Exploring The Chinese Postnatal Tradition of Zuoyuezi: No Hair Washing, No Television, No Crying

 

For new Asian American mothers, the Chinese postnatal practice of zuoyuezi, or “sitting the month” — where bed rest is mandated, only certain foods can be eaten and you can’t even wash your hair — can be a confusing clash between Eastern traditions and Western conventions during those first critical 30 days after childbirth. But as Contributing Editor Ada Tseng learns, there is nothing wrong with a postpartum helping hand — whether it’s family or a zuoyuezi nanny for a month. In fact, when done in moderation, the ancient practice can serve as a more graceful transition into the daunting world of parenthood.

 

When I first told my husband about the postpartum tradition of zuoyuezi, he thought I was making it up. Literally translated to “sitting the month,” but sometimes referred to as “postpartum confinement,” zuoyuezi is a Chinese practice that encourages a new mother to rest in her home for one month after giving birth. During this time, there are many instructions on diet and recovery that range from drinking herbal soups and eating pork liver, to not washing your hair for 30 days and being confined to the house, room or even your bed, depending on how strictly one adheres to the tradition. In the meantime, family members, friends or hired help collectively pitch in to assist the new mother with cooking, cleaning and taking care of the baby so she can fully restore the balance to her body before attacking motherhood at 100 percent in month two.

“You just don’t want to do anything for a month,” my husband joked. He assumed that I, never one to be called maternal, was apprehensive about the drastic life change that motherhood would inevitably bring and was therefore excited about the idea of inviting anyone and everyone to come help us raise this baby. At least for 30 days.

This was only half true. Both my husband and I are Taiwanese Americans born and raised in California, and our links to our heritage can be traced more through our love of food (shaved ice and beef noodle soup), culture (Taiwanese films and karaoke songs) or general philosophy (respecting our parents!) than formal customs. Never in our years of knowing each other have either of us insisted on adhering to any tradition, so when I waxed poetic about this ancient zuoyuezi practice that dates back to the 1st century B.C., he wasn’t buying it.

That is, until he asked my OB/GYN, who happened to be Taiwanese American, about it, and she admitted that while the practice of zuoyuezi, which takes heavy influence from traditional Chinese medicine, was definitely not something that’s taught in medical school (most Western experts would argue that many of the benefits are unproven), her mother had made her do it when she gave birth to her own children.

I was surprised when my mother first mentioned that I should look into zuoyuezi resources partway through my pregnancy. At the time, my only knowledge of zuoyuezi came from the more extreme and divisive practices that get reported in the news — of the “look at the crazy things Chinese people do” variety. On one hand, it’s known as an antiquated tradition (some would say superstition) that’s more akin to torture than relaxation. The herbal soups you’re forced to eat are disgusting, you can’t wash yourself properly because you can’t risk any cold air touching any part of your body, you’re trapped in your own house, not allowed to watch TV or engage in any activities that will strain your eyes, and mothers or mothers-in-law are on your backs like drill sergeants to make sure you follow the often excessive and old-fashioned rules to a tee.

Alternately, several years ago, reports surfaced about a growing trend of luxury zuoyuezi postpartum confinement centers booming in places like mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, which paints zuoyuezi as, for lack of a better description, something that rich people do. Taiwanese celebrities went on talk shows to rave about these facilities that are basically boutique hotels with first-rate nannies and doulas on hand to take care of your baby while you and your husband rest, take classes about parenthood or even enjoy their spa and salon services. And Taiwanese talk show viewers, like my mother, in turn, raved about how these celebrities were able to stay beautiful, skinny and youthful, even after having multiple kids, because they took care of themselves properly after giving birth.

The first scenario seemed unappealing and the second unrealistic, but my mother assured me that there was a middle ground. She explained it to me like this: Western culture likes to glamorize the act of bearing children with phrases like “the miracle of birth,” whereas the Chinese see labor as one of the worst traumas that can happen to the body. Special care is required to help us recalibrate. My mother didn’t feel the need to follow every single rule — for example, many people nowadays who practice zuoyuezi believe that rules like not washing your hair for a month are outdated, harkening back to the olden days when you would wash your hair in the bacteria-laden river, putting your baby’s health at risk. It was more about practicing the “spirit” of zuoyuezi: resting so you can gain your strength back as quickly as possible, maintaining a healthy diet and relaxed state of mind so you can properly feed and take care of your baby.

