Do you know the Chinese tradition after giving birth? Are you a young mother who is about to participate zuo yue zi (坐月子)? This refers to a month of confining yourself at home so that during this time, you can steadily return back to health. What are the cultural postpartum practices of doing the month in China?
Do you want to know more, so that you can separate blind tradition from the wisdom of the age? If so, read on, because you will enjoy and hopefully gain some insights from our article!
Chinese Tradition After Giving Birth: The Basis for Traditional Confinement
Throughout history, mothers and babies have been dying due to harsh birthing environments, misguided medical practices and a lack of awareness about what makes for an optimal postpartum environment. The beginnings of documented postpartum practices in China began more than 2000 years ago. Chinese believe that there are lots of physical changes in a woman’s body happening during this time, and we need a stable environment for the body to re-adapt and recover.
Chinese confinement is meant to protect both mother and child from outside perils. Within this big concept is the characterization of what these outside perils are. In the language of Chinese medicine, these are evils / triggers / nasties which throw the body out of balance.
The four main nasties include:
The tradition of Zuo Yue Zi is done in the privacy of one’s home. The new mom must take care not expose herself to wind drafts; she must be kept warm, but not be too hot; she must limit exposure to water and damp environments; she must stay dry. As you read on, we will provide more details on what the elements of Wind, Cold, Damp and Heat could be in a modern setting. You can then know what the traditional beliefs are, which customs you may not consent to, and what you can incorporate as part of your confinement practice.
Avoid Wind After Birth
In Chinese medicine, Wind is supposed to enter through the surface of the skin into the interior of your body. Wind is capable of bringing with it other bad elements/triggers like cold, heat and damp.
In Singapore, we are less likely to experience the Wind chill that is common during winter in other countries, it is more common to see non-pregnant people come in with a wry neck due to exposure to a direct air-con draft blowing in their direction.
Some patients with even less tolerance to Wind do not like to turn on the fan. They are said to be averse to Wind. This phenomenon is not unique to singapore chinese women. We see it in chinese malays and even indians, and this becomes more obvious after giving birth.
Tradition Says Not To Let Cold Envelope You
Do you know someone, perhaps your spouse, perhaps a family friend, with a Cold body type? This person runs cold, has cold hands, cold feet and even a cold nose. He or she doesn’t like being in cold environments, prefers warm drinks and soups and doesn’t like the aircon temperature to be too low.
There are many accounts of women with a Cold body type whose bodies have changed after diligently following a warming confinement protocol. Those who possess a ‘cold’ body constitution will gain the most from implementing confinement diligently. When these people order set meal plans, these meal plans may not be warming enough). They may do better by adding on customized herbal support using confinement soups.
One you know what you are looking for, there are four additional steps you have to take before you settle the task of finding someone who is a good fit for you and your family.
The thing you want to ask yourself if you are a new mum is this: What If?
While you may believe that ice cream or coconut water cannot be too harmful, it may still be good to temporarily play to the tune of Chinese tradition after giving birth.
Even if you are of a robust constitution, it can be prudent to:
- Abstain from all the listed cold foods;
- Opt into a simple confinement meal plan and keep to it as much as is comfortable for you.
Chinese Tradition After Birth of Baby: Never Let Damp Accumulate!
During the period of postpartum confinement, you DO NOT want Damp to accumulate in your body. Your body is already fully of water as it is, and your body working hard to rid itself of Damp accumulation!
There are two possible sources of Damp — Wind-Damp and Dietary Damp.
The Experience of Wind Damp
Damp can enter the body through the help of Wind. The Chinese Tradition After Giving Birth: YOU CANNOT TAKE SHOWERS OR BATHS! This is so that Wind, Cold and Damp do not enter your body in tandem, creating chronic aches and pains.
The Modern Alternative:
- No need to take showers every day.
- You can wipe yourself down if needed, and quickly dry up after.
- If you take showers, only warm shower, and quickly dry up after.
- After the shower, refrain from the slightest exposure to aircon!
Important: DO NOT leave your hair wet, sleep with it wet, or walk past an air-con draft with your hair wet.
Keep Dry: Dry yourself up quick, dry your hair, and wear enough clothes so you err on the side of less cold and more warmth.
Damp in Your Diet
Damp also references food that can retain Damp in the body. This includes excessive consumption of starchy foods, dairy or sugars. Just think of a postpartum mum with candida. The people most susceptible to Dietary Damp accumulation are those who already have a greasy complexion and oily sweat, have body odor, may present with a compromised digestive system and a tendency toward water retention.
This group of women may also have had labels like ‘Candida,’ ‘Metabolic Syndrome’ or ‘PCOS’ placed on them before. For these people more prone to Dietary Damp, foods that act to eliminate damp are useful during postpartum recovery. They include red beans, coix seeds, Chinese yam, lotus seed and root, fox nut and ginger.
