The Traditional Chinese Practice of Zuo Yue Zi
Tara Teng (she/her) is an Embodiment Coach who works in the intersections of spirituality and sexuality. Aside from her 1:1 coaching, Tara hosts women’s circles, workshops, online classes and retreats throughout Vancouver, BC. Tara is currently writing her first book, “Your Body is a Revolution: Healing Our Relationships with Our Bodies, Each Other and the Earth”, available everywhere in 2023 from Broadleaf Books. https://tarateng.com/
Tara is wearing the Body Silk Seamless Nursing Bra in Roseclay
Becoming a new parent is one of the most joyous moments in a person’s life. For nine months you’ve carefully nourished this child growing within you, you’ve mustered all your strength and courage to birth them into the world and now they’re sweetly sleeping in your arms and it feels like the whole world could fall away around you. Only that it doesn’t – because you’ve still got chores to do, emails to write, laundry to fold, and if you have older children, you somehow have to find the time and energy to keep them alive too. For many of us, the early postpartum days are some of the most difficult, draining, and sleep deprived that we encounter in parenthood. Our bodies are achy and tender, the bed sheets are stained with milk, and the diaper pail always seems to be overflowing. Greasy hair and giant postpartum padsicles seem to be the hallmark of the foggy newborn days. Between cluster feeding and keeping the household running, self-care is rarely in the new mother’s vocabulary. It’s no wonder that the rates of postpartum depression and anxiety are as high as they are in North America; we don’t give new mothers a break!
But what if there was a better way? New parents can intentionally set themselves up for success by looking back to ancient, traditional practices of recovery in the first forty days of parenthood. In a number of different countries such as India, Madagascar, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Austria, Germany, Korea, and Malaysia, there are cultural practices that center around community care for the baby and rest for the mother.
Tara is wearing the Original Pumping and Nursing Bra in Dove Heather
One such tradition is the Chinese practice of Zuo Yue Zi, or “Sitting the Moon”, in which a newborn mother stays at home for 30-40 days to focus on rest and recovery after childbirth. The practice of Zuo Yue Zi has been followed in Chinese culture for thousands of years and, at times, can be controversial due to the wide range of interpretations on the collective advice that is given to new mothers. Some very strict interpretations of ZuoYue Zi treat the first 40 days as a confinement period for the mother and baby with restrictions on showers, keeping away from windows, and staying indoors to avoid illness and germs. But there are some more superstitious restrictions as well; don’t wash your hair, don’t eat or drink cold foods, don’t brush your teeth, don’t carry your newborn and don’t have sex. These recommendations are all built on the belief that the body needs to rebalance after giving birth. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), your lifeforce, or “chi”, lives in your blood. When you lose blood, as in childbirth, you lose chi. To heal, you need to avoid cold (yin) and embrace warmth (yang). Warmth keeps your blood flowing and brings your body back into balance.
Practically speaking, these recommendations make sense as slow, nourishing, protein-rich foods are easier to digest and gentler on the postpartum body as it heals. Zuo Yue Zi involves a diet of warm nutrient-dense soups and teas that utilize spices such as cinnamon, ginger, ginseng, and black pepper to keep the body warm and nourished. According to TCM, chicken soup, bone broth, and tea with goji berries and red dates are also quintessential postpartum foods. Generally regarded as a healing essential all around the world, chicken soup and bone broth are great sources of protein for a body needing to rebuild. Goji berries and red dates are high in Vitamin C, Vitamin A, antioxidants, and other essential nutrients that help the body heal, form collagen, absorb iron, and tonify the blood - all important for replenishing the body during postpartum care.
Maintaining a focus on my nutrition has not only helped my body to heal but also assisted in keeping my milk supply abundant and my mental health supported. When I am hungry, I am less patient with myself and others. When I am intentional about my nutrition, I feel more grounded in the present moment. Plus, as a breastfeeding mama, having a nutrient dense diet based on TCM ensures that my milk passes on all those nutrients to my baby as well. And the Original Nursing Bra bra from Bravado Designs gives me both comfort and support for those long hours of cluster feeding at night!
Tara is wearing the Original Nursing Bra in Black
The final piece of Zuo Yue Zi is focused on resting for 40 days. After giving birth, the body needs to recover, not only physically but emotionally as well. Taking on too much, too soon is not only detrimental to a body that is still bleeding but also exhausting for the mind. In order to stay calm and take the time to fully heal in the body, new mothers are supported by close friends and relatives who take on the daily tasks of cooking, cleaning, and caring for the baby so that new mothers can dedicate all their attention to rest and recovery after giving birth. The focus is only on healing for mothers and bonding with baby. In these ways, families are better set up for success and the postpartum body is given the time to properly heal.
Whether you choose to follow a strict Zuo Yue Zi confinement or a more modern adaptation of traditional postpartum care, your healing is worth prioritizing. How you care for yourself in the first 40 days of your postpartum can have a lasting impact on the next 40 years of your health and there is no rush to bounce back to normal. Go gently. Don’t take on too much. Listen to your body. Prioritize your nourishment. Allow yourself to rest. Bring in people to help. You just brought a new human into the world - you deserve all the care, celebration, and support!
Tara is wearing the Restore Bra in Grey Orchid