Postpartum confinement, a tradition that prevails in many different cultures, and is essentially a concept where a mother who has just given birth stays in confinement at her home. This tradition can be seen in places, such as China, Japan, Latin America, and more.
What Is The Postpartum Confinement Period
The postpartum confinement period is a period of isolation from society that is observed by both the new mother as well as her newborn child. After the birth of the child, the newborn is still considered to be quite underdeveloped and incredibly fragile, so much to that, a world-renowned paediatrician named Harvey Karp has termed the first three months of the newborn’s existence as the fourth trimester. Therefore, the purpose of the postpartum confinement period is to help allow the newborn baby to adjust to the world in a place where the new mother can nurture it with her undivided attention. For the mother, the purpose of the postpartum confinement tradition is to help her regain her strength and to get an adequate amount of rest after the high energy consuming nature of the task, that is, childbirth. It also helps both the mother and the newborn in learning and getting used to the act of breastfeeding. This tradition is truly an incredible one, and one which can be found in all parts of the entire world. The best part is that this tradition transcends class, as women from all cultures, geographical locations, and even economic backgrounds choose to take part in it.
Zuo Yue Zi 坐月子
Zuo Yue Zi is a Chinese term that refers to the postpartum confinement culture in China. In fact, this tradition dates all the way back to the year 960. The period of confinement starts immediately after the mother has given birth, where the duration of Zuo Yue Zi lasts for typically one month. However, can go up to forty-five days, where the new mother can stay in Zuo Yue Zi in the case of caesarean birth, for better healing and improved recovery.
Zuo Yue Zi essentially unburdens the mother with all of the previous responsibilities that she may hold. This tradition, throughout history, has been warmly welcomed, where a famous cultural anthropologist in America named Margaret Mead described this tradition as a period where women, as a whole, and particularly the new mother can feel as if they are cherished as well as pampered by those who surround them, without ever making them feel a sense of guilt, shame, or even inadequacy.
Chinese Postpartum Confinement Period Practices
Just like all the other traditions that one may observe in different cultures, this tradition, too, has its own set of practices. In fact, throughout history, ever since the tradition of postpartum confinement period was invented, many academic books, as well as historical books, have recorded all the customs and practices that are a part of this tradition. Here is a list of all the postpartum confinement period practices that women in China indulge in.
1. Staying Indoors
First and foremost, confinement isn’t really confinement if one chooses to go outside. So, it comes as no surprise that the first and most basic practice of the Chinese postpartum confinement practices is to stay at home throughout the confinement period. While the new mother is not prohibited from leaving her home, she is, however, encouraged to not leave it for any reason that may be considered to be unnecessary. The reason for this practice is to prevent the mother from exposing herself to any of the germs, bacteria, viruses, and any other forms of impurities that exist in the outside world.
2. No Bathing
This is one of the most commonly recommended Zuo Yue Zi practices to women who have just given birth. The practice itself is quite self-explanatory, where the new mother is recommended to not take any showers or baths. This practice also does not allow the women to wash their hair. However, it is understandable that many women, in the current times and the old days, do not wish to go an entire month without washing themselves or their hair. This is why those new mothers can clean their hair using any gauze-like fabric, a comb, and pure alcohol. To clean her hair through the use of these tools, the woman can dip the fabric in the alcohol, then wrap it around the comb, which she can then run through her hair. Although, that is an alternative method that was more commonly used in the old days.
The easiest and most convenient new method of cleaning one’s hair is to spray the roots of the new mother’s hair with dry shampoo, which is a product that is available in a majority of the pharmacies. Another great way to maintain hygiene during Zuo Yue Zi, particularly in tropical weather, is to take sponge baths with warm boiled water. One can even put ginger and neem leaves in the water for extra health benefits (removing all the “wind” gases that trapped in the body during and after pregnancy).
3. No Use Of Air Conditioners
This is another one of the most commonly observed practices during Chinese postpartum periods as both cold water and a cold room, essentially anything cold is considered to be harmful to the new mother and her baby. The reason behind this practice is to support the mother in retaining as much body warmth as she possibly can. This retention of body warmth is considered, in the Chinese culture, to be a great method of preventing several health problems, such as headaches, body pains, rheumatism, and even arthritis, all of which can appear later on in life.
4. Pre-Determined Meals
The women who take part in this tradition in China are also known to eat specific meals that have been pre-determined. These pre-determined meals use ingredients that are deemed to be warm in their nature, such as spices like black pepper, and Asian cooking ingredients like ginger, fish, rice wine, sesame oil, and more.
