Zuo Yuezi and Traditional Chinese Medicine

This blog post features an interview with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner, Ms Mi-Chen (Claire) Shen-Tonge, about zuo yuezi (Chinese postpartum confinement).  Claire is a classically trained acupuncturist and TCM practitioner, who graduated with a five-year bachelors degree from the Tianjin Traditional Chinese Medicine University (China) in 2004.

Claire was my TCM practitioner when we lived in Australia.  I began receiving treatment from Claire after a top gynecologist told me that I would never be able to fall pregnant naturally.  Well, did Claire prove him wrong when I became pregnant with my first son – and now a fat, healthy Buddha of a second son.  So you could say that I am a strong believer using TCM to help treat ‘women’s issues’.   

How did you become interested in TCM?

I used to have extremely painful periods.  On three occasions they were so bad that I passed out in the street.  My uncle is a gynecologist/obstetrician, and he suggested I go on the pill.  But my Dad didn’t want me to do this.  So I decided to study TCM in Tianjin, China as a way of treating myself.  Within three months of taking Chinese medicine, I no longer experienced period pain.  TCM fixed my problem.

Why is zuo yuezi important for women recovering after childbirth?

A woman’s body undergoes major changes from the very first day of pregnancy.  Zuo yuezi nourishes a woman’s kidney energy.  When I say ‘kidney energy’, I mean the energy of the kidney rather than the physical function.  Kidney energy controls a woman’s sex functions – especially during pregnancy and menopause.  If a woman has poor kidney energy one of the first things she will notice is that she will easily feel the cold, e.g. she will often have cold hands and feet during cold weather and be sensitive to the cool air of early autumn.  So it is important for women to wear warm clothes and eat warming foods in order to warm kidney energy after child birth. 

How did you practice zuo yuezi after the birth of your first child?

I returned to Taiwan for the birth of my son and stayed with my parents.  My mother ordered a vegetarian zuo yuezi meal delivery service.  Every week we had different dishes:  the meals during the first week were designed to cleanse the body of stale blood, the second weeks’ meals aimed to help the uterus to recover and the third and forth weeks helped increase energy levels.

How did you find doing zuo yuezi?

Doing zuo yuezi helped my body recover and I felt even healthier than before pregnancy after confinement.  For example, I used to find the winters in Canberra (Australia) cold, but after doing zuo yuezi I did not feel the cold of winter this year nearly as much.  But I made one mistake:  I let cool air from the air conditioner in my room blow onto my head during zuo yuezi.  Now I often get headaches when cool wind blows on my head and must wear a hat whenever it is cold.

Is thirty days of confinement long enough?

No, not really.  Your body changes so much during pregnancy and childbirth, and one month for recover is quite rushed.  For this reason my Mum asked me to spend forty-five days in confinement.

As a Taiwanese woman who now lives in Australia and has adopted Western notions of independence, did you find zuo yuezi restrictive?

Yes!  I felt like I was locked up as a prisoner at home.  But in the end I feel that the benefits to my health was worth it.

Which Chinese herbs should a woman take after childbirth?

This depends on each individual woman: everyone’s constitution is different.  Ideally, your Chinese medicine should be customized for you after birth.  You should ask your Chinese doctor to visit you during confinement to give you a prescription.  But if you need to leave home to see the doctor, you should wear a long sleeved shirt and if it is windy, wear a hat.

Usually, I prescribe yi mu cao or chi shao for women during the first week after childbirth to help get rid of stale blood from the uterus.  In the second week, I usually give huang qi.  And in the third and fourth week it is imperative that women use du zhong, which helps restore kidney energy. 

Chinese herbal medicine is safe to take while breastfeeding, and in fact can help to increase breast milk production.  There are no specific lactogenic herbs.  Rather, a TCM practitioner will treat the mother depending on the reason for low milk supply based on the principal of balance, e.g. if she has low energy she should take herbs to increase her energy, or if her energy is blocked the medicine should aim to unblock her energy.

What happens if you are not able to do zuo yuezi?  For example, my first son was born premature and I was unable to rest because I needed to travel to hospital every day.

The only thing to do is get pregnant again and undertake zuo yuezi properly.  This will fix any problems you experience from not having done zuo yuezi after childbirth previously. 

A woman has three opportunities in life to change her constitution:  when she first starts to menstruate, after she has a baby and during menopause.  After that she has no further chances to make positive changes to her body.

Many Chinese friends have told me that I will feel grateful that I did zuo yuezi when I am older, that I will look more beautiful and age more gracefully.  Is this true?

Many of my clients are Australian women in their 50s and 60s.  Their complaints include headaches, hot flushes during menopause, extreme emotions (especially despondency), tiredness and waking up feeling flat every morning.  They also experience dryness in their vagina that makes it difficult to experience quality time with their partners.  The common factor is that none of these women had the opportunity to rest and recover after childbirth.

Can doing zuo yuezi help prevent post natal depression?

Post natal depression depends a lot on a woman’s personality.  It is hard being a Mum, especially when you are a Mum for the first time.  Everyone likes to tell you how you should raise your child.  It is important not to take these opinions too seriously and to try to get enough rest.  If you do not get good quality sleep, and then have so many things to do around the house, it is easy to go a little crazy.

During my son’s first few months, he used to cry constantly around midnight.  I love him, but there were times when I felt like hurling him away.  But my Mum was there to support me, so we could take turns looking after him.  This enabled me to get some rest.  I believe in ‘happy mother, happy baby’.  Even if you are home with your baby all day, if you don’t get enough rest you will probably feel like you want to kill your child.  In the early days after childbirth it is okay not to worry too much about doing too much housework.  Rest is more important, and you can catch up when your husband is home to help on the weekend.

