I knew when I was pregnant that I would want to spend my first month of motherhood the way Chinese women do: by observing Zuo Yuezi. Literally meaning “to sit for a month” this is ancient post-partum practice of staying home and resting for 30 days after birth. The idea is that it take this long for a woman’s body to heal post-childbirth and that putting too much strain o n your body too soon after birth can create lifelong complication.
The basic tenants state that a woman must stay inside, keep warm, and only eat certain foods. While that seems simple enough, there are some parts of the traditional practice which are very impractical and downright counterintuitive. For instance, here are a few Zuo Yuezi mandates I purposely skipped:
- Refrain from taking showers (way to unhygienic)
- Refrain from Brushing teeth (not a good idea for my cavity-prone teeth)
- Exclusive Bed rest (I definitely got up to cook and do light chores)
- Don't read
- Don’t TV
- Don’t climb stairs (impossible in my house)
- Don’t carry the baby
- Don’t look at a computer screen (yeah right)
The part about showers and teeth has to do with water, and the idea that water makes the body cold and women should not be cold during this time. I understand how this might have made sense in rural China 100 years ago but with hot running water at home there is no reason to make myself so dirty for such a long time. The other parts of the practice have to do with resting the body and allowing it to heal, but it seemed excessive to me. Of course I want to hold my baby and refraining from reading or looking at a computer just felt weird.
So despite skipping a few of the rules, I did pretty much follow the below mandates of Zuo Yuezi:
- Drink only hot liquids and eating only hot foods (well, room temperature)
- Do not leaving the house (well, except for Doctor’s appointments – these were essential!)
- Eat lots of meat and veggies
- Keep your body warm with thick clothes
- Bind your belly to bring it back to shape
- Limited visitors
There were a few great things that happened with my post-partum time. By Day 10 I had lost all 20 lbs that I gained during pregnancy. The food I ate made me feel health and gave me energy for long nights of nursing a newborn.
Whether the Zuo Yuei diet was solely responsible for the weight loss and energy I can’t say for sure, but the practice did have some downsides too: I got major cabin fever after week three. I really missed adult contact, as I pretty much only saw my partner and family at this time, and I got on a really bad sleep schedule, often sleeping in until 12:00 or 1:00pm.
But now that I'm three months postpartum writing about this period I think the practices was a good experience overall. After the month ended I overindulged in ice cream and sugary foods that I missed, and overextended myself physically with long meetings for work. I have no regrets about doing Zuo Yuezi, but wish I didn’t totally blow my health diet or periods of rest on Day 31.
Maybe the secret is not total abstinence for one month, but rather moderation for two or three...