As a Malaysian postpartum doula of Chinese origin, a large proportion of my clientele are Asian (Chinese). I have supported quite a few Asian clients who observed the traditional practice of sitting the month or Zuo Yue Zi or Zhor Yuit. I am sure a lot of postpartum doulas are aware of this tradition, but if you aren’t I will share with you briefly what this involves and share a few recipes with you.
This cultural practice is meant to allow the postpartum parent to recuperate and recover form the birth of their baby. They are supposed to rest and do very little, and not leave the house for a month. During this time, the postpartum parent is said to be in a ‘cold condition,’ giving birth has caused them to lose a lot of heat. Moreover, their pores are said to be open and they are predisposed to getting chilled. In order to protect and improve their health, a diet of ‘warming’ foods is vital and avoidance of cold water is important so that their bodies return to one of equilibrium – not cold or hot. Cold drinks are also forbidden for this period.
The Chinese diet is a combination of ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ and neutral foods. Ginger, Chinese rice wine, sesame oil, red dates(Chinese jujubes, usually dried), dried longan-a tropical fruit, dark green leafy veg, adzuki beans, black beans are all ‘hot’ foods.
‘Cold’ foods are lettuce, cabbage, cucumber, mung beans, most root vegetables ( as they grow underground where it is dark and cold) and anything raw- think salad items.
Consequently the Chinese postpartum diet consists of mainly ‘hot’ foods with the addition of meat- chicken mainly but pork ,beef and eggs are also eaten. Seafood is not eaten as it’s thought to be s cold food as it comes from the sea which is cold, and also toxic for the recovering postpartum parent. Nothing cold or raw is to be consumed.
In addition to a specific diet, the postpartum parent is also not allowed to touch cold water, or wash in water that has not been boiled with ginger skin and then cooled ready for use. They are not allowed to wash their hair as their pores and joints are said to be open following birth, and that would cause them to get chilled. They may not feel any ill-effects immediately, but the Chinese believe that it will cause arthritis and other problems in 20-30 years time.
In modern times, I have not looked after any Chinese postpartum parents that have followed this practice completely as they have found it very difficult not to shower, bath or wash their hair for a month! I usually advise them to ensure they have a hot shower/bath, and that their houses are adequately heated, and if washing their hair, to dry it immediately with a hairdryer.
I would like to share with you a tea that I make for my clients. It’s called red date tea. This is drunk throughout the day in place of water.The red dates (jujubes) are said to be warming and will replenish the heat that was lost in labour and birth. In addition, it is said that it is also good for replenishing and nourishing the blood, thus improving blood circulation. This can lead to better liver and digestive function, balance of inner body energy (Qi) and improved immunity. Goji berries are a known for their antioxidant qualities. How wonderful is that? You can get the ingredients from most Asian grocers or traditional Chinese medicine shops.
Before you make and drink this tea though, please check with you healthcare provider as there are some contraindications if you are taking certain medications. References for the ingredients of this tea are given at the end of this article.
Red Date Tea
15-20 red dates, stones removed
1/4 cup of dried longan
2 tbs of goji berries
6-8 cups of water
Put all ingredients in a bowl and soak for a minute or two then rinse in a colander.
Combine all ingredients and water in a medium – large pot.
Bring to boil, then simmer for up to 25 minutes.
You can add sugar to taste but I don’t for my clients, as the tea has a mildly sweet flavour from the dates, longan and goji berries.
The tea can be served with the ingredients or without. I personally like to serve it with the fruit as it’s pretty and also adds fibre with is beneficial, especially if my clients slightly constipated or have haemorrhoids!
Keep tea in a flask so it keeps hot and drink throughout the day.
Ginger, eggs and chicken feature large in the dishes that are eaten in the postpartum period. If you follow confinement practices strictly, a chicken a day should be consumed by the postpartum parent. Though this practice is difficult to adhere to.
With this in mind, I would like to share 2 simple dishes that I cook for my clients- ginger fried rice and chicken with ginger and sesame oil.
Ginger Fried Rice
1 cup cooked rice that has been cooled, or left over rice that has been stored in the fridge in a covered container overnight.
Thumb size piece of ginger- peeled, thinly sliced and julienned
1-2 spring onions, cleaned and sliced thinly on the diagonal.
1-2 tbs of cooking oil
1tbs sesame seed oil
1 tbs soy sauce- optional
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat wok/large fry pan over medium heat.
When oil is hot, fry ginger until it turns golden brown and is fragrant.
Break eggs and add to the pan, stirring as though making scrambled eggs.
When eggs are nearly cooked, add the green onions and fry for another minute.
Turn heat down a little, add the rice and stir continuously until rice is evenly heated and fried in the ginger, egg and onion mix- about 5 minutes.
Season with soy sauce if using, salt and pepper.
Turn heat off and drizzle sesame seed oil over and mix in.
Serve whilst still hot.
You can serve this as a side to the ginger chicken in sesame oil dish.
Chicken with Ginger and Sesame Oil
4 boneless and skinless chicken thighs- sliced into 1/2 inch thick slices
1 boneless and skinless chicken breast- sliced into 1/2 in thick slices
3 in ginger root, skinned, sliced thinly and julienned
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
2tbs dark soy sauce
1 tbs Cooking oil
1tbs Chinese cooking rice wine
2tbs sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Sesame seeds for garnishing- optional
Mix the dark soy sauce with the sliced chicken in a bowl, you can add a tsp of cornstarch to this mix if you wished.
Heat wok/ large fry pan over medium heat, add ginger.
Fry until fragrant, add minced garlic and stir, be careful not to burn the garlic.
Fry for about 30 seconds and then add the chicken, turning up the heat slightly. Cook the chicken, stir frying for about 5 minutes, add about 1/4-1/2 cup water, turn heat down and simmer until chicken is cooked through about another 15 minutes. Add the Chinese cooking wine, sesame oil, stir, taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. Be careful as the dark soy sauce may be salty enough. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if using and serve! Bon Appetit!
I have used a photo from www.rasamalaysia.com as I can’t find a photo of my own for this dish, even though I have cooked it numerous times over the years!
I invite you to try cooking some of the dishes and making the red date tea. As I mentioned earlier, please consult your healthcare provider if you are taking regular medications before you start making the tea as there are some contraindications to certain medications. You don’t have to be postpartum to try them. It’s winter in Canada as I am writing this, and the warming red date tea would go down well on a snowy winter’s day.
Here are some links and resources if you would like to know more about the Chinese postpartum period.
Doing the month: Chinese postpartum practices
Article in MCN The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing · November 2006 DOI: 10.1097/00005721-200611000-00013 · Source: PubMed