My experience of the Chinese tradition “Doing the Month.”
The first month after the birth of my third child was different from the first two.
The birth of my three children has been a unique experience each time. Becoming a mother has filled me with joy and love.
The difference is that I had the chance to experience the First Month of Chinese tradition in person.
I am married to a Chinese man, and his mom came to stay with us for a few weeks when our third child was about to be born. She not only helped a lot with our other two children but also prepared many delicious dishes, like ginger chicken.
I learned later that she made those dishes expressly to warm my energy and help me with breastfeeding.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
The confinement month
In China, the tradition is that the mother stays confined at home during the first-month afterbirth. This practice is called 坐月子 or 做月子( Zuò yuè zi), literally meaning « Sitting the month » or “Doing the month.”
In the past, this practice was crucial for the survival both of the newborn and the mother. She was not allowed to go outside, exercise, wash her hair, or even clean her teeth.
Nowadays, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) still recommends a period of resting for the mother, but it’s less strict than before.
This tradition has been adapted to modern life in big cities like Shanghai where there are confinement centers to take care of the new mothers with a diet that follows both tradition and science.
What to eat during the first-month afterbirth – Ying–Yang foods
In the traditional Chinese culture, food is medicine. You can heal yourself directly in the kitchen, preparing this or that dish to restore your inner balance.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, in fact, Yin ( 阴, yīn) and Yang (阳, yáng) are the complementary forces (qi) of the universe and life. When they are not balanced, disharmony leads to a physical disorder or illness.
To restore inner harmony, an excess of hot qi is balanced with cool food and herbs, while an excess of cool qi – yin – is balanced with yang food and spices.
Since delivery causes lots of warmth loss due to bleeding, Chinese women eat yang food and spices to restore balance to their inner energies.
For this, during my First Month, my mother-in-law used to prepare me ginger chicken with cooked carrots, among other delicious dishes.
Also, she recommended I avoid cool foods, both in terms of energy and temperature, because eating cool food would cause colics and diarrhea in my newborn baby.
I was surprised to learn that Chinese women avoid eating fruits and row vegetables during the first week following delivery. Medicin considers this custom a risk factor since fruits and vegetables are essential sources of vitamins, such as vitamin B9 (folates or folic acid) and fibers.
Some warming food and spices (yong)
As explained in TCM, you need to restore your warm energy when breastfeeding. For this, you should eat yang (warm) food and avoid yin (cool) foods and beverages (yin).
Among yang vegetables foods and ingredients, there are:
- Fruit – Longan, raspberry, chestnut, and bell pepper
- Vegetables -Onion, scallion, carrot (cooked)
- Fish & Meat – Carp, Shrimps, Chicken, Turkey
- Dried fruit – Longans, orange peels, and Chinese dates (jujubes)
- Spices – Cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, ginger, star anise
- Condiments – Black vinegar (rice), olive oil, sesame seed oil, rice alcohol for cooking
This list is not exhaustive, but it gives you an idea of what TCM recommends to eat during the First Month (see Fig. 1).
What are cool (yin) food and drinks in TCM
As just said, during the First month, Chinese women traditionally avoid eating food with cool energy. Also, TCM explains that dry skin, constipation, and restlessness are signs of an excess of warm energy (yang) in your body. TCM recommends exercising and eating cool food and drinks to balance qi.
Among the yin food you have:
Fruit – Apple, Banana, Fig, Kiwi, Mulberry, Orange, Papaya, Pear, Persimmon, Pineapple, Pomelo, Star fruit, Watermelon
Vegetables – Beansprouts (from mungo beans), Cucumber, Tomato, Lettuce, Turnips
Cold water, Ice creams, and yogurt also have yin energy.
This list is not exhaustive, but it gives you an idea of what a new mom should avoid during the First Month, according to TCM (see Fig. 1).
What are neutral (ying yang) foods in TCM
In addition to yin and yang foods, there are neutral foods in TCM called yin-yang.
Combined with yin or yang foods, they contribute to nourishing the body and maintaining an energetic balance.
Chinese women also pay attention to the cooking method. Basically, they preferably steam food or lightly stir-frying foods with only a little salt or soy sauce.
In addition to food, during the Post-birth Confinement, women drink herbal teas and soups to improve lactation and recover quickly.
I found this first month very beneficial, though I didn’t follow it completely: I could wash my teeth daily, as Chinese new moms nowadays do; go out (well covered since it was winter); wash my hair. Yes, I didn’t wait a month to one week was more than enough!
But I can say that with all the help I received, I could recover faster this time than the other two births, despite already having two children.
Do you want to learn more about the Chinese post-partum and other traditions? Or would you like to share the traditions of your country? Let me know in the comments or via Instagram @daybydayplants_blog
Like all the articles in Day by day Plants blog, this article is intended for information only. You must always refer to a Health Professional for your diet.
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- WHO Monographs on Selected Medicinal Plants