I gave birth to a healthy baby boy last Saturday, October 20, 2018 via NSD (Normal Spontaneous Delivery). For one month, I need to stay in my parents’ house and practice the Chinese traditional method of postpartum recovery, known as “po ge lai” or “ge lai” for short, as strictly “enforced” by my mom. It involves not bathing for 30 days, keeping away from anything cold, doing strenuous tasks, etc. In my mind, I really can’t stand not taking a bath for even two days, but for all it’s worth, I would just have to abide by this “recovery ritual” so my wound would heal faster—but more so, to avoid hearing the nags of my mom if I didn’t otherwise. 😛
Po ge lai has been followed by all my aunts, grandmothers, and other predecessors for years. Basically, it is believed to help protect the mother’s health and help the body recover from the rigors of childbirth. How? The warmth of the body are taken out of the woman’s body during childbirth. Ge lai brings this warmth or chi (the balance of cold and heat) back.
Whether you’re interested in considering to practice ge lai, currently pregnant, know someone who’s expecting a baby, or simply curious about ge lai, this post is for you.
Po Ge Lai (Chinese Postpartum Recovery): 10 “Rules” to Follow
1. Stay warm and dry. No baths!
Besides not taking a bath/shower for a month, po ge lai requires covering the entire body and wearing long pants or pajamas and socks all day. This is to prevent chills or “wind” from entering the body so you won’t get easily sick or weakened. Throughout pregnancy, a woman’s bones, joints and muscles expand to accommodate the growing child. In this phase of “looseness,” the mother’s body is more vulnerable to “coldness,” which, when left untreated, will haunt a woman in her golden years in the form of arthritis and rheumatism.
In my case, I stay inside the room and lay on bed almost the entire day, so there’s no worry about getting perspired or wet. An electric fan is enough to sleep comfortably.
My only gripe is that my scalp and hair are becoming greasier every day. I’d like to try using a dry shampoo I got from Healthy Options. For now, I tie my hair in a ponytail so it gets out of the way especially while breastfeeding.
2. Stay home.
I was put on bed rest from my 30th week of pregnancy because of the risks of pre-term labor. (Story will soon be posted in another blog post.) The only times I got to see the outdoors were during checkups with my OB. So with ge lai, being on “house arrest” is nothing new. Staying indoors for a straight whole month could sound boring, but this can promote healing and soon enough, you’ll get used to it. 😉
3. Rest as much as you can.
New mothers should not be involved in any vigorous activities and try not to strain their loosened joints. No carrying of heavy objects, no taking the stairs, and no carrying children. If possible, have someone else do errands and house chores.
I’m lucky to have my family here at home to do everything for me, including taking care of the baby for most times. My tasks are to eat well, breastfeed the baby, and help myself also heal better. I spend the rest of the day watching TV and YouTube videos, surfing the net, writing/blogging, and reading (minimal movements).
4. Take herbal teas, medicinal soups, and tonic drinks.
Just when I thought that I could take anything after giving birth, my mom advised to take only nutritious drinks following the ge lai plan. This is to flush out the dirty blood from the body, help increase breast milk production, keep the body warm, enhance tissue repair, and complete the mother’s recovery overall. In more traditional cases, even drinking ordinary water is considered “cold” and is thus forbidden.
Fortunately, I have two very supportive mothers. My mother-in-law provides the ingredients to make herbal teas like o-tso tong sim and seng hwa teng. We live in Binondo close to Chinatown so all these are very accessible. My mom is a great cook and knows how to make a lot of Chinese medicinal soups, such as black chicken (native chicken) soup, ginger soup, si but, anything with sesame oil, etc.
5. Eat prescribed “hot” food (dyet) for ge lai.
“Hot” food doesn’t mean spicy in general; rather, it refers to anything that can produce heat in the body to restore balance and rebuild blood supply. Popular examples are lamb, beef, duck, ginger, and chocolate (native tablea and dark chocolate) which also help replenish important nutrients like protein, iron, and calcium.
6. Avoid eating “cold” (tsin) food.
Cold food examples are fruits like pear, banana, orange, lemon, grapefruit, pomelo, watermelon, and coconut and vegetables likes cucumber, sponge gourd, winter melon, Chinese cabbage, white turnip, eggplant, bamboo shoot, seaweed, mung bean, lotus root.
7. Sit on boiled guava leaves.
The recommendation is sitting on boiling guava leaves two times a day. The steam of the guava leaves helps hasten the healing of wounds down under and will make the uterus contract faster.
8. Wear an abdominal binder or a girdle.
A binder or a girdle is like a postpartum corset that should be worn 24/7. It feels like a huge hug that tightens the stomach area, decreases bloating, helps with postpartum cramping, and speeds up recovery.
9. After the sitting month, bathe in water boiled with herbs.
Taking a bath with regular tap water is a no-no. After waiting for a whole month for a refreshing shower, the end is near. Po ge lai also requires bathing in brewed tea for the first bath and then waiting a couple of days before taking the next baths which should be done every other day (and not daily).
10. Limit interaction with other people.
For an even faster recovery, mothers in this “sitting month” are discouraged from having unnecessary human contact (i.e. interacting with visitors). This is to avoid contact with a possible source of infection as new mothers and newborns are immunologically vulnerable.