Before starting Chinese postpartum confinement, people warned me to wear warm clothes — including long socks — and to avoid anything that would give me a chill. This was important even in the middle of summer.
Many of the practices followed during Chinese postpartum confinement (坐月子, zuo yuezi) are designed to avoid getting cold. The theory is that a women’s body is more susceptible to getting a chill after giving birth, due in part to the amount of blood she loses during childbirth. Not to mention recovery from the physical aspects of birthing, plus the hormonal changes that occur during and after birth.
There is a belief in Traditional Chinese Medicine that exposure to the wind (風為風邪, literally ‘evil wind’ causing sickness) will result in headaches, aches and pains. And make you more susceptible to catching a cold. Because of this, many women are urged to stay indoors away from the wind and avoid turning the air conditioner or fan on (even in summer). And to wear long trousers, long sleeves and socks. Some women are even exhorted to spend all day lying in bed under heavy covers. Washing hands in cold weather is also verboten, and strict adherents avoid taking a shower or washing their hair.
The need to dress warmly and to avoid getting a chill makes sense during winter, especially in a northern Chinese winter. But in sub-tropical Taiwan? And in the middle of summer?
I must admit to being very lax about the dressing warmly rule. We have good quality air conditioning in our apartment, and so long as I avoid low temperatures or sitting anywhere near an air current, I figure I am pretty much okay. I did wear long pajama or yoga pants on some days, but couldn’t bring myself to don socks. I also didn’t wear long-sleeved shirts (it was just too hot), although I always made sure I had a cardigan on hand in case I was feeling cold. And as for only washing my hands under warm water, well I was much too impatient to wait for the water to heat up and in any case the water temperature was tepid.
But by far my biggest transgression was during and after feeding. Having had a premature baby and gone through weeks of kangaroo care, I am a firm believer of the importance of skin-to-skin contact — especially when establishing feeding. Apart from the fact that it increases your hormones necessary to produce more milk, skin-to-skin cuddles helps the baby feel more secure and for Mum and bub to bond. It is also easier to feed without your top on (at least initially) because you don’t have to worry about bits of fabric or bra getting in the way. Of course, skin-to-skin contact does limit your social circle while feeding but I wasn’t receiving many visitors during the early days of confinement anyway.
So far I had thought that the evils of exposure to wind and chills factor was a bit of hype. But something happened yesterday that caused me to re-think this: I started to show signs of a cold. Taiwanxifu Toddler, Mr Taiwanxifu and even Baby have all had a dread lurgy, but so far I have prided myself on being immune. At lunchtime, I fed baby and noticed a sense of chill on my neck: I later found out that the air conditioner had been turned down one degree lower than it usual. That morning, I had also enjoyed one of my first showers since I crossed the first month mark. Although I wiped myself down and got dressed quickly, I remember feeling a brief sensation of chill. Could it be that these too things combined allowed me to be susceptible to the cold?
For now I am not taking any further risks. I am downing even more restorative soups than I usually do, and ensuring that I always have enough warm clothes on (even when feeding). I am also dosing myself up on multivitamins, and avoiding getting a chill after the shower. Hopefully this combined with some positive affirmations about how healthy I am will help prevent me suffering the worst effects of the cold. Fingers crossed.