Chinese Pregnancy Traditions and Taboos

Since announcing that Mr Taiwanxifu and I are expecting our second child, I have discovered all sorts of unusual traditions (and taboos).  I find some of them are pretty unusual to my Western way of thinking, although Mr Taiwanxifu tells me that many are just common sense.  See what you think! 

  1. No building baby nurseries.  Chinese believe it is important for the expectant mother to be relaxed.  And this extends to a belief that there should be no banging of nails (or other sharp objects) into walls.  Practically, this means that very few parents go all out and renovate elaborate baby nurseries.  Back in Australia, it was almost a ritual for expectant fathers to go on a baby nursery renovation spree, perhaps as a way to mentally prepare for the life changes accompanying a new baby.  In contast here in Taiwan, nobody seems to build new nurseries to welcome a newborn.  For one thing, most apartments are too small and there is no space for a dedicated baby room.  And many parents chose to co-sleep or have their baby in the same room anyway (or with grandparents).  But also, any major renovation work surrounding a pregnant mother is considered to seriously taboo.
  2. Beware scissors.  There is a Chinese belief that pregnant women should avoid scissors, especially anywhere near the marital bed.  The worry is that it will somehow affect the baby in utero and that he or she would be born with something missing or incomplete (e.g. a hare lip).  I didn’t know this during my first pregnancy until Mr Taiwanxifu caught me sitting on the edge of our bed sewing a button back on a shirt (a victim of a swelling belly).  Let’s just say he was MOST unimpressed about my irresponsible behaviour.  And I really had no idea …
  3. Avoid people touching you on the shoulder.  This one is a bit hard to avoid, especially in early pregnancy before you are showing.  If someone is going to tap you on the shoulder it is usually to get your attention, in which case you wouldn’t have a clue they are about to touch you.  I am not sure about the origin of this taboo, but it is considered extremely unlucky for anyone to tap a pregnant woman on the shoulder.
  4. Surround yourself with pictures of beautiful children.  Being a great believer in the law of attraction, I agree with the general sentiment behind seeking to surround yourself with positive images of cute children and beautiful things when pregnant.  While you cannot totally shut out the difficulties of the world, it is important to focus on a happy and stress-free birth.  My grandfather died in World War II while my grandmother was carrying my father, and to this day he claims that his propensity to anxiety is linked to his foetal experiences.  But some people go too far; recently my mother-in-law tried to forbid me visiting a baby who needed surgery because she didn’t want her grandson to be negatively affected.  Still, a few happy snaps of friends and family strategically positioned around the home is not likely to hurt.
  5. Don’t attend funerals, or if you do wear a red scarf.  My father-in-law sadly passed away around the time we found out we were expecting our first child.  In Taiwan, funeral rites go on for up to 49 days with major ceremonies every seven days.  Usually pregnant women are advised to avoid going to funeral related activities (presumably a reverse application of surrounding yourself with positive images).  But in my case, after carefully checking the Chinese almanac, I attended one of the key funeral rituals appropriate for the wife of the eldest son (大嫂 – dàsǎo).  To protect my baby, I was advised to wear a red scarf around my belly.  And having a lucky talisman on me helped as well.
  6. Don’t touch the bride.  In some households, pregnant women are discouraged from attending weddings.  Or if they do go, they are not allowed to go near the bride and certainly not to touch her.  There is no suggestion behind this superstition that a pregnant woman would bring the bride or groom bad luck: on the contrary, the usual wish is for Chinese couples to go forth and multiply.  The reason is something to do with hierarchy on a bride’s special day.  No-one should upstage the bride, and the gods looking after the pregnant woman might rank more highly than the those there to protect the bride.  So best to avoid the two from meeting.
  7. Eat and eat and then eat some more.  I don’t think this is universally Chinese (or Taiwanese) but pregnancy brings with it an obsessive by many people to make pregnant women eat.  In the first trimester, women are usually encouraged to drink special soups to help protect and strengthen them.  The jury is out as to whether fish or chicken soups are best; the main thing is that they are nutritious.  Some families encourage pregnant women to eat large portions constantly.  But I have noticed that obstetricians here in Taiwan seem much more concerned about weight gain than back in Australia.  So there seems to be some sort of double-standard.

