within the Western world, and because it can be helpful to help supporters visualise what the needs of a new mothers are, and see how these needs aren’t usually met in the modern world. With this model in mind it’s easy to see why a new mother needs to be at the centre of a circle of support to be able to thrive.
The most basic needs, the surviving needs of a new mother are the physiological needs for sleep, food, water, and warmth. I’ve also added bodywork because for me it is fundamental to help a new mother recover and heal faster. Postpartum bodywork used to be (or still is in many parts of the world) given as standard in every culture around the world. When you imagine trying to meet all these needs whilst caring for a new baby, it is easy to see it is almost impossible without support from others. This is why social support is so essential during the postpartum. Another adult in the house to cook, clean, tidy up, and hold the baby whilst the new mother sleep is a basic need, and not a luxury.
Feeling safe as a new mother only comes when there are enough resources, and enough support around so that her wellbeing and health doesn’t suffer. The need for safety is also met by community support, because it helps the new mother to regulate her emotions. Experienced mothers around her make a huge difference in terms of meeting the challenges of new motherhood.
The sense of belonging that comes from having loving relationships is much easier to meet when it is provided by friends, family and the community rather than just the partner as it tends to be in the Western world. Showering a new mother with loving attention and nurture goes a long way into helping her to recover after the pregnancy and birth.
Nurturing supporters make sure that they point out all the things that the new mother is doing right, rather than showering her with conflicting advice that undermines her flailing sense of competence
Sense of self
With all the bottom layers needs being met, the new mother can develop a healthy and strong sense of self in her new identity as a mother.
When you look at this pyramid, it is easy to see that, in our modern culture, the most basic survival needs aren’t usually met, let alone the more complex needs in the upper part of the pyramid.
If you know someone who is pregnant or who has recently given birth, I invite you to use this hierarchy of needs for the postpartum as a blueprint to offer them nurturing support.