Chinese secrets of regaining your figure after childbirth

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.

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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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6 Responses to Chinese secrets of regaining your figure after childbirth

  1. taiwanxifu says:

    I noticed today that I was sweating from the effort of feeding my son. My confinement nanny (Mrs Yang) told me that many of the Chinese herbal drinks and soups were designed to make me sweat. The purpose was to detoxify and lose weight. So there is another reason I feel like I am losing weight during confinement.

    • Olivia Tai Taylor says:

      Wouldn’t it cause headaches or something? I was so afraid. I was sweating and scared of catching the “wind”. So it’s normal then?

      • taiwanxifu says:

        Sweating after childbirth, especially night sweats, is an entirely normal hormonal reaction. I sweat a lot at night after my first son was born, and I wasn’t doing zuo yuezi. But the sweating was much more intense with my second son because many of the foods and Chinese medicine tonics were designed to encourage sweating to detoxify the body. And help you to lose weight.

  2. Olivia says:

    So if you are in bed, sweating is not a bad thing? Wouldn’t the wind go into your pores? Also, what did you do about breast engorgement? They say put a cold pack but is that bad because of the “coldness”? Thanks!

    • taiwanxifu says:

      Sweating is not a bad thing when you are lying in your bed, with socks long sleeves and long pants on, and with blankets over the top. There is no wind from air conditioner, fans or open windows allowed so no way to get cold from the evil wind. My yuepo had a secret talent — breast massage to help the effects of engorgement. This was painful but worked. A cold pack is only useful where you have engorgement because you are stopping feeding. (You can also use cabbage leaves for this purpose.) If you are engorged because your milk is coming in or you have blocked ducts (but want to continue feeding), a hot/warm facewasher on the affected area is best. You can also stroke the facewasher in a downward motion to help release the backed up ducts.

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