Zuo yuezi by another name

As many of my readers know, I endured (and benefited from) the Chinese postpartum confinement practice known as zuo yuezi (坐月子).  One of my challenges in writing about this practice has been deciding what term to use.  You see, zuo yuezi isn’t widely understood or practiced in Western cultures (at least, not anymore).  So there is no direct or easy way to translate the term.

Zuo yuezi literally means ‘sitting the month’, a reference to women spending a month indoors resting after birth in the Chinese postpartum tradition.  Western cultures used to have a similar tradition of supporting a mother after childbirth, although not necessarily with the same heritage of medicinal recipes.  A friend recently told me that in Wales, a women was supported during her postpartum ‘lying in’ period by her mother and sometimes also her grandmother.  More broadly, it was often called ‘confinement’, which is now mostly perceived as a quant term with negative connotations of weak women being forcefully locked in their bedchambers.  Although the term is still in use:  for example, the policy guidelines at my work on maternity leave still refer to the period of ‘confinement’ as being the time from when a women leaves work to have her baby until her return.

So how to translate zuo yuezi so that it conveys a positive, nurturing and healing spirit?  How to make the description, and related terms, relevant to modern women who want to recover their energy after childbirth so they can get on with their business of being mothers and empowered, strong women?  I have come up with a few suggestions, and would love to get your opinions via this poll.

And what about the postpartum carer, who looks after Mum and Bub during the first weeks after she comes home?  In Taiwan, she is often called a ‘yuepo‘ (月婆), although the term is not so commonly understand because most people are either cared for at home or else go into luxury confinement centers.  In China, such carers are often referred to as a ‘yuesao’ (月嫂).  And there is a growing trend in the West of postpartum doulas, who provide a similar type of service.  Please vote and let me know what you think the best description is.

Luxury confinement centers (坐月子中心, zuo yuezi zhongxin), where a mother lives in hotel-like accommodation and receives 24-hour care (with baby either rooming in with her or most usually in a nursery) are an increasingly popular choice in Taiwan and major Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.  They are also springing up in the United States as well, in part to cater for Chinese mothers who travel to the US to give birth.  But what is the best name for them?  I’ve come up with a few alternatives.

And finally, many new Mums (and Dads) that I know chose to stay at home and order in specially prepared zuo yuezi meals.  Usually these include specially prepared medicinal dishes for the new mother, but are often generous enough for a hungry husband to share as well.  Some companies will also prepare vegetarian versions.  But what to call this service in English?

Of course, I welcome your input into using any terms that I have not included.  There are some linguistic differences between Chinese spoken in Taiwan, mainland China, Hong Kong and overseas Chinese communities.  And also differences in English spoken around the world.  It’s a wonder that we can manage to communicate with each other at all, but hopefully some standardisation in terminology will help to better describe the zuo yuezi tradition.

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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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10 Responses to Zuo yuezi by another name

  1. Ivy Chen says:

    Serina, great idea to catch attention for Chinese postpartum confinement issue. The best speaker is from an English spoken Taiwanxifu. Chinese or Taiwanese need a lot of such efforts about culture communication to identify its origin.

  2. taiwanxifu says:

    Thanks Ivy for your kind comments.

  3. May Fan says:

    Hello from Singapore, Serina! I caught onto your blog whilst doing my own postpartum confinement in Sep. I must say l’ve really enjoyed reading your entries regarding the subject of 坐月Zi. It had provided me much insight to the various confinement food and recipes, even when this is my second time. It has also introduced me to such a thing as milk bank, and luxury confinement hotels, both of which are unheard of in Singapore. When I encounter the typical milk supply issues initially, your blog is a source of comfort. Thank you really! With regards to your polls, my only comment is that perhaps you can consider dropping the word ‘Chinese’ and just use the term postpartum confinement. Reason being it is not necessarily only a Chinese practice, but rather other nationalities, such as Malays, Indians and even Koreans practise postpartum confinement, and have their own recipes, time period etc. What I do know is that it’s quite a typical practice amongst Asians. Arighty, enough ramblings, looking forward to your next entry!

