Chinese Rituals – Pregnancy & Childbirth

Antenatal Rituals

When once a married woman becomes pregnant, things for the baby will start to  be prepared. Prams, cot, baby clothes, etc will be readily prepared to welcome  the arrival of the new born.

From now on, the health of the mother is of utmost importance. Therefore, the  mother should reduce her workload, eat healthily, and employ antenatal education. Antenatal education has come into being for over 2000 years in China. It was believed that a good pregnant mother should eat only meat which was cut only in square cubes, sit only on properly built chairs, walk unswingingly, talk softly,  etc. By doing so, the fetus would be able to learn the most valued virtues.  Although in present days the above mentioned practice is no longer common, pregnant women in China still behave very carefully so as not to do anything which affects the fetus. Still now most people believe that the structure of  the house or flat should not be changed while a woman in the house is pregnant  since it will cause the fetus no good but harm.

ANTENATAL CARE:

ACTIVITIES

  • Do not use sharp objects on the bed because it can result  in the infant being born with a cleft palate or lip. (i.e. scissors and  knives.)
  • Do not go near open fire i.e. barbecue, or any open cooking  fire.  It is not clear why this is important except that this belief continues  to be passed down by the elders. The instructions are to don’t question just do  this.
  • Pregnancy is considered a “hot” condition, so to balance  the scale between “hot and cold” or “ying and yang” cold foods must be consumed  throughout pregnancy.
  • Do not touch anything adhesive or anything with glue; for this  causes the baby to have birth marks.
  • Do not criticize others; otherwise the baby will act and  look like the person you criticize.
  • Husbands want boy babies to carry on the family name.
  • Acupuncture is limited because of pregnancy.
  • During the beginning months of the pregnancy, do not do any  heavy work or lifting or have sexual relations with husband to avoid  miscarriage.

FOOD RECOMMENDATIONS AND  RESTRICTIONS

  • Avoid eating shellfish because it can cause a rash on  baby.
  • Pineapple can cause miscarriages.
  • Crab and squid cause the womb to be “sticky”.
  • If you eat too much the baby will be too large and the labour will be harder.
  • Drink coconut milk so that baby will have good quality  skin.

OTHER

  • To determining sex while pregnant: if the belly is “pointed”  it will be a boy if the belly is “rounded” it will be a girl.

 

Labour & Birth Rituals

During labour the woman’s mother in law would be present during the birth of the first baby. The husband would never be present during this birth, although the father would be present and the birth of the subsequent children.

It is the fathers role to bath the baby once born.

During labour it is encouraged  that the woman labours in silence as screaming will attract evil spirits to the baby.

During labour the woman is encouraged to eat well to keep up her energy.

Squatting is believed to be the best position to deliver the baby as laying on your back will encourage the baby to have no energy to be born.

A necklace is placed around the babies neck before the umbilical cord is cut, this is to tie the baby’s life to the necklace and not the umbilical.

To protect the baby’s soft spot and tummy they rub ginger paste or tiger balm is rubbed on them.

Acupressure is used to help aid an easier delivery.

A special tea is drank during labour to help aid with pain relief. Raspberry leaf tea is believed to help reduce the pain of contractions.

The placenta has to be buried near the place of birth.  This is so that in death their placenta can be worn in death into heaven as a symbol of atonement and humility in earth life. It is also required to be reborn.

Postnatal Rituals

Throughout life the placenta may be used for minor ailments.

Traditional confinement practices take place postnatally and are based on the belief that your body is ‘out of balance’ after giving birth. The theory is that you are now in a ‘cold stage’ due to the loss of lochia and energy from the birth. As such, the confinement period focuses on re-energising your body with the ‘warmth’ that has been lost.
Chinese, Malay and Indian communities all have their own confinement practices. While different ethnic groups may do things differently, the main aim is to help the mother and her body recover from the intensities of childbirth.
Traditionally, your mother or mother-in-law will be the one taking care of you during the confinement period. Many Chinese mothers however, hire a confinement nanny, a pui yuet (Cantonese for ‘companion for a month’) who will see to you and your baby’s needs.
The nanny will cook special confinement dishes for you, bathe your baby, and do your baby’s laundry. She will also take over the night feeds so that you can rest. Breastfeeding mothers will normally express breastmilk so that the nanny can carry out the night feeds. Chinese women have to adhere to a list of dos and don’ts and follow a strict diet. Indeed, some of the rules can be rather restrictive!
Chinese confinement restrictions include:

  • Strictly no washing of hair for the entire confinement period. Some mothers get around this rule by using dry shampoo during this time.
  • Avoiding exposure to cold elements such as cold water. Air-conditioning set at low temperatures or fans whirling away at high speeds must be avoided too.
  • Bathing only with specially prepared warm water that is infused with herbs.

These prohibitions help to ensure that your body is not made any ‘cooler’ and that you retain as much heat as possible. It is believed this will help you to avoid health problems such as rheumatism, arthritis, headaches and body pains later in life.

Diet postnatally -women are required to eat a variety of meals that will ‘warm’ the body up. These include ginger and a traditional tonic brewed with herbs. According to the Chinese confinement diet, meals prepared with such ingredients are believed to promote better blood circulation and strengthening of the joints. The Chinese also believe that fish and papaya soups can help boost low milk supply.
Chinese confinement also bars ‘cooling’ foods such as cold drinks, cucumber, cabbage and pineapple should be avoided. Also, ‘windy’ foods such as onions and jackfruit are off limits as they are believed to cause colic in your baby. Preparing these confinement dishes can be labourious. As such, some companies now offer catering services for Chinese confinement foods to help new mothers skip the hassle of having to prepare them

About jennyuws
2nd year midwifery student at UWS Hamilton campus.

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