Later, when I told my mother my husband thought I was trying to get out of work, she laughed. “You’re going to be responsible for and worried about this child for the rest of your life,” she said. “Us helping you out for one month doesn’t get you out of that much work.”

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Many immigrants from my parents’ generation who grew up in Asia but gave birth in the United States believe in zuoyuezi, not necessarily because they had done it themselves, but precisely because they didn’t do it. The Chinese believe that postnatal recovery is critical to maintaining long-term health, so as a result, many women of my mothers’ generation, now seniors, blame their current health issues — whether it be migraines, backaches or arthritis — on the fact that they didn’t properly rest during the month after childbirth. Perhaps it was because their parents and extended family were abroad and unable to pitch in, maybe their in-laws didn’t believe in it, or perhaps they just didn’t have the resources at the time to find a support network in the United States, where postpartum care is still, for the most part, glossed over in the mainstream. (Even now, babies are coddled and scheduled for multiple check-ups right away, but new mothers, even if they are recovering poorly, often don’t return to their doctors until six weeks later.) Because of such regrets, these experienced mothers often vow not to let their daughters suffer the same consequences.

There are many ways to practice zuoyuezi, and while the details vary, the general principles are consistent (see below). Many opt for the do-it-your- self version, where the grandmothers take it upon themselves to carry out the tradition for their daughters or daughters-in-law. While this is the cheapest option, it’s a lot of work to ask of someone, especially in this day and age where many of us wait until we are older to have children. And by the time we do, our mothers are also older and less capable (or willing) to do the hours of shopping, preparation and cooking in order to prepare specific meals meant to heal the body, restore blood loss, prevent swelling, promote production of breast milk, speed up uterus contractions, restore hormone levels and help the new mother get her pre-pregnancy physique back.

Another option is the postpartum center mentioned previously. While it’s more common in Asia, these “mommy hotels” do exist in the U.S., though they’re more underground, often only advertised in Chinese-language newspapers and television programs. Though they carry a stigma in the Western world — as the sites of the “birthing tourism” controversy, where foreign mothers give birth in the States to secure their children the American citizenship that they can’t get themselves — more and more Asian American citizens take advantage of these centers where the mother and husband can stay for a month, while their babies sleep in a separate room, looked after by a team of nannies, nurses or doulas.

Somewhere in the middle lies the option of using food-delivery services — nowadays, there are even tastings for expectant mothers — or hiring a live-in nanny (ah yi or “auntie”) who will cook all your meals and take care of the mother and baby, especially at night, so the new parents can get their rest.

After considering our own specific needs and preferences, we opted for the live-in nanny, who would stay in our house to help out for the first month.

While I can only speak from my own experience, the process of hiring a live-in nanny in the United States remains strangely shrouded in mystery, and looking back, required more last-minute improvisation and luck of the draw than most people may prefer. Because these services are not widely advertised online or in English, we could only depend on word of mouth. Friends, and friend of friends, directed us to a woman who ran a nanny referral service from the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California. (Later, we would learn that there are many different nanny referral services, but at the time, it seemed like all our inquiries led to the same woman and cell phone number.)

Without a website or even a contract that outlined how this would work, the woman told us that we couldn’t meet or interview the nannies in advance, because they were all currently working for clients 24/7 (many of these nannies are literally booked for back-to-back months with no break), but we would be assigned a caregiver based on my projected due date. We were assured that all the nannies were extremely experienced and had proper certification. That said, because zuoyuezi traditions vary from region to region (not only China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, but many Southeast Asian countries have adopted their own versions of the postpartum traditions as well), it’s hard to believe there’s any sort of consistency.