    • taiwanxifu says:

      Thank you for your comment. I am so glad that you found the my blog interesting. I would love to hear from you about how your own zuo yuezi experience is going. Are there many differences with how it is practiced in Singapore? What are the common zuo yuezi foods? I imagine you are not yet getting much sleep, but would love to know about how you found everything — and whether or not you found it beneficial.

      • May Fan says:

        You’re welcome! My confinement period lasted for a month, with my mum being my ‘confinement lady’ and I stayed over at her place for her convenience. Food wise, it will be those that are ‘warm’ and helps in rebuilding energy, such as pig’s kidney with ginger soup, pig’s trotter with vinegar, black chicken soup, yellow ginger chicken, green papaya with fish soup, dang gui soup etc. Drinks wise, she prepares two types of drinks daily, one is 米水, which is essentially uncooked rice that is wok fried over until they turn brown, then put them in hot water to make it a drink. Accordingly, this is supposed to aid reduction in swollen feet. The other drink she makes is a dang gui+dried logan+red dates+wolfberry seeds. This is to help me regain energy 提气Environment wise, minimal contact with wind and water, so no fan and no going out of the house as much as possible. Thankfully I was able to bathe, but only with very warm water soaked with herbal packs. Hair washing is confined to about once every five days. These are to prevent rheumatism when we grow older. I think what we do during confinement period seeks to achieve the same purpose, just a matter of how, and like you said before, how disciplined you are sticking to those to-dos 😉 One thing I encountered in both pregnancies is that whilst I breastfeed, there is always a worry that what I eat gets passed on to my baby. Therefore when my baby has jaundice, my mum tries to reduce my intake of foods that are deemed heavy in ‘yellow’, like yellow ginger and dang gui. I also did not take any food cooked with wine as my baby’s skin had a bit of rashes early on. However I see you have been eating almost anything, even crabs, something that I abstain even now for fear of causing any skin allergy on my baby whilst I’m still breastfeeding. Have you encountered such problems with your baby? Indeed, sleep is a luxury these days, juggling between the little one, a bit of housework, and a bit of me-time where possibly. Thankfully, he pretty much sleeps through most nights now and that gives me some time to rest! The overall confinement experience helps certainly as I regain my energy by the 3rd week, moving about like pre pregnancy times and was raring to go out with baby but had to continue to stay home! I’m sure it did too for you!

      • taiwanxifu says:

        Thanks for sharing. I didn’t have any problems with the food I ate during confinement. But you do need to be careful, e.g. With alcohol, chillis and caffeine in particular.

  4. Doc says:

    Does anyone know of any agencies who can refer you to confinement locations in the USA, especially NYC? Are there any such agencies or brokers in Taiwan or Hong Kong who supply this service for a referal fee?

    • taiwanxifu says:

      A good question. I understand that there is a growing number of confinement centers operating in the United States. Some expectant mothers from Taiwan and China purposely travel to the United States to deliver their child in order that they can get a green card — and they usually opt to stay in a confinement centre after the birth. Some companies even package a travel/confinement ‘tour’. But most of the confinement centres are small and privately run, not always registered as a boarding house per se. So you would be best to ask a Chinese speaking friend to see if they can find one for you online or perhaps advertised in a Chinese speaking newspaper or simply by word of mouth.

      Is it for yourself?

      • Doc says:

        Expectant mothers from Taiwan and Mainland China purposely travel to the USA to get American birth certificates for their children who are now American citizens or can be American citizens. They usually come to the USA two or more months before term and stay at confinement homes. The maternity tourist homes need not be registered as boarding houses or short term hotels since the individual is staying longer then 30 days. I know there are agencies who advertise in Chinese language newspapers but I don’t read Chinese, so I guess I am stuck looking to get someone to do it for me. Thanks.

      • taiwanxifu says:

        Thanks for your feedback. I hope you are able to find a place that suits you. Maybe one of the readers here on this site could help? (hint, hint to anyone reading this). Please let me know if you find anywhere, and more importantly, whether it was good or not!

        I am assuming you want to find a zuo yuezi place for yourself. You mention you don’t speak Chinese. Are you from a Chinese background? If not, how did you hear about zuo yuezi, and why do you want to do it?

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