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Some Weird Things Chinese Women Do After Giving Birth

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Chinese postpartum womanAbout two months ago my friend Zeng gave birth to a baby daughter. Just like most Chinese girls she wanted to have a child immediately after getting married but there were some medical problems and it took few years before she finally became mother.

When I called to congratulate her, she just had finished the “zuo yue zi” (坐月子) – one month period from the childbirth during which Chinese young mothers follow a long list of strict rules.

“Jiaqi*, never again!” – complained Zeng – “I don’t care about the pain of delivery, but zuo yue zi… that’s too much”

* – Jiaqi is my Chinese name

Of course, I know the customs to which postpartum women in China obey, but I was curious to hear more from someone who just experienced them firsthand. What was so terrible about them?

Well… in Zeng’s case she was forced to abide by the following rules:

  • Immediately after giving birth she had to constantly wear a hat or some other cover to keep her head warm.
  • Because Zeng had Caesarean section – during the whole month she wasn’t allowed to leave her bed except going to toilet.
  • No matter how hot it was getting in the evening she was prohibited from exposing her hands or feet and had to keep them under the blanket.
  • First food was given to Zeng only after she was able to “break wind” for the first time (… I’m not sure if I chose the right euphemism for that :smile: )
  • My friend left the hospital after 5 days. Before being “transported” back home she was carefully wrapped with multiple layers of clothes. And upon arrival home she, of course, was immediately put to bed again.
  • Zeng’s mother-in-law didn’t let her to eat with the rest of the family and the food was brought straight to her bed.
  • Wash hair – forbidden; taking shower – forbidden; wash hands, feet and face – no, no, no…

“I was really weak and felt so hot – especially after eating. I felt that in the evening my clothes were completely wet. But I wasn’t allowed to use air-conditioner or even small electrical fan.” – continued my friend – “You know, since I couldn’t wash my feet, I developed some rash. It was so itchy, I hardly could stand. Only after two weeks, when I really couldn’t bear it anymore, my mom helped me to wash my feet.”

But you might be quite surprised that in the end Zeng rationalized her experience in the following way: “I think that because I abided by these rules, I will have less diseases in the old age.”

<…>

Chinese believe that women following the tradition of “zuo yue zi” later will have less health problems. I asked some other friends of mine how they behaved during that period. Most confirmed that they didn’t wash hair for 2 weeks and didn’t take shower for 3 weeks. And their opinion on the usefulness of such procedures was almost unanimous – “Some rules are questionable, but it’s better to put up with this hardship for a month and avoid serious health problems in the future.”

And here are some other prescriptions and explanations regarding the post-birth period which I gathered from different sources:

  • Drinking tea is not allowed because it might harm an infant and make him/her cry without any visible reason.
  • If woman doesn’t stay in bed for the whole month (and some even recommend to prolong it for the period of 45 days) and gets up or makes any kind of exercise – it can result in the prolapse of uterus.
  • Chinese women use a special bandage (more than 10 meters long and 30-40 cm wide) to tightly wrap their belly so that it becomes flat again as soon as possible.
  • Instead of taking shower women clean themselves with the mixture of hot water, alcohol and salt. Towel or other cloth is soaked in this solution and used to wipe the body.
  • Only boiled water (after it cools down) is used to brush teeth or wash face.
  • It’s not just that air conditioner and fan are prohibited – one can’t even open the window. Break this rule and in the old age you’ll have arthritis and migraines.
  • Women are not allowed to breastfeed in the sitting posture. Instead they have to lie on the side and the baby is put next to mother’s breast.
  • All fun activities, like reading or watching TV are limited. Disobedience is “punished” with the prospect of eye diseases.
  • There are also many dietary restrictions which vary in their strictness. No cold food. No sour-tasting food. Some exclude from their ratio raw vegetables and fruits. And most orthodox even refrain from drinking water (the main source of liquid being soup).

There is, however, one happy exception: sex is allowed!

If you ask me whether I am going to abide by these rules myself, I will say that it mostly depends on who will take care of me during my “zuo yue zi”. If it is my future [non-Chinese] mother-in-law – then I will escape from most of them (probably, being forced into some alternative ones in exchange :smile: ). But if it’s my mother… well, I will have some hard times.

By the way, I was kidding about sex. Of course, it is forbidden during “zuo yue zi”.