The only instructions we got were that we needed to prepare a bed for the nanny in the baby room and to call back a month before my due date to work out other logistics. During that phone call, I was told that I was in luck: she had two nannies that would be available during the week of my delivery date. “What if I go into labor earlier than that?” I asked. “Don’t worry so much,” she said. “Then I’ll find someone else.”

Under normal circumstances, trusting a faceless voice on the other end of the line — and, sending her a check for the referral fee to reserve my spot, no less — seemed to defy all logic. There were even rumors that nannies were often sent back by unsatisfied clients, and as an American not used to taking leaps of faith to uphold Chinese traditions, there seemed to be no guarantee that this wasn’t all a scam. But my mother trusted in the process, and I, valuing the promise of postpartum help above all else, had committed to the ride. As it got closer and closer to my delivery date, I had become comfortable with the notion that this could go a myriad of ways, taking solace in the fact that, worst case, we’d send the nanny back.


Sure enough, I went into labor eight days early, and the nannies she had been reserving for me were still out of state, finishing up their previous jobs. But sure enough, she was able to go through her contacts to find another nanny, who had just finished up a job the day prior and could be picked up at a location 20 miles away from us the next day.

Looking back, there were many ways things could have gone wrong with the prospect of allowing an unvetted stranger to live with you for a month — not to mention, trusting that stranger with the high-stakes task of taking care of your baby. One of the most complex and frustrating aspects of having kids — from pregnancy, labor, post-labor recovery, to parenthood — is that everyone from family members to professionals give often-conflicting advice, and adding in a zuoyuezi nanny with her own convictions just adds an extra variable to the madness.

Especially for Asian Americans, clashes of East versus West beliefs abound, from macro levels (in a sense, the entire philosophy of confinement clashes with Western medical science that does encourage rest but not extreme bed rest, which may cause your muscles to atrophy and, in turn, cause you to recover slower) to the micro-minutiae (Westerners tell you to drink lots of water to generate breast milk, whereas Chinese believe that water makes you bloated and less able to shed your baby weight, opting instead for herbal drinks and teas).

However, the zuoyuezi ah yi can also serve as a neutral third party who is able to dispense advice and reach compromises with a new mother, without the emotional baggage of a nagging parent or the unintended consequences of disobeying the wishes of a well-meaning in-law. As a result, the experience can be an exercise in trust and communication, with much less at stake.

In my particular case, our nanny — a middle-aged woman who, as is typical, didn’t speak much English — had certain principles about how to properly sit the month, but was flexible about other aspects, turning a blind eye when I slipped out of the house every so often to get some fresh air, when I spent the better part of the day watching videos on my smartphone when I was supposed to be resting, when my hair was clearly washed every other day, or even when my mother, who was responsible for grocery shopping, took it upon herself to not even buy ingredients (like the infamous pork liver) that she assumed I wouldn’t like or certain Chinese herbs that she thought would stink up the entire house.

In the end, it was like my mother said: We didn’t follow all the rules, but we captured the “spirit” of zuoyuezi. Not only am I grateful for the recovery time where my sole responsibility was to rest and bond with my baby, but I was given the gift of one month to observe someone who’s been taking care of babies for decades; to practice regular acts of breastfeeding, burping and changing under professional guidance until I was comfortable; and to soak up her advice that was catered to my individual baby.

Two months later, I can say that I feel fully recovered, but perhaps more importantly, now that nannies and grandparents have left the nest, I’ve learned to trust myself a little bit more and be confident that, if nothing else, my month of zuoyuezi sent me off into the abyss of parenthood in the right direction.

As for the long-term effects, will the fact that I was able to practice zuoyuezi keep my body strong and slow down the aging effects associated with childbirth? Will I regret bending the rules and wish that I had resisted washing my hair for 30 days? Find me in 30 years, and I’ll let you know.

 

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This story was originally published in our Fall 2014 issue. Get your copy here

 

Ten Seconds With This Baby Will Make Your Day

Apparently, this video of an Asian baby slurping up a watermelon is slowly making it’s way to viral fame. While it seems like such an ordinary activity, we have to admit he looks awfully cute doing it.

