Can you imagine just after giving birth a newborn, someone would be with you and your little one to provide 24×7 support or being asked not to leave your house for at least a month? Or, what if, you are being restricted from having a shower and not even allowed to sit in the air-conditioned room – even if it’s extremely warm weather outside. It sounds unorthodox, isn’t it? But millions of Chinese women inherit and follow this practice as part of their confinement processes every year. This is named as “Sitting the month” or “Zuo Yue Zi” as per Chinese tradition.
The tradition of “Sitting the Month” or “Zuo Yue Zi” in Chinese culture started almost thousands of years ago, in the reign of Han Dynasty in China, where it was recognized that the month directly after childbirth is very crucial to the future health of the mother and newborn. This program has become an inevitable tradition in Chinese culture and involves strict rules for the month following childbirth, some of which are still followed as closely as they were in 2,000 years ago. Now in many cases you’ll find a full industry involving luxury hotels with doctors on call basis in house and a nurse in the room at all times. Families who can’t afford such facilities still maintain a curtailed version of ‘Zuo Yue Zi’ where the new mother stays with a family member so that she can have help recovering from stress and focus on her baby instead. Some of the rules of this postpartum confinement have been mentioned in this writing.
One of the most common recommendations for new mother in this period is: no bathing and no hair washing for the very first month following the baby’s birth. In some cases, if you have heard of this practice and don’t wish to follow it, you can still clean your hair with a gauze-like material dipped in alcohol and wrapped around the comb. Alternatively, you can use a ‘dry shampoo’ which is available in most pharmacies around your place. However, not having a bath is a very challenging practice in tropical weather, alternatively, you may use ginger or neem leaves during your hot sponge baths in this case.
It is believed by the Chinese ancestors that, cold and wind both are treated as infective factors in Chinese medicine as they can trigger a disease process. That’s why new born baby along with her mother is suggested not to enter into air conditioned room in this whole month. Interestingly this theory, which is by the way well supported and named as germ theory in modern science reveals how weather and temperature can affect our immune systems. So certainly this ‘Zuo Yue Zi’ practice has scientific justification indeed.
Taking only warm, cooked and dull food
Chinese ancestors believe that straight away from pregnancy to labour, a woman needs good nutrition to nurture the fetus. However, it’s obvious that a woman loses her strength during childbirth; hence good and healthy food becomes an integral part of the tradition. Therefore, during this confinement period, new mothers are encouraged to eat specially prepared meals with ‘warm’ ingredients such as ginger, black pepper, sesame oil and rice wine and so on. These ingredients are treated as extremely helpful for the healing process and help new mothers to regain their strength faster than the conventional ways. Some of the suggested food are -bone broths, fresh ginger (cooked), free range chicken and eggs, dates and berries, cooked greens and other colorful vegetables, liver (from free range animals), grass fed meat, brown rice, oats, and quinoa, adding cooked herbs such as Dang Gui, Huang Qi (Astragalus), and Goji Berries. This traditional Chinese confinement food practice also includes fish soups, which are strongly believed to boost milk supply and improve breast milk quality of the mother. Apart from that you are also expected to avoid ‘cool’ foods such as cold drinks, cucumber, cabbage and pineapple. Furthermore, the foods that are responsible for creating digestive problems such as onions and jackfruit are also recommended to avoid during this time span as they are believed to cause colic in your baby. This warm food practice is also a very justified approach as we all know cold raw foods are more likely to carry bacteria, which is strictly prohibited to the new mothers as per the restrictions of this confinement process.
No visitors will be allowed
It, sometimes, become very weird to restrict people to visit the newborn baby and the mother as they are extremely eager to meet the new member of the family. But according to this confinement process, this traditional approach would not allow new visitors to the room, where new born baby and her mother reside in this one month duration. But if you think it in this way- in reality, it should be your responsibility to ensure the safety measures of both mother and child first, and this practice would become justified then as new people may bring germs from outside. Not only that, outsiders may also create stress on the new mother through various ways like gossiping, providing unwanted advice, criticizing, judging, fetching drama and so on. This would certainly divert the new mother from her concentration of the baby to other issues, and however sometimes increase blood-pressure too. So in this confinement period, you or your family members can suggest the outsiders to wait for at least one month so that, both of you and your child would not be hampered by the visitors in this time period.
Only rest, eat, sleep and feed your baby; No TV, books, or other distractions:
This is another postpartum confinement practice that Chinese “Zuo Yuezi” tradition suggests to follow strictly. Sometimes, this may sound difficult and boring to do nothing except feeding the newborn and taking rest, but focusing on resting and low mental stimulation can be extremely helpful for healing the processes of a new mother. A mother, starting from being pregnant up to newborn goes through different stages of physical, mental and social obstacles and stress. Even after the birth of the new baby, she has to continue this hard time. So this confinement as suggested by the Chinese tradition is undoubtedly going to be effective for her to heal these issues and provide her with a great relief. As you would be taken care by a dedicated nanny or any family member, who will look after you and your baby, this would help her to recover her health in a fruitful way. In this time, you can only feed your baby and take proper rest. Not only that, it is also advised to not watching any TV or cinema or even reading books or using mobiles or any other gazettes and any other entertainment mediums in this period, which may distract you from your most loved one; your baby, and increase stress hormones. So this rule, in reality is very effective for both new born baby and her mother.
Having a dedicated caring companion for the whole month:
Besides, another best part of this confinement is having a dedicated person, who will take care of your baby and the newborn child. She is called as ‘pui yuet’ 陪月, or a companion of the month, a special confinement nanny. The responsibilities your ‘pui yuet’ doesn’t only take care of the baby, feeding it, soothing it and changing diapers but also taking care of you too. Sometimes a close female relative performs this role, but now-a-days lots of family hire a professional to serve the purpose. Your “pui yuet” lives with you for the whole month or two, and she prepares all meals for you, washes laundry, cleans baby bottles and toys, develops a routine for the baby, and helps to track the baby’s feedings and bowel movements, so that you don’t have to stress it over on yourself. This is extremely helpful for healing the physical and mental stress of the new mother.
On the flip side, however, for some people, “Zuo Yue Zi” or “Sitting the month” is also having some drawbacks compared to its advantages. First of all, in this modernized time, a significant number of Chinese new mothers are not interested to pursue these postpartum confinement rules. They consider these rules as back dated ones, because getting no access into air-conditioning room even in the extreme heat may affect the new mother as well as the baby. Not only that, having no shower in whole month period become unhygienic for both child and her mother, which may lead to different infectious diseases for both baby and her mother. Besides these, eating only warm and dull foods can become boring for the mother, as she can’t take ice cream or any other cold drinks in the mean-time. Also taking only rest during this one month time period may lead new mother to gain obesity. At the same time, lots of family members can’t afford nanny or ‘pui yuet’ or don’t have any dedicated family members to take care of the mother and baby in this ”sitting the month” period.
Whether it may be arguable that, this Chinese postpartum confinement is popular or not, but certainly has great impact on the new mothers throughout this world undoubtedly.