Doubtless there are other Chinese pregnancy taboos that I have somehow overlooked.  Have you come across any cross-cultural pregnancy practices, and if so what were they?  What were your experiences about being pregnant and were there any taboos that you came across?

 

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About taiwanxifu

‘Taiwanxifu’ (pronounced ‘shee foo’) means ‘Taiwan daughter-in-law’ in Chinese and has been my nickname ever since I married my Taiwanese husband, Sam. I love sampling Taiwanese food, even local specialties such as stinky tofu, pigs blood cake and Taipei beef noodle soup with offal. But there are many other options on the menu. Promise!
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16 Responses to Chinese Pregnancy Traditions and Taboos

  1. Colleen Peterson says:

    Hi Taiwanxifu,

    I have had two pregnancies here in Taiwan and I would have to agree with everything you said. My husband says the banging in of nails is due to concern over losing the baby as is doing ANYTHING that involves any exertion. He says even raising your arms above your head is frowned upon for the same reason….I mean I don’t know how you can go for nine months without doing that. I also received a lot of raised eyebrows due to my exercise regime of walking for an hour during the first pregnancy and then swimming for an hour in the second….also frowned upon. Anyhow both my kids turned out just fine and I did hit in a couple of nails in the second pregnancy!

    If I come across any more taboos I’ll be sure to let you know, I’ll ask around !

    Colleen

    • taiwanxifu says:

      Hi Colleen,

      Forgot about the lifting arms taboo. Used to be the same concyerns in the West as well, but most people now realise it is a fallacy. Just as well because it is hard to hangup washing otherwise.

  2. Claire says:

    Hi, Serina:

    It might be easier for me to type in Chinese to explaining to you more properly. if you need to you can ask Sam to translate for you later.

    1, 其實是希望孕婦可以好好休息養胎.「養胎」很重要,佈置嬰兒房有時會讓一些孕婦過累.另外第一孕期通常孕婦都很累,需要很多睡眠,家裡有人這樣敲敲打打,孕婦不容易真正放鬆好好休息.還有一個原因是怕釘到保護寶寶的「胎神」,對寶寶不好.

    2,就我所知,那也是因為怕因為動到「胎神」(中國人相信在懷孕期間,胎神會跟著孕婦在家裡走動以保護胎兒).

    3,中醫理論是因為肩膀上有一些穴位有催產的作用,怕動到氣影響胎兒,怕讓胎兒早產.所以進一步有理論說:懷孕期間不要按摩(如果是給一些不專業的人按摩,力道沒抓好,的確有可能引起子宮收縮).

    4,孕婦心情好,氣血流通好,對胎兒有加分作用.

    5,也是和情緒有關,葬禮通常是悲傷的場合,怕孕婦太過悲傷,氣淤血滯,影響到胎兒.

    6,印象中是怕「沖喜」.具體原因我不太清楚.

    7, 不認同,營養要均衡比較重要.孕期體重增加太多,有引發妊娠高血壓和妊娠糖尿病的可能.

  3. taiwanxifu says:

    Many thanks, Claire, for your expert Chinese medicine perspective! Here is my attempt at a translation of your comment:

    1. Actually, this is due to ensuring pregnant women get enough rest to assist the fetus to grow (yangtai). Yangtai is very important. Sometimes some pregnant women will get over tired when trying to get the nursery ready. Also, most pregnant women are already very tired during the first trimester. If there are people at home banging around and making noise, then it is not so easy for the pregnant woman to really relax and rest. Another reason is a fear of hitting ‘Taishen’ (God protecting the fetus), which would be bad for the baby.

    2. As I understand it, people are scared of disturbing ‘Taishen’. (Chinese people believe that when pregnant, Taishen will accompany the pregnant women around the home to protect the unborn child.)