 

Not passed yet through her share of Chinese woman’s hardships, Crystal Tao

  • http://wanderingamericantravelblog.blogspot.com/ WanderingAmerican

    Oh man! Crystal pulled a fast one on me! I was about to ask who would want to have sex with a woman who hadn’t showered for a month. :mrgreen:

    • http://www.lovelovechina.com Crystal

      I wonder if Jen is going to follow the tradition of “zuo yue zi”. I assume that, at least partially, she will.

      • http://wanderingamericantravelblog.blogspot.com/ WanderingAmerican

        :shock: Oh noOooooooooooooooOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooooooOOOoooooooooooooo…….

  • http://chinahopelive.net Joel

    I just read part of this to my wife, who also had a c-section, and she said the rule about “breaking wind” (you can say “fart”, or “pass gas” if you want to be polite, but “break wind” will do! ;-) ) was followed in our Canadian hospital as well. it’s because during a c-section your insides get moved all around, and it can damage your digestive system. They don’t want to give you any food until they know that your digestive system is working again.

    I had no idea. I’d never heard of the breaking wind rule until I read your blog, and it sure sounded like crazy Chinese tradition to me!

    • Amilie Stear

      when I had appendicitis, I had surgery in China. Afterwards they wouldn’t feed me til I broke wind, I went 2 days without actual food, just vitamins being pumped into me. And I was refused pain killers. My closing scar was treated with 中药 which are literally herbs and bits of wood and mushrooms. My husband is Chinese and I am sure when we have kids I will go back to England to have them!

  • http://chinahopelive.net Joel

    By the way, is it 坐月子 or 做月子? My dictionary says it’s 坐。

    • http://www.lovelovechina.com Crystal

      You are right.
      I typed too fast the pinyin and didn’t pay attention to the mistake.
      Thanks for correcting.

  • http://laowaiink.weebly.com Mark

    After my wife gave birth, she did the body wrapping, drinking a lot of special soup, and staying in bed as much as possible for the first month, but none of the more superstitious actions, like no reading, no hair washing, etc. She just was very careful about her body after the birth and now she looks better than she ever did. She admitted that a lot of Chinese traditions following birth are based on superstition and some of the things her friends were required to do by their mothers were just outlandish. But at any rate, a woman is very tender after birth and too much care and superstition is better than too little.

  • Bored in Melbourne

    I guess some of these traditions are based on real evidence but a lot sound like rubbish.

    Sex is always going to be off the menu for about a month after a baby in my experience because too much else has been going on down there. Some recovery time is required.

    In terms of ridding your body of the baby belly I think getting rid of the old story about eating for 2 is a good start. Eating too much when you are pregnant is just making you fat. The doctors told us when we were expecting our child that the mother’s body becomes more efficient and extracts more of the nutrients from what she is already eating so there is very little need to eat extra. I have noticed a lot of women seem to use pregnancy as an excuse to let themselves go, and later either never lose the weight or struggle to lose the weight later, exercise is not so easy while nursing a young child.
    The other factor in recovering your shape that my partner told me is breast feeding. Apart from being the natural and most healthy and convenient option for Mum and baby (no need to buy formula which is only a fake version of the nutrient in breast milk, no need to carry and sterilise bottles). But she also told me that especially in the early days of feeding soon after delivery she felt a huge contraction in her belly. The mid wife said it was caused by the hormones in her body which was designed to pull the muscles and organs back into place after the baby, with the breast feeding giving her body the trigger to start this action. Of course the huge energy drain on her body to produce the breast milk used up the extra fat she had gained during the pregnancy and soon she was in the previous shape while still eating well and not exercising a lot. Often nature provides a better solution than human intervention.

    I am sure that the over done traditions post childbirth in China originate from the ability to stop work and be pampered as a sign of wealth and family support. The peasants in the field who drop babies and carry on working might get health problems later in life but that is most likely related to a poor diet and a very tough life working outside in the winter and summer heat.

    Time to question these traditions before you are subjected to them Crystal.

    • CapnKernel

      “ding” what Bored in Melbourne said. China is so proud of having rid Chinese culture of “feudalistic superstition”, yet this crap continues.

