No washing after childbirth

It has been nine days since I gave birth, and I have not washed my hair. And I haven’t had a shower, either.

One of the traditions of postpartum confinement (zuo yuezi – 坐月子) is no washing after childbirth. This is to prevent the body from catching cold after birth. A woman’s body goes through a lot of changes during and after childbirth. She loses a lot of blood, and her whole body is more susceptible to cold. With both my births I went into a type of temporary shock almost immediately afterwards, with uncontrollable chattering teeth.

Once upon a time, people lived in more traditional Chinese style courtyard houses, which were draughty and did not have modern conveniences like heating and air conditioning. While most Taipei residents live in climate-controlled apartment buildings, not everyone has modern conveniences. Avoiding anything that will cause physical discomfort, especially draught, to new mothers is essential.

In fact, I am finding that most principles of zuo yuezi are aimed at warming the body. Women should avoid cool drinks, cold foods and ‘cooling’ fruits and vegetables ( e.g. watermelon, cucumber, nashi pears etc). Instead her diet includes warming foods such as soups with ginger, rice wine, Chinese herbs and ingredients such as Chinese red dates and goji berries.

But back to no washing. Most medical practitioners suggest that with modern conveniences such as hair dryers and heated bathrooms, it is okay to bathe. And most postpartum confinement centers are equipped with luxurious en suite bathrooms. But traditionalists still eschew washing hair or showering, claiming it will cause headaches later in life.

So far I have not showered or washed my hair. I thought I would find this one of the biggest challenges. Initially planned to shower directly after childbirth, but the hospital shower was cramped and slippery. Plus I was so sore after delivering a nine pound baby that all I wanted to do was rest. I am finding it strangely liberating not to have to spend time on personal grooming: more time for establishing feeding with baby, resting and blogging.

This does not mean a total lack of hygiene. My confinement nanny (月婆 – yuepo), Mrs Yang, cooks up a pot of ginger water each day, which I use to take a sponge bath. The fragrant water is warming, and the whole process is something I look forward to. I also find it is easier than negotiating a slippery shower while I am still a bit unstable on my feet.

And there is a solution of sorts to greasy hair. Mr Taiwanxifu bought me a bottle of German product that allows for ‘dry’ hair washing. It works a bit like hairspray: you spray it on and then comb it through. It actually works quite well, and gives my fine hair more volume than it has ever had before. Perhaps I should invest in another bottle for when I go back to work, for those days when I keep pressing snooze on the alarm (or when baby keeps me occupied).

Perhaps we all wash too much.  I am not suggesting we give up on personal hygiene, but considering that many people work and live in air-conditioned comfort most of the time and engage in a sedentary lifestyle do we really need to waste so much water washing once or twice daily?  Having gone through nine years of drought in Australia, the driest country on the earth, water is a something that I no longer take for granted.  And is it really good for our skin to be subjected to frequent washing and scrubbing with artificial soaps and cleansers?

For now I am seeing how long I can last before I really can’t take dry hair wash anymore.  And when zuo yuezi is finally over, I plan to celebrate with by indulging in a big spa or hot spring soak.

Ginger Wash Water

3l water

3 x 5cm knobs of ginger

Wash and scrub ginger.  Slice into rough pieces.  Fill a saucepan with water and add the ginger pieces.  Boil for around 15 minutes until fragrant. Strain and set aside to cool slightly before use!

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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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15 Responses to No washing after childbirth

  1. Pingback: No washing after childbirth | Taiwanxifu 台灣媳婦 | ChildBirth 101

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  3. Haru says:

    I haven’t heard about the no-shower-part yet. My husband and his mom just told me about the not-washing-the-hair-policy and I really don’t know how long I will be able to take it (after the baby is born).
    My husband already bought those dry-washing-shampoo for me, I hope it works.
    (just in case we’ve ordered a wig as well, haha)

    • taiwanxifu says:

      Congratulations! When is the baby due? I assume you are planning on doing zuo yuezi at home?

      On the no hair washing front, my own experience is that it is not too bad. The dry hair washing shampoo works okay, but I am finding that oddly my hair is not as oily as it used to be. Unless I have visitors coming, I usually just spend the day at home with messy hair tied back in a hairband. The other day by toddler tried to smooth down my hair for me, so it must have been bad! Maybe a wig would have been neater! But seriously, when I get out the comb and dry hair washing I do manage to look half respectable.

      From speaking with various people, I understand that there is no less pressure to forego hair washing. So long as you get out the hairdryer and dry your hair thoroughly as soon as you get out of the shower (after dressing of course!), it shouldn’t be a problem.

