“Sitting the Month,” 坐月子 (zuo yue zi), or Po Ge Lai is a month-long Chinese way of postpartum healing. It’s a traditional way of caring for postpartum mothers which takes a period of one month. Throughout this first month after delivery of the baby, it’s believed that the mom should follow (or endure) confinement practices for the body to recover properly and optimally. However, this often comes with a barrage of advice, some of which may be outdated or misconstrued. In this blog post, let’s explore some common sayings related to “ge lai” and shed light on the misconceptions surrounding them.
Traditional (Common Belief) vs. Modern Insights (Reality) on Po Ge Lai
According to Chinese traditional medicine experts, giving birth depletes a woman’s energy (Qi) and blood. Breastfeeding, while nourishing for the baby, adds another layer of depletion as the mother creates a vital food source. This state of depletion makes rest and nutritious food imperative for proper healing. Here are some common beliefs or myths and realistic suggestions on po ge lai:
1. Brushing Teeth:
– Common Belief: Don’t brush your teeth; it can damage them.
– Reality: Dental hygiene is crucial during confinement. Rinsing with warm water and gentle brushing, especially for those with gum issues, is recommended.
2. Bed Rest:
– Common Belief: Rest as much as possible; avoid getting out of bed.
– Reality: Excessive standing or sitting for extended periods can impact hormonal metabolism, so moderate walking is recommended for a balanced body and mind. Mothers can start moving around soon after delivery, enjoying sunlight for enhanced recovery. Resting is better than doing strenuous activities though to facilitate faster recuperation.
3. No Hair Washing or No Bathing:
– Common Belief: Avoid washing hair or taking a shower.
– Reality: Regular showers are okay, with precautions for those who had a caesarean section. But the suggested practice is to avoid contact with cold water to prevent joint pain; opt for warm water instead. Hair can be washed but should be dried through a hair blower immediately afterwards.
4. Dietary Considerations:
– Common Belief: Avoid condiments; focus on eggs and stews. Avoid raw or cold fruits and vegetables; focus on meat. Avoid consuming cold foods such as tomatoes, grapefruit, and watermelon during confinement. Don’t drink water.
– Reality / Suggestions:
– The diet during this period is carefully curated with nutritious meals, including special soups believed to enhance milk supply.
– As with anything, moderation is key. While eggs are nutritious, a balanced diet with fresh fruits and vegetables is essential for postpartum well-being.
– Cook all food items before consumption, steering clear of raw options.
– Fresh fruits and vegetables are essential for both mother and baby’s health during breastfeeding.
– Drink tea and hot beverages.
5. Emotional Expression:
– Common Belief: You can’t cry. You can’t be stressed. You can’t get sad or be angry. Maintain a stable and cheerful mood throughout the confinement period.
– Reality: Emotional stability is vital. Uncontrolled anger may lead to decreased breast milk secretion.
6. Ventilation / Environment:
– Common Belief: You can’t turn on the air conditioner. Refrain from exposure to wind, whether from air conditioners or electric fans, as it can potentially lead to rheumatoid arthritis, colds, and headaches. Limit outdoor activities, and if unavoidable, ensure complete coverage with hats, clothes, and socks to prevent wind infections.
– Suggestions: Proper ventilation is crucial. Regularly open windows and maintain a temperature of 25-28°C for a healthy environment.
Modern Insights and My Personal Take
I think Po Ge Lai is not a popular practice here in the Philippines, but there are still families that follow strict Chinese tradition and those who also believe in the benefits of confinement. In other countries, especially in China, Hong Kong, and Singapore, there are even postpartum centers with dedicated caregivers and specialists or “confinement nannies” that offer this service and even make it a high-end experience for new mothers.
I watched videos on YouTube showcasing how “po ge lai” nursing staff would treat new moms with such luxury care. Of course, the price tag is also on the expensive side, making it a lucrative business for entrepreneurs. This is a nice option to make sure you’ll be really properly taken care of with strict adherence to the confinement rules in addition of nutritional support and constant supervision in a safe haven.
In modern days, these “po ge lai” experts also shared that there are some adjustments on the rules to accommodate the needs and convenience of women. The adaptation of traditional practices to modern ways, such as incorporating technology and adjusting to climate conditions, reflects a pragmatic approach to an age-old custom.
This evolution in postpartum care not only addresses concerns about the extreme nature of certain traditions but also emphasizes the importance of flexibility and customization to suit individual needs.
Not being able to prioritize cleanliness is my biggest challenge during the confinement period. In my first week of not washing my hair, for example, I’ve started having dandruff and itchy, irritated scalp. I couldn’t count how many times I prompted myself to search online about the consequences of washing my hair after giving birth on my postpartum well-being.
I thought the prohibition on washing is just too much and I couldn’t help but wonder about the broader implications. I also could not wash even my face so I was just using a cotton pad and a toner to clean my face daily. Sigh.
I read a lot of moms’ stories reflecting on their postpartum journey on reddit. Their diverse perspectives express an intricate balance between tradition and practicality, cultural expectations, and evolving medical knowledge. There’s really no scientific evidence on the benefits of not washing the hair or taking a bath for 30 days.
Where the “no washing of hair” rule could have emerged: Historically, without modern amenities, women faced challenges in keeping warm, especially during confinement. Wet hair in cold conditions could invite illness and disrupt overall circulation. In the absence of sophisticated drying methods, this practice ensured that post-natal women didn’t endure the discomfort of damp hair for extended periods.
Nowadays, we are privileged to have electricity, instant hot water, and advanced appliances. These luxuries grant new mothers the freedom to wash their hair and bathe without the historical constraints. So for me, it’s still best to have a good dental hygiene and body hygiene to maintain cleanliness, adopt a balanced diet, and ensure emotional well-being for a healthy and fulfilling confinement period.
I hope there will be medical practitioners / doctors who will really shed a good light and provide intentional advice and comments on outdated practices.
Post-natal care, rooted in ancient traditions, often carries nuances that may seem peculiar in contemporary times. As we navigate the delicate balance between tradition and modern conveniences, it’s essential to appreciate the wisdom embedded in these practices but also consider what’s best for us based on intuition and logic. The quirkiness of “po ge lai” dissipates when viewed through the lens of historical context, revealing a blend of cultural wisdom and common-sense solutions for postpartum recovery.
I think through time, there will be broader conversations on redefining Chinese or Eastern traditions of postpartum care in modern societies. Our personal experiences make us ponder more and encourage us to reflect on the value of prioritizing maternal well-being, fostering emotional connections, and embracing a comprehensive approach to support new moms in their unique journeys without having to put themselves into “torture” rather than convenience and what’s practical.