      — Also in Melbourne, but not bored :twisted:

  • Steve

    Some people may be surprised to learn that about 50-60 years ago new mothers stayed in the hospital for at least a week, usually longer, in the United States. Eventually the insurance companies decided that it was too expensive to have mothers in the hospital for so long, and only agreed to pay for three days. Doctors were furious and sure that there would be terrible repercussions.
    To everyone’s surprise, the women recovered faster when they left the hospital and got back on their feet sooner. Quite some time ago the insurance companies decided it was too expensive for mothers to be in the hospital so long and decided to only pay for 1 day. Again everyone, including doctors, feared the worst, and again were surprised to find that mothers recovered even faster. Today many new mothers leave a few hours after delivery, and are still doing just fine.

  • Teacher in China

    This makes me think of another wacky Chinese traditional belief about glasses. Don’t wear glasses, they make your eyes bug out of your head! I’ve heard tons of my students say that, as well as a Chinese-American I work with. I laugh at all the fools I see walking around squinting. It’s funny because they can tell I’m a foreigner but they can’t see me clearly enough, so I get the “squinty stare”, which makes them look quite retarded. Some old traditions need to be shot down, asap.

    • Bored in Melbourne

      This one could be the observation of a simple person who did not understand the magnification of the lens and thought that the larger appearing eyes of someone with heavy magnification glasses was caused by their eyes being drawn out. Never underestimate the capacity for stupid people to come to the wrong conclusion

      • Anne lu

        Actually no. Lens make some people’s eyes shift positions, you know some people who look at you but you thought that they were looking at someone else? It’s caused by wearing thick lens.But I don’t think Chinese do that anymore, millions of people wearing glasses right now and the number’s increasing.

  • korean_guy

    Chinese are the most superstitious people on earth. It baffles me the things they believe and do.

    • Bored in Melbourne

      I totally agree, but what makes it worse is the intelligent people who really should know better after still follow the most crazy beliefs.

      Having said that I have sometimes let myself be partially convinced of some of the ‘good luck’ mumbo jumbo

    • Anne

      Such overestimation! but not so weird coming from a Korean guy. Most superstitious people on Earth? then you probably haven’t got a chance to travel around. Most countries in the Middle East, groups of Native Americans, even some European countries are just as superstitious as Chinese, or perhaps more so.

  • ThomasR

    Nearly all of the things you describe as being part of 坐月子 sound actually harmful to the mother’s health.

    I feel terrible that Chinese women have to deal with such, hmm, superstitious traditions.

    Hopefully someday the harmful parts of 坐月子 will go the way of 缠足.

    • Anne

      totally, I can’t stand the thought of not taking a shower for weeks. They have another tradition, women can’t wash their hair or take shower when they are having their period. And they don’t tell us what the problem is if they do, just that something bad will happen.

  • Mick

    These silly practices have no scientific basis and defy common sense. Nevertheless, they may play a useful ‘placebo’ role in preventing post-natal depression by encouraging Chinese women to believe they are doing the right thing. Western women have very high rates of post-natal depression, which are often compounded by the mixed messages that western women get about labour and motherhood. Women are bombarded with contradictory messages (‘don’t drink’ … ‘have a natural birth’ etc …) and are saddled with often unrealistic expectations and attitudes. The rigid ‘only one right way’ Chinese approachmay offer a simpler (if completely barmy) alternative.

  • bomber

    My wife half-assed her yuezi. She went outside within a week, washed her hair (and body) etc. When she did follow the rules, She did it primarily to keep my mother-in-law happy. I tried explaining to her (My wife’s mother) that my wife should do what makes her feel comfortable and happy, without straining herself too much. I explained that western women don’t do a yuezi, and they are mostly just fine, and she came back at me by saying that Chinese people were “different.” She’s a real sweetheart, though, so I don’t hold it against her.

    As far as reasons for a yuezi, they could be myriad. Let’s not forget what a traumatic thing childbirth can be for many women. I started freaking out just listening to the screams from hell while sitting outside in the waiting room. It is only within the last two generations that access to modern medicine and birthing techniques became available in many parts of China, and it is likely that the older generation – especially those from rural areas – cling to these superstitions because they themselves did it, and, well, there’s nothing wrong with them – see! Proof!

