Yesterday, Mr Taiwanxifu remarked that I was looking surprisingly good for a new mother. “Your butt looks almost half the size it did before,” he observed.
Nor is my backside the only thing that has shrunk: my bloated feet that could no longer fit into any work shoes look less like tree stumps, and my stomach now only has a rounded bulge where formerly the bulge of a nine pound baby stuck out prominently.
So at this early stage, postpartum confinement (坐月子, zuo yuezi) seems to be assisting me return to my former pre-pregnancy figure. Mind you, I still have a long way to go. During my last obstetrics appointment, I hit the scales almost 20kg heavier than before I fell pregnant. Some of the weight is due to carrying a large baby, some of it is fluid retention (it is the height of summer here in Taipei) and some of it is self-induced due to a fixation with ice-cream.
I am discovering that zuo yuezi foods feature many ingredients designed to aid in detoxing the body of excessive fluid. Like the liberal use of (cooked) rice wine in soups and beverages. And barley, which is a powerful diuretic and is widely used in both sweet and savory soups. Women are encouraged not to drink normal ‘tap’ water (which is believed to cause more bloating), but instead to get most of their fluids from special Chinese herbal teas or soups. And salt is omitted or minimal in zuo yuezi foods, which also helps to rid the body of excess fluids.
The zuo yuezi diet itself is also conducive to weight loss. It features complex carbohydrates (especially whole grains and legumes). And because many of the foods are soup based, there is not much fat involved in the preparation (except healthy oils such as sesame oil). My zuo yuezi nanny (yuepo) understands what it is like for nursing mothers to have hunger pains at odd times in the middle of the night, especially after feeding. So she has prepared healthy, legume and grain based ‘snacks’ such as red bean or barley soup. This is so much leaner in terms of calories than the toast with vegemite and cheese (and butter!) I used to consume as desperate midnight snacks when my first child was a baby.
One of the oft-stated benefits of zuo yuezi is helping the uterus to reduce as quickly as possible. Breastfeeding, and the hormonal responses it produces, is perhaps the best way to increase contractions of the uterus (not to mention lose weight) and many classic zuo yuezi foods are designed to increase milk production. But many people often take a herbal concoction called Sheng Hua Tang (生化汤) to help speed along uterus contractions.
When I was discharged from hospital, I was warned not to take Sheng Hua Tang because it could lead to excessive bleeding. But I trusted my Chinese herbalist, who I have been seeing for around a year and a half, and if he prescribed it for me I figured it must be okay. The theory is that Sheng Hua Tang helps to stimulate the process of releasing blood from the uterus after childbirth (or miscarriage), thereby helping the uterus to contract. I figured some things are better out than in, and it is definitely preferably to having to take antibiotics because bleeding has not stopped several weeks after childbirth.
And I was surprised at how quickly Sheng Hua Tang works. I started taking it on the fifth day after labour, and five days later bleeding has almost stopped and the uterus (while not back to normal) had shrunk considerably. I can’t quite fit into pre-pregnancy jeans yet (did I mention my love of ice-cream?), but at least I don’t have to still only wear the maternity clothes in my wardrobe. (Not that I am dressing up for any purpose, since I am not washing and most days are spent lounging at home in my pajamas.)
I have avoided weighing myself since giving birth, and will save the moment of reckoning until after my confinement ends. For now I am enjoying the sense of feeling thinner, even if it has not yet resulted in thinner thighs.