A woman's confinement for a month after childbirth is considered essential for herfuture health by many Chinese. And this is not simply getting a good rest and eating ahearty balance diet.
Known as zuo yuezi or sitting the month, this period of at least 30 days of strictpostpartum care was first documented in the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC-24 AD). Itis based on fundamental concepts of traditional Chinese medicine, which holds that awoman's constitution is at its weakest after childbirth and that she can do permanentdamage to her health if she does not follow strict rules.
In childbirth a woman loses a lot of blood and warm yang energy, so it is important forwomen, who are essentially yin, to build her yang energy and avoid all things that areyin or cold in energy.
Traditional yuezi involves many strict rules: no cold water, no cold (temperature) food,no bathing, no brushing teeth, no hair washing, no reading, watching TV or usingcomputers, no exposure to wind or sun. Women must always stay indoors and stay inbed.
After childbirth, a woman's liver energy is weak and the liver "controls" the eyes, sowomen should not read and definitely should not cry.
Women should eat a lot of yang energy foods, such as eggs and meaty soups filledwith protein and fat.
Today, most women do not observe all traditions, such as ancient prohibitions againstbathing and hygiene. They also read and use their computers. Some eat a morebalanced diet.
Traditionalists say that if a woman doesn't strictly do yuezi that she will suffergynecological problems, bone pains, arthritis and other problems.
"I didn't think I needed to spend yuezi like that after I gave birth to my son," says 34-year-old Zhang Qian who stayed at home. "But my mother said that even if I don't feelanything wrong now, I would suffer the consequences when I'm older, and I couldn'targue."
Zhang says her mother told her about many terrible "consequences." If you brush yourteeth, your teeth will all fall out when you're older; if you feel wind or draft, you will sufferbone pain; if you take a shower or wash your hair, you will catch cold easily.
"And the result was that I spent the most painful month in my life."
Many Westerners find the month of confinement, restrictions and diet bewildering.
Western medical experts say some of the traditional rules of yuezi are reasonable, butsome should be discarded since they were developed at a time when hygiene was poorand heating was a problem.
"For example, in ancient times, people didn't have hair dryers or other stuff, thus therule against hair washing was fairly right, because women could more easily catch coldafter delivery," says Dr Allen Sheen, obstetrician and gynecologist at the ShanghaiEast International Medical Center. "Now people don't have to adopt such rules. Theycan keep clean like ordinary people."
Dr Sheen said that some traditional rules, such as getting good rest, are valid. "SomeWestern women go to work too soon after giving birth, and their uterus has notrecovered properly," he says. "Thus, they have a higher risk of gynecological problemswhen they are older."