To our great joy we have a new addition to our family, our second grandson was born in the USA 12 days ago. Needless to say we are all absolutely delighted. As you can see he is an absolute poppet, and I can’t wait to give him a cuddle.
When I have told Chinese friends about AMT’s arrival and how my DD and the baby are getting on, they are aghast. If my DD knew how she would be expected to behave in China during the postpartum period, I think she would be flabbergasted.
Here in China (as well as in Taiwan and Hong Kong) the ancient established custom of Zuo yuezi 坐月子 still holds sway. Zuo yuezi means ‘Sitting the Month’ and applies to the 30 days immediately after giving birth, and more-or-less means exactly that. The new mum (whether it is her first child or not) is expected to stay indoors at home and rest – with feet up. There are many rules as to what she can or cannot do.
- She must stay indoors for the whole time with few if any visitors apart from her mother-in-law (who is in charge) and her own mother.
- She should spend most of the time lying in bed.
- She should do no work, no housework, no lifting, cooking or anything like that.
- She should keep warm at all times, and this means wearing pyjamas or long-sleeved t-shirts and long trousers, thick socks(essential), and in winter a warm hat and gloves are advisable.
- Because she should keep warm, no air-conditioning or fans are permitted – even in the height of summer.
- She is not permitted to take baths or showers for the full 30 days.
- She is not permitted to wash her hair for the full 30 days. [Some die-hard practitioners say she should not even clean her teeth!]
- She should not read, watch TV or DVDs, send or receive text messages, take calls on her cell/mobile phone or a landline, play on her iPad. Listening to the radio or music is ok.
- Crying is not advisable during this time.
- She should only eat ‘warm’* foods such as chicken, mutton, pork, ginger, garlic, oats, walnuts, leeks, and pumpkin to counteract the ‘coldness’ of the postpartum month.
- She should not eat ‘cold’* foods such as fruit, raw vegetables, wheat, millet, crab, celery, cucumber, asparagus or seaweed. No spicy foods, no salt.
- She should drink plenty of lactation-stimulating soups made with ingredients such as pork trotters and peanuts, or fish with sesame oil, green papaya and goji berries.
- She should not drink cold fluids of any kind, warm liquids are best but tepid are tolerated.
- She must not take alcohol, caffeine or nicotine.
- Needless to say, no sex.
- She is advised to wear a post-natal girdle (which usually consists of about 10m of cotton fabric wound tightly round the belly area) in order to flatten the stomach.
- She should not cuddle the baby too much as that will encourage dependency, and the baby’s soft bones may not become as straight as they should be. (!)
- If she insists on breastfeeding the baby, she should do so lying down, with the baby placed beside her, rather than sitting up and cradling the baby on her lap.
During this period of time she will be instructed on how to care for the infant by her M-i-L and her mother.
These practices, which have been slightly amended for today’s world, go back to about the 1st century BC – apparently they are mentioned in the I Ching – and yet they are still observed by millions of women here and in the wider Chinese diaspora, though not all of them stick to all the rules listed above. I was curious as to why a modern young woman would decide to follow even part of such a very prescriptive regime in this day and age. After talking to as many Chinese women as I could and asking lots of questions I came to the following conclusions:
1. There may be a lot of pressure from the woman’s mother and/or mother-in-law to do so, and she wishes to please her husband’s family and her parents by doing the ‘correct’ thing. 2. She believes that, as TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) says, it will help her replace lost nutrients and regain her physiological balance after the birth. 3. Having been told repeatedly that if she does not do so, she will suffer health problems in later years, she doesn’t want to take a chance. This particular belief is widely held, I was told by one woman (now in her 50s) that her current foot problem was all because she had not bothered to wear socks during her Zuo yuezi 30 years previously.
Here in Beijing, as well as in Shanghai and Hong Kong, luxurious post-natal facilities have sprung up to serve the well-to-do mums who want to spend their Sitting the Month in what is akin to a 5* hotel, with qualified nurses to attend the new-borns, doctors on 24hr call, appropriate meals prepared and served and every whim catered for (as long as it doesn’t break the rules). These establishments charge up to US$ 500 per day, and for 30 days that amounts to quite a substantial sum to ensure that mum does nothing.
Having a new baby can be immensely tiring, and I would agree that in an ideal world (where you have someone to pick up the housekeeping chores ) having a week or two of quiet resting time after the birth allows both mother and baby to spend peaceful uninterrupted hours bonding and getting feeding well established – but no hair washing? no showers, no phone calls, no air-con in the heat of summer?
If I tried to suggest such a regime, I can imagine what my DD would say to me!
** To explain ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ foods is difficult; in Chinese food culture these terms do not refer to the temperature of the food. Every food is catagorised as being either ‘warm’ or ‘cold’ and depending on one’s age, stage and health, one should be eating the appropriate type of food. For example, foods that are considered ‘warm’ include: mutton, anchovies, chicken, ham, oats, pumpkin/squash, garlic, ginger, leeks, walnuts, cinnamon, soybean oil… so a slice of cold roast lamb is a ‘warm’ food, if you see what I mean. It’s a minefield.