One reason behind the usage of these warm ingredients is that the Chinese hold the dogma that these ingredients assist in the postpartum healing process and provide energy to the new mother, which in turn, allows her to regain her strength at a much faster rate.
A common meal for new mothers to eat during Zuo Yue Zi is any type of fish soup and green papaya soup, as they are known, in Chinese culture, to boost the mother’s supply of milk, and it is even known to enhance the quality of the breast milk, which is highly beneficial for the infant. As mentioned before, anything that might have cooling characteristics, such as cold water, are not to be utilized in the postpartum practices. Therefore, the use of cold drinks, as well as foods that have a cooling nature, is also prohibited. These prohibited cooling foods can include, pineapples, cabbages, and cucumbers. Apart from that fruits like jackfruits and ingredients, such as onions are also prohibited during Zuo Yue Zi as they are believed to cause “wind”, which is a particularly prevalent concept in Chinese culture. Essentially, what this means is that any ingredient or food type that can make the baby colic are to be extensively avoided during Zuo Yue Zi.
There is no doubt that during the entire period of pregnancy, the mother’s body goes through many changes. To help combat that, one of the practices in Chinese postpartum confinement is, to massage the body of the mother. It is believed, in Chinese and many other cultures that, massages can assist the mother in losing weight and therefore, assist in getting her body back into shape. These massages not only help the mother in losing weight but are also believed to ensure the internal wellbeing of the mother after her pregnancy. However, these massages aren’t exactly how you may expect them to be. Instead of essential oils and other commonly used liquids, these massages make the use of special ointments. After the massage has been completed, the abdomen of the mother is bound tightly. The special ointments that are used and the material used to bound the abdomen with may vary from culture to culture as, in Singapore, Indian culture uses mustard seel oil to massage the body. While in Malay culture, a professional yet traditional masseuse is hired specifically for the purpose of massaging the new mother. Malay culture also uses bengkung, which is a postnatal corset made up of special materials to help tie the abdomen of the new mother.
This is one of the most beneficial and warmly received practices that are observed during the postpartum confinement period. Since childbirth is known to be quite painful and uses a lot of energy, the new mother during Zuo Yue Zi is expected to rest for an adequate amount of time. In fact, these new mothers that take part in this tradition are told to avoid any form of household work, which include cooking and other types of chores.
7. Use Of Hot Stones
The term hot stones might seem to be quite intimidating, however, they are used in many massages in the west, and is one of the practices found within the Zuo Yue Zi. These hot stones, during the confinement period, are placed on the stomach of the new mother for a variety of reasons. They are believed to provide the mother with many health benefits, which include the removal of any impurities that may remain within the womb, essentially cleansing the womb entirely. Although, not all women can indulge in this Chinese postpartum confinement practice as one needs a highly experienced and skilled, yet traditional masseuse to place these hot stones. The masseuses should also have extensive knowledge regarding the types and shapes of stones that she should use, their techniques as well as their placement, where each stone must be selected with the utmost care.
Since the purpose of the postpartum confinement period is to help the mother to regain her strength, energy, and to protect her, this comes as no surprise that exercising is one of the practices that new mothers in Zuo Yue Zi indulge in. However, the exercises that women indulge in are quite different from a workout routine that you may see at the gym. The exercises that new mothers are encouraged to invest their time and energy in include exercises that are highly specific to certain parts of the body, such as leg slides, pelvic exercises, head raises, shoulder raises, neck raises, and even lower body tilts.
Residential Facilities For Postpartum Confinement
As time goes on, more and more people are trying to find new markets to enter in to. So there is no doubt that now, there are several companies that have created residential facilities that provide housing and services that specifically cater to the Zuo Yue Zi tradition. These companies offer several types of housing accommodations that have different atmospheres. Some have a more homely environment while other companies provide an environment that is much more hotel-like.
These private postpartum confinement care companies can be mainly found in Asian countries, such as China, Korea, Taiwan, and more. In China, a prominent name within this market is the Red Wall Confinement Centre, which reportedly earns up to twenty-seven thousand dollars a month. In fact, the Zuo Yue Zi tradition is so prevalent within the Chinese community that there are several Birth tourism companies that are now operating within the United States of America, all of which offer all Chinese women the services for the “sitting the month”.
As time goes on, traditions can be altered to help fit the routine of the new mother as she should be free to make her own choices, therefore, nowadays, none of the practice is set in stone, which helps the new mother to alter the practices according to what best suits her choices and lifestyle. Modern Chinese families are now choosing the practices that they want to modify or even omit, as the ultimate goal is to help the new mother in recovering as fast as she can.