Chinese Tradition After Giving Birth: Warming But Not Too Much Heat!
There is a difference in intensity between Warmth and Heat. We want to warm your body up with Confinement Soups and Teas, but we do not want you to Catch Fire!
When you consume a diet or herbs that are too Heaty, you may Catch Fire. The signs of Heatiness or Fire include:
- Dry throat
- Sore throat
- Increased phlegm production
- Too much pent up energy or even anger
This is why Confinement Soups have to be individualized and optimized to the unique body type and condition of the new mother. We care about warming up and bringing the body back to health, but we don’t want it to Catch Fire!
The Wind in Wind-Heat does not refer to any wind blowing at the mother, certainly not in the way Wind-Cold and Wind-Damp speak of true Wind. The Wind here refers to the sudden nature of the flare, as well as the location of the flare, which often on the surface (skin) or on the the upper part of the body.
Women come into the clinic with varying levels of heat. Those who have Blood-Heat even before pregnancy are usually suffering from excess body heat during the end phase of the third trimester.
These women are those who should be very careful following confinement protocols which are set in stone by the stereotypical strict confinement nanny. These confinement nannies are adamant that you strictly follow what is set in stone by Chinese tradition after giving birth!
Worse yet if you already suffer from an inflammatory autoimmune condition or a skin condition. The typical confinement protocol is likely to cause a flare.
PUPPP is a commonly seen in the third trimester, yet some women present instead with post-partum Wind-Heat skin rash.
This speaks to how eating overly spicy or heaty foods is often contraindicated for a new mum. It may end up worse for a body constitution which is already hot (someone who has constitutionally Blood-Heat).
But even if you are not hot-blooded, Heaty foods, which are often drying, may also cause a dry, sore throat, red eyes, nose bleeds, headaches, an acne breakout and even a skin rash.
Chinese medicine uses the word Heaty, but it is referring to foods that may be allergenic or pro-inflammatory.
In conclusion, you want to be extra careful as a postpartum mum about your exposure to environmental pathogens like Wind, Cold, Damp and Heat.
You may decide not to go about your confinement period in the most traditional way, but remember these concepts of Chinese tradition after giving birth, because there might be some empirical truth in them.
We know that your parents or grandparents all have something to add regarding how to zuo yue zi. We just hope that this article has given you perspective and you understand better the changing rituals of Chinese confinement!
In Traditional Chinese medicine, Wind Cold refers to a pattern of illness caused by exposure to cold weather or cold environments.
Wind Cold presents as chills, aversion to wind, runny nose, sneezing, and a sore throat. Various foods and herbs are used during postpartum confinement to treat Wind Cold and restore balance to the body. They include:
- Fresh Ginger: Fresh ginger is a widely used herb in Chinese cuisine and medicine. It has warming properties and can help dispel cold from the body. Postpartum Red Date Tea always contains ginger to increase warmth and dispel Wind Cold.
- Spring Onions or Scallions: Spring onions have a warming effect and can help promote sweating, which is beneficial for expelling cold pathogens.
- Cinnamon: Cinnamon is a warming herb that can help invigorate blood flow and disperse cold.
- White Pepper: White pepper is a hot and spicy seasoning that can help warm the body and dispel cold.
- Star Anise: Star anise is commonly used in TCM to dispel cold and alleviate digestive issues. It is commonly used in postpartum confinement dishes.
- Chinese Red Dates: Red dates are able to warm up a cold body and nourishing blood in cases of blood deficiency.
- Dried Ginger: Dried ginger is even more warming than fresh ginger and is used together with cinnamon to warm up the innermost parts of the body so that Inner Cold can be expelled from the body.
Soma Clinic Confinement Soups
At Soma Clinic, we design confinement soups for you. We also brew and pressure-cooked these soups for you.
Soma Clinic focuses on treating postpartum conditions. Because we regularly treat women with postpartum conditions for the last decade, we are familiar with how recovery progresses during confinement. We do not just blindly as you to follow Chinese tradition after giving birth!
Soma Clinic’s Confinement Soups provides TREMENDOUS value because we create a postpartum confinement soup plan for you which changes as your conditions change.
Your postpartum journey is unique and individual. You may not need the same support as another person undergoing postpartum. In fact, for those who are pregnant for more than once will know that each pregnancy and postpartum experience is different.
You don’t want the first 4 weeks of soups to have different names that cover everything from appetite to breast milk to the Spleen and Kidneys. In reality, you need to repeated use certain soups depending on your body type and what postpartum condition you present with.
Click here to find out more about Soma Clinic Confinement Soups!