The video was uploaded only a few days ago, but it has already gathered nearly 65,000 views. The crazy part? It’s only ten seconds long. We know what you’re thinking. How can a ten second video get that much attention?

Well it seems like the popularity of short, but entertaining videos have increased with the rise in Vine and Instagram videos. And let’s not underestimate the appeal of an adorable Asian baby. Just check out our Adorable Asian Baby series to see what we mean:

1) Adorable Asian Babies Who Dress Better Than You 
2) Adorable Asian Babies Who Dress Better Than You (PART II)
3) Audrey Readers Have Adorable Asian Babies
4) Adorable Asian Babies (Halloween Costume Edition)
5) Adorable Asian Babies With Puppies 
So tell us, does watermelon baby deserve a spot on our Adorable Asian Baby list?

The Adorable Ye-bin is Back!

Do you remember this adorable little face? We’ll give you a hint. She isn’t afraid of strangers.

Yes, this is little Ye-bin. This cutie became a viral sensation when her video “Mom Tries to Teach Adorable Girl Life Lesson” hit YouTube and gathered nearly 9 million views. During the video, Ye-bin’s mother tries to teach her about strangers and being safe, but we get the feeling Ye-bin is so friendly that she would accept all sorts of sweets from strangers.

This time around, Ye-bin’s mother is trying to teach her how to say the phrase “I am scared.” Simple enough right? As it turns out, even the most simple of tasks becomes adorable with this little girl.

Throughout the video, Ye-bin struggles with the pronunciation of the phrase, but she isn’t bothered. In fact, she’s giggling the entire time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a child say “I’m scared” with such a cuteness.

The video was only uploaded yesterday, but it has already gathered over 30,000 views. Check it out below.

 

 

This Adorable 3-Year-Old Will Make Your Day With His Dance Moves

Even if you have the worst case of the Mondays, 3-year-old Zhang Junhao will certainly make your day.

A Chinese reality show, which appears to be similar to America’s Got Talent, recently had the brave young boy on their stage to impress the judges and bring the audience to their feet.

The boy doesn’t appear to have an ounce of bashfulness as he hugs his luggage, calls it his baby and says he will dance with his baby. The second Zhang Junhao walks on stage, he puts a smile on the faces of the judges including celebrity judge Jet Li.

After running up to the judges to give them all a kiss on the cheek, he begins showing off his adorable dance skills. He does everything from the robot to karate punches to skipping. Zhang Junhao may be young and his dancing may be completely random, but he certainly seems natural at putting a smile on someone’s face.

He bravely tells the judges that he was not afraid to perform and he dances for his entire family everyday. He then tells the judges that he loves dancing because it makes his mother laugh and laughter is happiness.

Trust us when we say young  Zhang Junhao will put a smile on your face.

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Always Go Swimming With Strangers

Story by James S. Kim. 

Do you remember when you were taught important life lessons? Leave it to Ye-bin, an adorable little Korean girl, to make a completely hilarious and aww-inducing mess of things when it comes to learning about strangers.

Ye-bin’s mother asks three different times what she should do if a stranger came up and offered cookies, ice cream and even take her swimming. Ye-bin replies, “I like that!” to every single situation, even adding in a shoulder shimmy to show her enthusiasm.

The second time around, after being corrected by her mother, Ye-bin seems to be on point. Cookies? A firm “No!” Ice Cream? “No!” Swimming—can she go three for three? Swing and a miss.

Ye-bin does have some excuse for her poor showing. She doesn’t seem to be fully engaged in the conversation, as there seems to be a television running off the screen that has most of her attention. She probably only heard snippets and “cookies,” “ice cream” and “swimming,” to which any proper child would say yes to—not from strangers, of course.

 

This story was originally published in iamkoream.com 

Want more adorable Asian babies? We have just the thing:
1) The Ultimate List of Adorable Asian Babies
2) Adorable Asian Babies Who Dress Better Than You

Video of The Week: The Cutest Reaction To Rain EVER

Admittedly, I am one of those individuals who gets gloomy at the sight of rain. For many people, rain is a time to complain about getting wet, being cold and an unexplained sense of sadness. Well you may start reconsidering that once you see Kayden.