    Perhaps it is because of low-nutrient diets and a lack of overall physical fitness, but I wouldn’t be surprised if on average, Chinese women had a more difficult time in the aftermath of a natural (or even cesarean) birth. My wife is fortunate in that she is young, fit and tall-ish, so she bounced back very quickly. I think the breastfeeding helped as well as it allowed her hormone levels adjust and she had a lot of energy, even in the few days following the birth.

    my $.02 peace

  • http://motpol.blogspot.com Hans Engnell

    I am kind of glad my fianceé will give birth in Sweden…

  • GentleGiant

    What can I say…… WOW!!! :shock:

    I am discussing it with my better half right now; equally, she was not ware that in the west, men can be there during the birth

  • Ally

    For guangdong people, women after giving birth will eat “Zhu Jiao Jiang” (猪脚姜). Its role is to raise blood, the most suitable for women to eat. ;-)

    • http://www.lovelovechina.com Crystal

      What Ally means is a soup made of pigs legs.

  • Who cares

    It will be interesting to investigate, scientifically, if those rules will help the new mother’s health and which heath ? Body or mind? One important question to ask is if any of these women (who go through the rules) have postpartum depression ? Postpartum depression is becoming common recently.

  • Knelson56

    I thought China was a modern thinking nation now leading the world in so many areas but these childbirth traditions seem to want every modern Chinese woman to become an unthinking victim of old superstitions that medically have no sound basis.Come on Chinese women be bold and use your intellect! Don’t be sobservient to nonsense that has no medical grounding.

    • Anne

      Traditions all have their grounds, they are there due to all kind of social or political reasons. People in the past don’t have easy access to hot water, so they wash their hair or take shower using ice cold water, that’s sure to cause prob if you just had a kid. Women then also do lots of heavy lifting and stuff in the fields. That’s why people tell their daughters or wives not to do certain things after giving birth in ensure their health. But you have to understand, most Chinese people don’t follow this exact list anymore, only in the rural areas. Urban women still have their superstition about heavy lifting or taking showers, but that’s about it. They are starting to see that these rules don’t apply to current society anymore and they are slowly changing them.

  • Knelson56

    I had 2 c-section births and I breastfed both children. It was a joy in the first month   to go to the shops with my babies and I showered daily !! and watched TV. Now in my 50’s I am healthy, I walk 40mins 4 times a week, I swim , play tennis, Enjoy travel and I look and feel 40! I read books on pregnancy and health care post partum and I made decisions about my every day life   by being informed and asking my doctor questions. The health of my children and myself was always priority and I didn’t feel a need to follow any of my cultural English background practises  .pregnancy or after.  shosometimes be left in the era they were born in and

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  • misiu

    I am afraid the description of “zuo yue zi” (坐月子)in the above post is not what currently happening in China. It sounds to me from decades ago. At least, in the cities, Chinese women do not necessarily to follow those old rules. When we do take extra care of ourselves, we don’t stay only in bed, we do having shower right after labour and afterwards, we don’t use a special bandage, we do get fresh air at all the time, we do sit and breath-feeding, we do prepare special cuisine for the most important month of health care for a women which we are proud of. A woman is very tender after birth and nothing wrong to take care of yourself a bit better than usual. All I can say is the above example may existing in some country side of China. But please do remember China is so big and its land is even bigger than Europe? So different tradition are possible and no one should be surprised. Were you surprised that Japanese reckon whoever eating with standing posture are dog’s behavior? I guess they are nowadays stand and eat themselves from time to time, time changes and traditions too.

    • observer

      Everyone I know is not strict about 坐月子. There is no difference between those from the countryside and those from the city such as Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou, Chengdu etc. Maybe it’s just you who is more enlightened.

      • observer

        oops, I meant ”
        Everyone I know is strict about 坐月子.”

      • Pucca

        They don’t actually do that in Chengdu that much anymore. Now they allow women to move about and eat what they want and even go outside to shop. They just don’t do that much house work for a month and wear warm clothes and that’s it. I know cuz I’m from Chengdu.

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  • Happy Mrs Lee

    I didn’t follow any of these rules after my first child. It has been over 2 years and I’m starting to feel the aftermath. I used to be really healthy, active and strong (always on the go with tons of activities) Now, I always feel weak, stiff muscles, deteriorated memory, joint pains, pasty/bitter tongue, headaches etc… I’m starting to believe this sit the month thing.
    I heard if I follow the rules in my next child birth, it can strengthen my health again, I’m definitely going to give it a try.

    • MarcMS

      Any evidence that an event that happend 2 years ago has ANY relationship with your current health?… NO. I could say your current bad health is bacause when you were 8 years old you woke up with the left feet first. Please stop spreading ignorance and superstition.

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  • Anonymous

    These practices seem dangerous, like they would lead to infection. I do like the idea of the belly binding, however, I really want to try that one.