Sitting the Month: A Chinese Post-Partum Tradition For Women
On July 20, 2011 At 7:38 pm
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Throughout the world there are many traditions that may seem unimaginable to someone who has never heard of them before. For instance in China the tradition for new moms called “Sitting the Month” is one that westerners may find impractical, if not impossible to adhere to. Staying in doors for at least thirty days after birth, called "Sitting the Month" is where women are expected to stay home, or in a specially designed post-partum center, for 30 days after giving birth without bathing, showering, drinking cold water, or even getting dressed. (For the wealthy, the special post-partum centers can cost up to $500.00 a day, which includes round the clock nurses and doctors for both mother and baby.) The new mom’s diet is very bland and the only personal hygiene she is allowed is a sponge bath about once a week.
Why do women go through such extremes? In China, even crying out during labor is believed to attract evil spirits to the new child, so silence is recommended to protect the baby. Perhaps, following family or cultural traditions is hard-wired in us and when these traditions are passed from parent to child from generation to generation no one thinks to question. But could it be that some of these traditions are based in some innate wisdom from Chinese elders? For centuries Chinese Medicine has been used to treat the whole body mind and soul and nowhere are these practices more evident than in the process Chinese women go through to have a baby.
Pregnancy is considered a "hot" condition, so to balance the scale between "hot and cold" or "ying and yang" cold foods must be consumed throughout pregnancy. Then, post-partum is considered a "cold" condition due to blood loss during labor, so hot foods are required to rebuild lost blood supply. If cold foods are eaten at this time it can result in headaches or arthritis in old age. Hot foods would include, hot water, hot tea, ginger, vinegar, pig’s feet and high protein meats, although beef should be avoided because it slows healing.
To prevent complications and avoid upsetting the balance of "hot and cold", new mothers avoid showering, washing hair, or being exposed to any cold conditions such as air conditioning, open windows, drafts or doorways during the "sitting" month. Mothers are encouraged to eat soup of papaya and fish with papaya to increase milk production for nursing. Unlike in the United States where the first of the mother’s milk, the colostrum, is considered the most nutritious part of the milk for building immunity, in China it is discarded because it’s considered dirty milk.
Another interesting tradition in China related to child birth surrounds the placenta. One tradition states that after a special ceremony honoring the new life given to them, the placenta must be kept and buried near the birth place by the parents so that in death it may be worn into heaven as a symbol of atonement and humility of earth life. It is required to be reborn. This dedication of the placenta back to the earth or in honor of the child is becoming more frequent, even in cultures other than Chinese. Throughout life, parts of the dried placenta may be used to make medicines for various ailments. Also a necklace must be placed around the baby's neck before the umbilical cord is cut, which is believed to "tie" the baby's life to the necklace and not the cord.
Even though the father is not traditionally present at the birth, it is the role of the father to give the baby its first bath. For the first delivery the mother of the expectant mother is present at the birth, however, a woman is expected to deliver any subsequent births by herself at home.
Cultural differences often divide us and make us feel different or superior to those whose traditions seem outdated or even barbaric to us. But looking at some American traditions, it would seem that we have some pretty barbaric traditions ourselves. Some women for financial reasons must return to work just a few short weeks after giving birth, leaving their baby with a care giver who is often not even related. And before returning to work they are expected to return to chores, other children, and all the distractions that come with parenthood. So, perhaps a month without a cold glass of water, a hot shower, or a hot-fudge-sundae, in trade for a full month of uninterrupted bonding with baby, doesn’t sound so bad after all.
To read more about an actual “Sitting the Month” story follow this link to NPR.