Claire has been a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and acupuncturist  in Canberra since 2004 and has a wide range of knowledge, expertise and excellent skills in patient diagnosis. Claire has experience treating a wide range of muscular, nervous system and skin issues. She is especially interested in women’s health issues with a focus on pregnancy related conditions such as menopause, IVF, and period pain.

Claire integrates Traditional Chinese herbal medicine with acupuncture, cupping, moxabustion to help many people to recover from a wide variety of painful and distressing conditions.

She is a full member of Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association (AACMA) and a register member with the Australia Health Practitioner Regulation Agency ( AHPRA).

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

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!
This entry was posted in Baby and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments Closed

13 Responses to Zuo Yuezi and Traditional Chinese Medicine

  1. a. says:

    Interesting interview and the radically different treatment views of TCM vs “western medicine”.

    I was wondering, how does a yuepo differs from doula which I understand is kind of the western version of the yuepo? Do they take in account all those details like flushing the stale blood, getting some energy back…?

    • taiwanxifu says:

      Thanks for your comment.

      As I understand it, there are two types of doulas used in Western culture: birthing doulas and postpartum doulas. Most women who have doulas have them there for the birth; a birthing doula will usually also provide some postpartum support such as assisting with establishing breastfeeding. A postpartum doula, in contrast, helps out in the first few weeks after birth. Her role is to provide education and support for the mother, baby and family. (See the DONA website: http://www.dona.org/mothers/faqs_postpartum.php). I don’t think postpartum doulas are specifically schooled in Chinese postpartum confinement principles, but I guess if you engage sometone who is Chinese they might know about it. But perhaps someone with more knowledge and experience on this topic would know.

  2. andrea says:

    Found this site searching for TCM dr in Taipei. So sad to see your Dr is in Australia! having a hard time finding a good provider here – have one in the US I love, and also had one in China I really liked. Any ideas on how to find someone in Taipei city area? I need some great acupuncture, cupping, etc. So far, its been a bit iffy…..!

    • taiwanxifu says:

      I see a Taiwanese guy (no English, Mandarin a bit strained) who does traditional massage (cupping, scraping etc). He is also a herbalist. I find him painful, but very good. He is on Xinyi Road Section 6, and his phone number is 02 2727 9486.

      I noticed in the September issue of the Centered on Taipei magazine that there is an Australian TCM who has recently moved to Taipei. Maybe you could read his article and see what you think: http://www.communitycenter.org.tw/publications/centered-on-taipei/magazine-archive

  3. Ange says:

    Great article on the utility of TCM!

    I am interested in contacting Claire regarding her TCM studies – would you be able to provide a link to her website or her email address?

    Many thanks!

  4. Ange says:

    Thank you! I am thinking of studying TCM and wanted to talk to someone (such as Claire) with a practice in a non-Asian country.

  5. Pingback: Papaya, snow fungus and Chinese red date soup (木瓜銀耳紅棗湯) | Taiwanxifu 台灣媳婦

  6. Pingback: The Mummy Wrap | Taiwanxifu 台灣媳婦

  7. Jenny says:

    I just came by your blog as I was researching about zuo yuezi. I gave birth 6 months ago and right after I have given birth my mother in law came to help me zuo yuezi. At that time I was very skeptical about this tradition and cheated many many times (I washed my hair after a week, I went out in 30 degrees temperature after just 5 days, and I cried a lot because of stress). My baby is now 6.5 months old and my health has not being doing so well. Before giving birth I was a very very healthy individual but since the first month my daugther has born, my nose has been congested ever since, I have blurry vision, and frequent headaches.

    I read from your article that this can all be corrected if I give birth again. Is this true? How does it work?

    • taiwanxifu says:

      Hi, my good friend and Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor Claire Shen tells me that yes, you can again correct your zuo yuezi mistakes if you have another baby and do it all again. http://taiwanxifu.com/2012/10/21/zuo-yuezi-and-traditional-chinese-medicine/

      I would add, though, that it is not uncommon to feel stressed and rundown after having a baby. It is not easy to raise a baby, even if you do have support during zuo yuezi! If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed, it is okay to put your hand up and ask for some help. Even a good night’s sleep can do wonders. It is the oxygen mask principle: if you are on a plane and there is a problem, you have to put on your own oxygen mask before putting on your child’s. So you need to look after yourself first before you can really care for your baby. (And yes, I struggle with this all the time. My zuo yuezi yuepo used to make me eat before feeding the baby, and I was always so cranky with her about this.)

      Doing zuo yuezi has definite health benefits. But don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t do everything ‘right’. I actually don’t know of anyone who didn’t cheat a little bit. We are afterall human, and sometimes you might for example need to go out just for the sake of your sanity. That doesn’t make you a bad mother, or mean that you have failed zuo yuezi. You do what you do.

      Take care. It does get easier, and babies start to sleep more as you start introducing solids.

  8. littlephan says:

    We will be in Taipei soon at September 2015. Searching for a good TCM practioner, acupuncture, is one of our purpose of the visit.
    My girlfriend are having menstrual problems, in Western we called it Menorrhagia.
    She also has bowel disorder, anemia, and anxiety or depression.
    This made her life to so difficult and Western medication just doesn’t seems to help us.
    We made up the mind to switch TCM which is more reliable.

    May anyone recommend any Dr in Taipei City that could help us?
    Your help is highly appreciated.

Comments are closed.