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Chinese Child Birth Traditions

Experiences of a Dutch Lactation Consultant/Midwife in China

I learned a lot during the first years that I worked with the local hospital to train village and township doctors and visit expecting and new mothers in their homes in the villages. Below a few of these first lessons learned:

Chinese Customs Surrounding Child Birth. There are many things new mothers should or most of all shouldn’t do in the first one to three months after birth. Even though these customs vary per region in China, here are some of the common ones I have seen here: Don’t get off the bed. Don’t eat fruit and only a little vegetables. Don’t touch cold things. Don’t wash or comb your hair, don’t wash your feet, nor brush your teeth. Don’t add salt or add only a little to your food. Eat plenty of eggs (5-8/day or more). Don’t go outside. Don’t watch tv or read a book. Regardless of the weather, wear warm clothes. Don’t open the windows (even when it is very hot). And remember: the new mom is to keep these “rules” for one to three months!

One day I was asked to help a mother in the first week post partum. It was summer, about 35 degrees Celcius. As they opened the door for me, I was overwhelmed by the heat. No windows were open in the entire apartment. No ventilators, no airco running. As I entered the mom’s room, I saw her on her bed with a leather, long sleeve jacket, long pants under a duvet. Her face was red, she was sweating. She was clearly uncomfortable, I even wondered if she was sick… I felt so sorry for her.

How to approach these customs? I’ve learned not to focus on trivial things, don’t even point them out, but emphasize the things that really matter when it comes to health outcome. Try to be creative. For example, in general I don’t fight the belief that a newly delivered mother shouldn’t eat nor touch anything cold… as long as they have a well balanced diet, which includes fruit. But fruit is cold. So, I suggest they warm the fruit up by putting it in hot water, on the radiator or in the warm sun. In this way, eating fruit seems to be more acceptable. As for the mother just mentioned: I suggested they open the windows in other parts of the apartment to let in some fresh air. For the mom and baby to move to another part of the house once a day for a brief period of time to allow the bedroom to be aired wouldn’t be a bad idea either. The challenge comes when I advice to put cold packs on the breasts after feeding when the breasts are very engorged. Another challenge is when people say that the mother doesn’t have milk those first days and the baby has to have a bottle… Bringing change in these situations is not an easy job (see future journals).

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