    3. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory there are some important acupuncture points in the shoulder related to oxytocin. The concern is that if the ‘qi’ (internal energy) is disturbed then the baby might be born prematurely. Therefore, this leads to a theory that it is not good to have massage during pregnancy (if you are massaged by someone without expertise, who don’t massage the right way, then it really can lead to a contraction of the uterus).

    4. If you are in a good mood during pregnancy your blood circulation will also be good, which will assist the fetus.

    5. This is also related to emotional state. Funerals are usually sad events, and the fear is that pregnant women will be too sad and suffer from gas congestion which would negatively affect the fetus.

    6. My impression is this may be related to a fear of ‘joy’. I’m not too clear about the specific reason.

    7. I don’t agree. Balanced nutrition is quite important. If you put on too much weight during pregnancy it can lead to gestational high blood pressure and gestational diabetes.

  4. taiwanxifu says:

    Tonight someone told me a new taboo — apparently pregnant women are not supposed to wear contact lenses. Anyone else heard this one?

  5. kristen says:

    I have never heard of most of these before! Very interesting!

    I know many pregnant woman in Beijing cut their hair very short (I was told this is because the hair may take nutrition needed for the baby). I don’t know if this happens in Taiwan also?

    • taiwanxifu says:

      I haven’t heard of this one. Odd because women often have more luxurious hair and fingernails during pregnancy (and hair loss afterwards, especially when breastfeeding). Maybe there is logic though because you are so tired in pregnancy that spending less time on grooming long hair could be pragmatic?

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  9. light487 says:

    Thanks for these.. my Chinese wife has just become pregnant, so I am scouring the web for things to understand things from her (and her family’s!) cultural perspective. :)

    • taiwanxifu says:

      Congratulations! Make sure you don’t do a bit renovation while your wife is pregnant, or if you do make sure she’s not there. I think creating a nursery is a sort of right of passage for fathers to be in ‘Western’ countries, but in Chinese cultures it is considered unlucky. And don’t tap her on the shoulder, either. Where is your wife from? I once read that in Shanghai it is a tradition for new fathers to make their wives a dish of drunken chicken for when they come home with their baby. I’m sure you will find your own cultural traditions, and I hope you can share with us all!

  10. mark says:

    Hi Taiwanxifu,

    Your site is very informative and I like how you approach the comments left.

    I’m very much in the same boat as light487 and am very happy to be sailing on that boat. How ever my wife brought up an interesting ‘tradition’. Apparently it is very bad luck to tell anyone of the pregnancy before the third month of the pregnancy – due to how unstable the foetus is at this stage. I thought that was interesting and prompted me to research other Chinese traditions. Have you heard of such a tradition?

    I’ve taken your other points on board too – very helpful

    • taiwanxifu says:

      Are there congratulations in order? If so, all the best!

      Yes, in Taiwanese/Chinese culture people often do not reveal that they are pregnant before 12 weeks. And they are very careful during those early 12 weeks to ensure the mother gets as much rest as much as possible and eats special foods (e.g. warming soups). Also that the mother avoids heavy lifting, anything strenuous etc. I think that in Chinese culture they are generally much more careful during this first trimester than in Western cultures, but that is just my general observation.

      But actually, I find this is not so different from my experience in Australia where many women do not reveal their pregnancies until around the 12 week mark. While often nowadays women get an early ultrasound at 7, 8,9 or even 10 weeks, it used to be the case that the first ultrasound or major examination was at 12 weeks. So it wasn’t until the 12 week mark that women could feel really sure that it was a viable pregnancy. My experience is that as soon as you can see (and hear) the baby’s heartbeat or ultrasound, and know that it is strong enough, then it is usually fine to tell people your happy news.

      Hope this helps,

      Best,

      Taiwanxifu

  11. serenity says:

    OMG… what is the origin of the shoulder tabbing? I’m pregnant and i let a coworker massage my shoulders and he gave me a heavy pound on the shoulder at the end…. :(… now i’m freaked out…

    • taiwanxifu says:

      The origin I believe is in Traditional Chinese Medicine and certain acupressure points that can sometimes induce labour. Please don’t freak out: it has that affect in some people, but not everyone. Probably more important to rest and stay calm. I am sure you and the baby will be fine.

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