坐月子 Zuo Yuezi
The First Forty Hands has made popular the postpartum practice of sitting the month, also know as zuo yuezi. But what do the more traditional meals look like, and why should you try them for yourself?
What exactly is zuo yuezi 坐月子?
The Chinese tradition of zuo yuezi is often taught and passed down through generations, where grandmothers, mothers, aunts and cousins all come together to cook and care for the birthing person. The birthing parent is waited on, hand and foot, and provided the best opportunity to rest and recover from the marathon that is birth.
Postpartum care takes a community, your community & village, and that's what I hope for all birthing people during the early postpartum stage. "No showers, sponge bath only. Stay in bed and drink your teas and soups! Wear a jacket and socks, stay warm at all times!" As a child, I would hear these prescriptions & dreaded when it would be my turn. Scary as it was, what I took from it was the spirit of community care that was passed on. And today, I have a better understanding about how Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been weaved into what felt like superstitions and old wives tales.
So what are some of the "rules" of yuezi?
Rest, rest and REST! Try to avoid anything to strenuous, including walking up and down stairs.
Hydrate with warm liquids, preferably herbal teas. Avoid iced drinks and smoothies if possible.
Stay warm and avoid exposing your body to cold elements. Be sure you have socks and sweaters on as much as possible.
Nourish yourself every 2 hours with easily digestible foods like soups, stews and curries, avoiding raw and cold food items. Better still if you have meals with made with offal.
If you really want to follow tradition, sponge-bath only for the first 30-40 days. This is when dry shampoo becomes an absolute necessity. If you must shower, turn on the heat to ensure the room is warm when you exit the shower & warm yourself up as soon as possible.
Minimise the amount of visitors in the first month as entertaining them can deplete your energy. If someone is insistent, they can always be helpful and drop food off and leave within 20 minutes.
Stay indoors as much as possible, avoiding any kind of exercise.
Line up postpartum support so you can avoid having to cook and clean. Stay in bed as much as possible to bond with baby and get rest to promote healing.
Each family does it differently and as a Singaporean-Chinese, my traditions may vary a little. My mum, aunts & cousins taught me a lot of what I know. I'm still learning, and my mother has reached out to her friends to learn their family traditions. I used to scoff at the level of strictness in these and now have great respect for the traditions that exist. Through deeper learning of TCM, I have a deeper understanding of how each external & internal element affects the body and it's healing process.
"I feel the spirits of my ancestors guiding and moving me when preparing dishes that have been cooked and eaten through generations."
I feel the spirits of my ancestors guiding and moving me when preparing dishes that have been cooked and eaten through generations. I know my dad is watching me when I prepare the chicken soup he laboured over for years. I also believe in finding a balance between traditions and the challenges of today's modern world. I encourage all birthing people to see the yuezi period as a time of rest, bonding, and evolving in your journey as a parent.
Traditional Chinese postpartum care (also known as Confinement) focuses on Nourishment and Rest as the two most critical things needed to support the healing of a newly postpartum person. In Chinese medicine, it is believed that a birthing person has lost their Qi 气, or energy, and needs to replenish them to heal properly for the long term. Many of the dishes and meals are made with that in mind and are often considered healng and "warming", foods that encourage blood circulation, healing and increased energy within the birthing person.
Ginger, vinegar, Chinese rice wine & various herbs (ginseng, red dates, goji berries) are frequently used in the dishes as these are "hot" foods. Broths and teas are easy to consume and digest and are often required as a warming hydration. It is encouraged to consume your drinks warm or hot. You can find my sample postpartum meal plan here.