There was a very interesting article in Tuesday’s USA Today about the ancient Chinese practice of postpartum confinement referred to as “cho yuet.” It honors the first month following childbirth as a critical time for a new mother’s health and so, she is expected to refrain from going outside, taking a bath, brushing her teeth or anything else that could possibly allow “bad wind” to enter her body. According to the article, as this ancient practice is changing to keep up with more contemporary times, “confinement ladies” are considered necessary to postpartum recovery and are highly sought after in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia to guide and protect women during this vulnerable period.
While this practice of confinement may seem extreme and isolating, even impractical for our “modern moms,” (and there is no research to suggest that going outside or brushing your teeth is harmful), it reflects the emotional and physical sacredness of the early postpartum period as well as the tremendous vulnerability of new mothers. Although a recent study shows no connection between confinement and reduced rates of postpartum depression, this Chinese practice emphasizes the need for postpartum women to be nurtured, pampered and lovingly mothered, regardless of culture, so that they can recover from the strenuousness of pregnancy and childbirth in order to enter the world of motherhood with more emotional and physical resilience. This is something in the United States we have yet to fully understand and put into practice. We are so plagued by the many myths of motherhood, including myths about maternal instinct or the supermom, and misinformed expectations arise from these tall tales, influencing women’s beliefs as to how they should behave and how they should feel postpartum.
As the scientific data becomes increasingly more irrefutable, confirming the fragility of the postpartum period, hopefully our social and cultural ideas and values about motherhood will shift.
This guest post was written by Diana Lynn Barnes, Psy.D, founder of The Center for Postpartum Health and co-author of “The Journey to Parenthood: Myths, Reality and What Really Matters”