      I hope your zuo yuezi experiences go well, and I look forward to hearing more about it.

    • Paula says:

      I have washed my hair and my whole body 3 hours after delivery. And so I did on each day, after it. I didn’t get sick. It’s a stupid superstition. My husband (he is from India) strongly believes you are not supposed to have shower in the evening or you will get sick. My grandmother (Polish) on the other side believes, you can’t have shower in the morning or you will catch a cold. I do both and I am fine. It’s all in your head.

      • taiwanxifu says:

        Hi Paula, you are right to a point that it is all in your head. Some Chinese/Taiwanese mothers feel so guilty about washing that they literally make themselves sick!

        The issue is not so much not having a shower, as making sure you don’t get a cold afterwards. It is not a superstition but rather based on a central idea of Traditional Chinese Medicine, i.e. ensuring your body is not cold. Most confinement centres these days have luxury bathrooms with climate control systems. Very different from traditional housing/bathing arrangements.

  4. Haru says:

    Thank you very much and congratulations on your little one as well!

    Theoretically I’m in the 33. week, but who knows for sure (since I don’t know the exact day I conceived)?!
    Last time (2 weeks ago) the doctor asked me if I ate anything at all the previous 2 weeks because the baby didn’t really gain any weight (according to the ultra sonic). I hope this has changed this week…

    I wasn’t planning on anything else than spending the zuo yuezi at home but my husband and his mom strongly suggested I should live in one of those confinement hotels, though ‘only’ for 21 days.
    (And oh yes, they aren’t exactly what you can call cheap, at all! Since we went to look for one when I was in the 3rd month, we already had difficulties to find a place and where told things like ‘Other people make a reservation right at the 1st or 2nd month!’)
    Since my husband is good at bargaining, they added 2 times of free dry-hair-wash (plus baby massage) so I guess I’ll let them teach me the how-to.
    I’m really not sure if they have hairdryers in that hotel…

    • taiwanxifu says:

      Ultrasounds aren’t always so reliable. You never know exactly what size your baby will be until he/she arrives. And I’m sure it will be a healthy baby.

      Enjoy your confinement center stay. I know they aren’t cheap but since you are going to do zuo yuezi you may as well enjoy! I looked at some centers, but I wanted to stay home to be near my toddler (who currently has a cold, so I am trying not to get too close!)

      All the best.

      • Haru says:

        Yes, I’ve read about that around the internet, so I don’t really trust those ultrasounds all that much. As long as the baby moves around in normal intervals, I won’t stress myself too much.

        When we visited that hotel the first time, they said something like ‘You can take your baby any time you want.’ so I intend to do this.
        I’m mostly glad about their no-visits-to-the-mother’s-room (besides husband)-policy (less stress for the baby and me, no surprise-visits, as many people in Taiwan tend to do, haha). Others can still see the baby, but mostly only over TV (not sure if the mother-in-law is an exception).

        In another article of yours I’ve read about your worries concerning the hospital bag…so I want to ask, what did you put in? Are there any necessary papers I need to take to the hospital? I’ve already started on the bag but I’m not really sure which things are necessary and which things are provided by most hospitals?

      • taiwanxifu says:

        Hi, I’ve been pondering your question about what to pack for hospital. I found that the hospital I went to provided nappies and clothing for the baby. So we really only needed the minimum to take him home in. Oh, and a muslin wrap and small blanket for taking him home. The hospital also provided clothing for me to wear while I was there. So all I needed was underwear (disposables), super pads, and something decent to go home in. I was suprised that the hospital did not provide towels, so perhaps pack something. And consider anything you want to snack on during and after labour — good to have supplies, as it might be a while. Don’t forget the camera!

  5. Haru says:

    Thank you very much! Most of those we’ve already bought and to take some towels with me shouldn’t be a big problem either.
    Well, I hope it won’t take too long but nobody knows for sure so that’s a good advice as well, thanks!
    And yes, the camera (if not, then my mobile will do as well)!

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  8. Nel says:

    Month ago I didn’t showered in the hospital after easy 1h delivery !That was the last thing on my mind. I went home and showered though. I didn’t change my own clothes either. I completely forgotten ! I feel so depressed right now because the others mom did it. Please let me know maybe it is better that I took a shower 2 days later .Thank You

    • taiwanxifu says:

      Half your luck having an easy delivery. Since you already have taken a shower, there is no point worrying about it. The main thing is to keep yourself warm and get as much rest as you can.

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