In this video, Kayden appears to be experiencing rain for one of the first times. Trust us when we say this is the cutest reaction to rain EVER.

If you need a reminder to appreciate the little things in life, this would be it. I may not be delighted with rain, but I certainly don’t mind Kayden playing in it.

Want to see more adorable Asian babies? We’ve got just the thing.
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Adorable Asian Babies Who Dress Better Than You

Our faithful Audrey readers have made one thing clear to us: they love adorable Asian babies. Of course, we don’t blame them. Who can resist squealing over those round eyes and chubby cheeks?

To appease our readers, we brought you the Adorable Asian Baby Overload, Asian Babies With Puppies and even A Halloween Costume Edition. Looks like we’re all out of cute babies, right?

 

Don’t you worry. We noticed one thing in particular with these children who reach social media fame. Many of them have a killer fashion sense. That, or they have parents who understand how much we eat these pictures up. Some people complain that these fashion-heavy photos are simply parents vicariously living through their children by dressing them up to reach viral fame. Others claim that these parents simply enjoy the idea of a well-dressed toddler. Whatever the reason may be, they certainly caught our attention.

Here are kids who make the playground their runway and lower our self-esteem by dressing way better than we ever did during our toddler years.

 

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Image of The Day: These Naptime Friends Will Warm Your Heart

What’s better than an adorable little Asian baby? How about an adorable Asian baby posing with his best friend.. who happens to be an equally cute dog?

Recently, a photoset of this duo has been making its way around social media sites and is quickly becoming a viral sensation. After looking through these pictures, it obvious that the popularity of these two best friends was inevitable. Simply wrapping them up in a blanket and having them sleep made many viewers squeal.

Although it seems that the pair have just entered online popularity, the two have actually been around for quite some time now.

Maru, the shiba ina puppy, and Issa, the adorable two-year-old boy, have already been internet sensations to Japanese audiences. Their facebook has been up and running since May 2012 and they have already gathered nearly 40,000 likes in less than a year.

Clearly, these two love the camera and are ready to share their cuteness to the world. Check out their viral photoset below and click here to see even more squeal-worthy photos.

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These Naptime Adventures Are A Must-See

According to Parenting.com, babies are incapable of nightmares because they haven’t yet grasped the concept of fear. Instead, their dreams are filled with silent, vivid images. So what exactly do babies dream about during these sleep-fests? Researchers are still in the dark when it comes to knowing what babies actually dream about, but Queenie Liao certainly has an adorable way of showing what she thinks these dreams consist of.

Liao, mother of three, decided to utilize her baby’s naptime for some creative art. Using household materials such as blankets and stuffed animals, Liao makes every naptime photo an adventure.

Her photo art album, Wengenn in Wonderland, consists of over a hundred naptime adventures with Liao’s son, Wengenn. Trust us, it’s quite a delight.

If baby dreams are anything like the ones Queenie Liao imagines, then we certainly have something to be envious about.

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Aww of The Day: Dogs Help A Baby Learn to Crawl

What could possibly be cuter to watch than a baby learning to crawl? How about adding some dogs into the mix?

This adorable Chinese baby, nicknamed Maple Syrup, is undeniably cute as he crawls his way over to the camera. The family’s two adopted dogs, Brown Sugar and Rice Candy, decide to make the video even better and automatically imitate the baby.

We’re not sure if the dogs are simply following his lead or helping him with moral support, but we’d like to believe the latter.

According to ET Today, the mother simply wanted to show others that pets and babies can be best friends. Lucky for her, she was able to spread this message to a lot of people. The video has only been up for a little over a week and it has gained over 1,880,000 views. Clearly, cuteness is worthy of viral attention.

As it turns out, the trio is rather accustomed to fame. They have their own facebook page with over 63,000 likes and a handful of squeal-worthy photos. Check out the video and some of the photos below.

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