If you are pregnant, or know someone who is, learning about Zuo Yue Zi (literally translated as “Sitting Moon”) will be invaluable for a better recovery post-partum and for optimal health ahead. Zuo Yue Zi is a tradition whereby the month after birth, the new mother receives exceptional care and nurturing whilst also observing adequate rest, relaxation and specific self-care practices. This month is exceptionally important for restoring the mothers health and energy, preventing any future illnesses or imbalances caused by the pregnancy, and ensuring the well-being of both mother and baby.
In traditional times, Zuo Yue Zi was practiced almost universally across China. Due to the fast pace of modern life, it is not so widely practiced anymore, however those who do observe this custom know that there are significant benefits above and beyond simply following tradition. In China and Taiwan, there are even centers where women can go to receive this nurturing care for the first month after birth, if they can not receive this care from their families.
In Australia and most Western societies, there is a distinct lack of understanding of the importance of the post-partum period for the long-term health of the new mother. New mothers are frequently expected to look after themselves during this critical time with limited knowledge and tools, and often jump back into work or their regular lifestyles too quickly. This is a great shame because it means new mothers aren't receiving the care that they need to heal and regenerate after the dramatic physiological events of pregnancy and birth. If Zuo Yue Zi is practiced, the new mother can bounce back more quickly and ensure long-term vibrant health and happiness, which will mean they can enjoy this incredibly special time much more, as well as be able to give more of themselves to their babies.
So what does Zuo Yue Zi look like?
I would like to describe the traditional approach to this precious month first, which might seem a little extreme at first. You don't need to follow everything strictly, and indeed when I had my own baby I wasn't able to do everything that is traditionally required during the Sitting Moon – for instance I did have some visitors and I did leave the house! However, I believe that you can adapt these principles to your own needs, and that anything you can do to help encourage rest and relaxation during this month, is going to be beneficial.
Strictly speaking, Zuo Yue Zi is a time when the new mother is waited on hand and foot, so that all she has to do during that first month post-partum is breastfeed, eat, rest, sleep and bond with her baby. Both mother and baby stay inside and do not have visitors for the entire month. This allows the mother to really rest and recover, as well as protects the very vulnerable newborn baby from any pathogens that might be carried in by well-meaning visitors. The mother eats warming, blood-replenishing foods, broths and herbs to help restore the blood and energy lost after giving birth. She also abstains from anything cold (food, drinks, water and weather) as in Chinese Medicine exposure to the cold can weaken them further and make them more susceptible to getting sick. Finally, the new mother can utilise things like meditation, acupressure, Qi Gong, massage and acupuncture to restore herself and set up good habits of self-care which are absolutely vital for a healthy, happy motherhood.
At the heart of this tradition is this: new mothers must learn how to receive. Motherhood is a wild ride, an intense journey filled with love and bliss and exquisitely heart-achingly tender moments. It is completely natural and understandable for a new mother to want to put all her needs on hold to care for this new precious being that has entered her life, to give, give, give. But at this precious time especially, please let others take care of you. Ideally, during your pregnancy you would plan for this month and create a support system, a team of people who can look after you and provide you with as much help as possible so that you can rest. Instead of gifts for the baby, ask your loved ones for gifts of time and service after the baby is born, for example home-cooked meals, help with laundry or cleaning the house, or babysitting if you have older children. Vouchers for massage, a manicure or acupuncture are also great gifts. Plan to do nothing else besides rest and enjoy your new baby. It is truly a magical and magnificent time.
I would like to explore some more specific suggestions for self-care practices during this time and beyond, and will do this in an upcoming blog post. I hope this post has given you some inspiration for ideas on how to approach the post-partum period, both for mothers-to-be, and for the people who love them. If you would like to know more about this tradition, I refer you to the book “Sitting Moon: A guide to natural rejuvenation after pregnancy” by Daoshing Ni and Jessica Chen.
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