In the Chinese & Taiwanese culture, there is a practice known as “zuo yue zi,” literally translated as sitting the month. During that one-month postpartum period, there are restrictions imposed on new mothers, including a specific type of diet to follow.
The underlying belief system of zuo yue zi, or the confinement period, is that right after a woman gives birth, her body is in its most fragile, weakened, and vulnerable state. The rules and diet are supposed to promote healing, strengthen the body and help prevent illness (especially female-related illnesses) in the future.
The confinement period has three guiding principles:
1. The body must be kept warm.
In the strictest sense, that means the hands, feet, neck, and head must be covered. No drafts or breeze. No fan or air conditioner, even in the summer. No opening the refrigerator. No cold beverages, including water. No brushing of the teeth, showering, or bathing. Basically, anything that will subject your body to cold or the potential to be cold is prohibited.
2. A nutrient-rich, high-calorie diet composed of mostly “warm” foods must be consumed.
The Chinese believe in the concept of “qi” or energy within living things. Accordingly, different types of food have the ability to affect your body’s qi by making it hotter or colder. Under normal circumstances, a person’s qi should be balanced. But because the Chinese believe that it is essential to stay warm during the postpartum period, it is thought that women should eat mainly “warm” or neutral temperature foods. Some common examples of warm qi foods (and ingredients that comprise a major part of the zuo yue zi diet) include ginger, vinegar, pig’s feet, and chicken. Sadly, most fruits fall in the “cold” category.
3. The body must be well-rested and exert as little energy as possible.
What this means is that, ideally, the woman should be laying in bed and not do anything. Sound great until you realize this includes reading, writing, watching television, using the computer or anything that could possibly strain your mind or your eyes. The belief is that, because the body is in its most vulnerable state, any exertion will slow the healing process and possibly cause future harm (e.g., diminished eyesight as a result of reading or arthritis or weakened joints from picking up heavy objects during the postpartum period).
The strictest form of zuo yue zi would include not picking up your own baby. Another caregiver is then responsible for taking care of all of your infant’s needs and your baby would only be brought to you when he/she needs to nurse.