Zuo Yuezi: The Chinese Art of Postpartum Recovery
An Introduction to Taiwanese Postpartum Recovery and Education Centers
My wife and I moved from the United States to Taiwan to give birth to our first child at a Taiwanese birthing center. We both felt that traditional Chinese custom of "sitting out a month" was better for both mom and baby. We also could not find anything equivalent to a Taiwanese postpartum center in or near New York City.
In the United States, mom and baby usually stay in the hospital a day or two after a natural birth and perhaps an extra day or two following a cesarean section. While parental leave for fathers is becoming more common in the United States, many if not most families simply cannot afford for both parents to take extended leaves from work. If the new parents do not have a supportive network of family and friends, the postpartum period can be very difficult.
This article will introduce the traditional practice of zuo yuezi as well as the modern Taiwanese zuo-yuezi center, which I will refer to as postpartum recovery centers (PRC).
The Zuo Yuezi Tradition
An introduction to an ancient Chinese practice
The Mandarin-Chinese term zuo yuezi translates into English as "sitting out a month," which refers to the traditional Chinese custom of having new mothers rest for a month at home, often under the care of their mother-in-law, for a month after delivery.
During this period mothers were supposed to eat certain foods and herbs that, according to traditional Chinese medicine, are supposed to help with the mother's recovery. Unfortunately for the mothers, palatability and variety were secondary concerns and mother could find themselves suffering through weeks of the same herbal chicken soup.
Zuo yuezi also involves a number of common-sense rules and superstitions that proscribe many activities and foods and require others. In particular, exercise and going outside were not allowed for up to a month after delivery. Washing ones hair was not allowed. Eating anything cold was frowned upon. Taking photographs of the infant was not allowed. While many Chinese and Taiwanese still believe in and practice many of these traditional customs, the modern postpartum recovery center has modified custom with modern scientific research and has made adjustments for modern urban lifestyles.
Zuo Yuezi in the 21st Century
The modern Taiwanese postpartum recovery center
The modern Taiwanese postpartum recovery center (PRC) offers hotel-like accommodations for new mothers and is staffed with experienced nurses and knowledgeable maternity coaches. The staff will teach new mothers how to properly breast feed, bathe, and otherwise care for their new babies. They will work with mothers with a slow flow to help increase their milk production. A nursery room staffed with attentive nurses is available to give recovering moms a break. A number of exercise and child-care classes are taught in the center.
Depending upon their support network, financial situation, and personal needs and desires, new mothers will stay at the PRC anywhere from a few days to the traditional month.
On-site cooks prepare meals created with the input of nutritionists, Chinese medicine practitioners, and trained chefs. The meals are tasty, healthy, and help speed the mothers recovery. They are also adjusted for each mother particular needs. For example, specially-prepared meals and snacks are given to mothers who have difficulty lactating.
The rooms themselves are general spacious enough to accommodate the both parents and the infant. They are typically equipped with some or all of the following: full-sized bathrooms, queen-sized beds, a desk and/or table, chairs for visitors, cable TV, closet space, and mini refrigerator, and WiFi Internet access.
It is common for pediatricians to come to the PRC for regular checkups, immunization shots, and the like. Some, like the one we used, have full birthing facilities.
Other miscellaneous amenities that are common are: laundry service for the the mother (if the mother uses the provided nursing gowns) and laundry facilities for the father; sunlit lounge and other common areas for the parents to meet and chat with other parents; and a "kitchen" with microwaves, hot/cold water fountains, and vending machines.
While I have not ready any studies to support this, I believe that the convenient, comfortable, and supportive, and mother-centric environment of a Taiwanese PRC can help lessen the postpartum depression experienced by many new mothers.
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