Like most cultures, the Chinese have their fair share of superstition surrounding childbirth and pregnancy. The rich culture and age-old traditions in China are still strictly adhered to. According to legend, pregnancy is considered a “hot condition” so to maintain the balance of ‘yin-yang’ pregnant women are allowed to consume only cold food.
Common practices before birth
Pre-natal Chinese rituals are a combination of avoidance and protection. The mother starts guarding her thoughts. Young mothers are advised not to watch anything violent or participate in any event that is unpleasant including gossip. Women are discouraged from criticizing others for it is believed that the baby will become what you criticize. Chinese pregnancy customs forbids sex when pregnant to prevent miscarriage. They are not allowed to attend funerals either.
There are many food taboos associated with pregnancy. Mothers are fed only well cooked and well mashed food. Pregnant Cantonese women avoid mutton while Hokkien avoid crab. On the other hand, food that is white and firm like soy paste is given as it is believed to increase the complexion of the child. The young mothers are told not to fear labor for it is a woman’s foremost duty to bear children.
After birth conditioning of the mother and child
Birth is followed by three rituals: confinement of the mother, providing her with the proper diet and making an offering to gods and ancestors.
The confinement period, zuo yue, lasts for a period of 30 days. The mother is confined to the bed and engages in any physical activity only when necessary. She is isolated from the family and only tends to the baby. The mother is kept warm at all times with her head, hands and feet being covered. She is encouraged to eat only strength-building foods like pig trotters, and ginger soaked in vinegar. Bathing and washing hair are completely ruled out. The intention of following this regime for 30 days is to expel air from the system and to protect the mother and child from evil spirits.
The baby’s first birthday is celebrated 30 days after birth. Man-yue or ‘full moon’ celebration marks the child’s entry into the community. The baby is now introduced to the family. Celebrations are in the form of red colored eggs presented to the relatives, which is a mark of good luck and prosperity. The grandparents usually gift the baby gold or money in red colored envelopes.
Nowadays these customs are slightly relaxed to accommodate the new beliefs. Most women who still follow zuo-yue strongly believe that though it is very uncomfortable, it promises good health when you turn older.