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Chinese Cultural and Childbirth

I learned about some cool Chinese traditions surrounding a new baby’s birth when I was a kid.  Growing up, my mom would often tell me things to never do immediately after having a baby since it was bad for your health: don’t work or cook or do anything laborious for 1 month, don’t take a shower, don’t get cold, don’t wash your hair because it will cause arthritis in old age.  I never really knew where she picked up that kind of information, so I decided to dig more into Chinese culture surrounding childbirth here, here, here, and here.

Many of the influences on cultural beliefs stem from Chinese Buddhist and Taoist religious beliefs that utilize spiritual rites to offer protection from evil spirits.  For 1 month post partum, the mother and baby are supposed to remain home-bound to prevent against death and disease.   However, worldwide for centuries, the most delicate time in a child’s life is that first month post-partum when immune defenses are low.

In the Chinese beliefs of yin and yang, it is believed that pregnancy is a “hot” period, therefore hot foods should be avoided and expectant moms should consume cold foods.  I have no idea what foods are in which category, because they’re not referring to temperature.  But, I imagine spicy foods are considered hot, and they definitely do flare up the heartburn and nausea!

On the contrary, post-partum is considered a “cold” period, so “hot” foods should be devoured and cold foods avoided.  It makes nutritional sense to me that Chinese women often consume foods high in protein to replenish blood loss during birth.  They also drink hot ginger tea and eat several other concoctions that sound utterly horrendous to me (pickled pigs feet with wine and other things, blech!).

I don’t think it’s a bad thing for the mom to take a month off to bond with the baby, relax, and recuperate.  I welcome the fact that post-partum, I’ll be able to stay at home and rejuvenate for a month until the holiday season kicks in.  Not taking a shower during that 1 month period, well, I’m not too sure about that one.  Not washing your hair for 1 month, now that’s just utterly gross to me, although I don’t think it’s necessary, especially in colder months, to wash your hair every day.  It makes sense to avoid taking a shower immediately after delivery in that a new mom is probably fatigued, somewhat hypoglycemic, and possibly unstable on her legs and could possibly pass out, which could be a hazard while standing in a slippery shower.  Taking a bath makes sense to help flush out any birth remnants, but Chinese culture advises against taking a bath when a woman is menstruating, so I don’t understand how that’s different than post-partum.

One of the particularly interesting Chinese traditions surrounding a newborn baby is the 1-month birthday celebration.  After the mom and baby have had a chance to bond and get into a routine for a month, the baby is officially presented to extended family and friends at a party.  Typically, the baby’s name isn’t announced until the party.  In fact, the baby’s name isn’t determined until the baby is born since there’s an entire elaborate process surrounding that regarding gender, name meaning, name sound, number of brush strokes to write the name in characters, and whether the name is representative of water, fire, earth, or air.

Okay, back to party-talk.  So, like most anything related to Chinese tradition, the party is typically themed in red to promote happiness and prosperity.  Baby’s birth is announced by sending out eggs dyed red: an odd number of eggs means girl and an even number, boy.  Guests typically present the baby with red envelopes filled with money (the same type of thing that elders give to kids at Chinese lunar new year celebration).  Grandparents give the baby jewelry (bracelets, anklets, necklaces, etc.) to “tie the baby to this world”.  The baby is adorned in red, often times that includes an ornately designed silk coat and hat.

In exchange, guests receive dyed red eggs, pickled ginger, and mini red and yellow cakes for happiness and prosperity.

Since Steve’s family’s church wants to throw a baby shower after the baby’s birth, I thought it would be fun to throw in a few elements of Chinese tradition with a red theme and a couple of the traditional party favors.

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7 Responses

  1. All chinese food is hot, I wonder how they define the cold one. It’s all spicy you know.

  2. I DO NOT KNOW HOW ANYONE COULD ENDURE NOT TAKING A BATH AFTER BIRTHING A CHILD! I HAVE TWO CHILDREN AND THE ONLY THING I EVER WANTED AFTER CUDDLING MY CHILDREN IS A WARM BATH.

  3. The Chinese wouldn’t dream of naming a baby before she’s born.

  4. Thanks. I like the chinese food alot !

  5. My son is married to a wonderful girl from China. They are expecting their first baby. Her parents insist on traveling to the US from China and moving in with them for the first 6 months of the baby’s life so that her mother can take care of the baby, claiming it is a Chinese tradition. My son is having trouble with this but his wife, my daughter-in-law claims that she must honor her mothers actions. Is this really a tradition or is my son being taken advantage of? I understand they would want to visit to see the baby, perhaps for a few weeks to a month, but moving in with them and taking over the care of the baby for 6 whole months seems extreme to me.

    • It is tradition that the maternal grandmother joins the family to provide care to the baby and the mother who just gave birth. The maternal grandmother will provide respite while also tending to the mother’s health and needs to help her heal after childbirth. Oftentimes, this includes making a special kind of tea for the mother to drink and cooking certain foods to help the uterus contract back to normal size and to ensure good health in the future. This is also generally the time in which the maternal grandmother passes on wisdom about child rearing onto her daughter. In the Chinese culture, generally the grandmother takes care of the baby and often times, the strongest bond exists between the grandmother and grandbaby.

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