Postpartum traditions around the world - Part 2: China

July 29, 2023

Welcoming a new life into the world is a joyous occasion, and in China, it is accompanied by a rich tapestry of postpartum traditions that focus on the care and recovery of new mothers. These traditions, deeply rooted in Chinese culture, have been passed down through generations, offering support, nourishment, and rest during the crucial postpartum period. In this part 2 of Postpartum traditions around the world, we will explore some of the fascinating postpartum traditions observed in China.

  1. "Sitting the Month" - A Time for Rest and Recovery

In China, postpartum care centers around the practice of "sitting the month" or "Zuo Yuezi." The name derives from the belief that this period of rest helps to restore the mother's physical and mental well-being. During this time, the new mother is encouraged to focus on self-care, bonding with the baby, and allowing her body to heal from the transformative experience of childbirth. One of the core principles of "Sitting the Month" is ensuring ample rest for the new mother. Family members or hired help often assist with household chores and childcare duties, allowing the mother to rest and recover. Physical exertion is avoided to prevent the depletion of energy and to promote healing.

  1. Nourishing Foods

Chinese traditional beliefs emphasize the concept of balancing Yin and Yang energies within the body. After childbirth, it is believed that a mother's body is in a Yin state and needs to be nourished with warming foods to restore balance. Nourishing foods are seen as a way to replenish the energy lost during labor, enhance blood circulation, and strengthen the mother's overall vitality. Warming foods play a central role in postpartum nutrition. Ingredients such as ginger, sesame oil, Chinese angelica root (dang gui), and black fungus are commonly used in postpartum dishes. These foods are believed to have warming properties and help to expel "cold" from the body, support healing, and promote lactation.

In Chinese culture, postpartum recovery is closely associated with blood replenishment. Certain foods rich in iron and other essential nutrients are traditionally incorporated into the mother's diet to replenish blood loss during childbirth. Examples include red dates, black beans, and pork liver, which are believed to nourish the blood and aid in recovery. Postpartum nutrition often includes various soups and tonics that are thought to promote healing and rejuvenation. These may include chicken soup with Chinese herbs, fish soup, or bone broth enriched with nourishing ingredients. These soups are not only nutrient-dense but also provide warmth and comfort to the new mother. Postpartum diets in China can vary by region and family traditions. Different regions have their own specialty dishes and ingredients believed to be particularly beneficial for postpartum recovery. Customized diets may also take into account the mother's individual needs, such as dietary restrictions or specific health concerns.

  1. Herbal Remedies and Tonic Soups

Chinese medicine places great importance on balancing the body's energies, known as Qi, to maintain health. After childbirth, a new mother's body experiences significant changes, and the focus shifts toward restoring balance. Herbal remedies and tonic soups are prepared with specific ingredients to promote the flow of Qi, which is believed to support postpartum recovery and overall wellness. Chinese herbal remedies often include a combination of various herbs, each chosen for its specific properties and effects on the body. Examples of commonly used herbs in postpartum care include dang gui (Chinese angelica root), huang qi (astragalus), and goji berries. These herbs are believed to nourish the blood, boost immunity, and promote healing. Postpartum herbal remedies and tonic soups aim to replenish the blood lost during childbirth and provide essential nutrients. Ingredients such as red dates, longan fruit, and black fungus are commonly used for their blood-nourishing properties. These ingredients are believed to enhance postpartum recovery, boost energy levels, and improve overall vitality.

Tonic soups are an integral part of postpartum care in Chinese tradition. They are carefully prepared with a combination of nourishing ingredients, herbs, and often protein sources such as chicken or pork bones. These soups are believed to provide vital nutrients, improve digestion, and support the mother's overall well-being. Popular examples include Chinese herbal chicken soup, fish soup, or pig's trotter soup. Postpartum herbal remedies and tonic soups can be tailored to meet the specific needs of each new mother. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners may provide individualized prescriptions based on the mother's constitution, health condition, and any specific concerns she may have. This personalized approach ensures that the herbal remedies and tonic soups address her unique postpartum recovery requirements.

  1. "Warmth" as a Key Principle

Chinese traditional medicine places great emphasis on balancing Yin and Yang energies within the body. After childbirth, a mother's body is considered to be in a Yin state, characterized by a lower metabolic rate and increased vulnerability to cold. The practice of maintaining warmth aims to restore balance by fostering the circulation of vital energies. During the postpartum period, new mothers are encouraged to protect themselves from cold drafts and exposure. It is believed that cold air can hinder the body's healing process and lead to discomfort. Special attention is given to keeping the lower abdomen, lower back, and feet warm, as these areas are considered especially vulnerable. New mothers are advised to dress warmly, even during warmer seasons, and to wear multiple layers to provide insulation. Special postpartum clothing, such as belly wraps or warm robes, may be used to help retain body heat. Bedding is also selected carefully to ensure warmth, with extra blankets and heating pads often used to create a cozy environment for rest and recovery.

In addition to warm clothing and nourishing foods, various warming practices and therapies are employed to enhance postpartum recovery. This may include warm oil massages, steaming treatments, or the use of moxibustion, where dried herbs are burned near specific acupuncture points to promote circulation and warmth in the body.

  1. Community Support and Shared Experiences

In China, community support plays a vital role in postpartum care. Family members, friends, neighbors, and fellow mothers form a network of support around the new mother. This network offers practical help with household chores, childcare, and emotional support during the postpartum period. The shared experiences and collective knowledge provide a comforting environment for new mothers. In Chinese tradition, it is customary for friends and relatives to visit the new mother and baby during the postpartum period. These visits are an opportunity for loved ones to offer congratulations, gifts, and well wishes. Community support allows for the sharing of wisdom and knowledge between experienced mothers and those who are new to motherhood. Elders, such as grandmothers or older relatives, pass down traditional postpartum practices, remedies, and tips for caring for the newborn. This intergenerational exchange helps new mothers navigate the challenges of motherhood and provides them with valuable insights and support. The sense of community support during the postpartum period fosters emotional connection and bonding. New mothers find solace in knowing that they are not alone in their experiences and challenges. Sharing joys, concerns, and even frustrations with fellow mothers creates a supportive space where women can find understanding, empathy, and encouragement.

Postpartum traditions in China reflect a deep-rooted reverence for the well-being and recovery of new mothers. By emphasizing rest, nourishing foods, herbal remedies, and community support, these traditions provide a holistic approach to postpartum care. They not only address the physical needs of the mother but also recognize the emotional and psychological aspects of the postpartum experience. Through these time-honored traditions, Chinese culture embraces and celebrates the journey of motherhood, offering guidance and care to nurture new mothers during this transformative period. While modern lifestyles may have led to adaptations in the practice, the core principles of "Sitting the Month" continue to provide valuable insights into postpartum care. By honoring these traditions, we can foster a nurturing environment for new mothers, allowing them to embrace the transformative journey of motherhood with care, support, and holistic well-being.

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Disclaimer: This blog's content is provided for informational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and you should not rely solely on this information. Always consult a professional in the area for your particular needs and circumstances prior to making any professional, legal, medical and financial or tax-related decisions.