There is a tradition in Chinese culture called zuo yue zi. Zuo yue zi, or “sitting the moon cycle” or “sitting the month”, refers to period of 30-40 days postpartum for nurturing the new mother, supporting her recovery and supporting family bonding. Traditionally, this 30-40 day period after birth is one of confinement: mom would stay home, indoors and receive support from family for nourishment, healing, resting, and ultimately adapting to motherhood.
This is also a period in which herbs and nutrition can play a huge role in postpartum recovery. A 2,000 year old tradition born out of a need to care for new mothers, respect them, and promote health for mom and baby.
There are some wonderful aspects of zuo yue zi that can be beneficial in today’s modern postpartum time, and some elements of the tradition are not as relevant or important as they would have been 2,000 years ago.
As a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, I have learned that it is essential to maintain the integrity of the theory and practice of this modality and it’s cultural compliments, but apply them in a way that is in balance with how our lives are now – which is much different than how lives were lived 2,000 years ago in China.
The Zuo Yue Zi Protocol: Begin by Avoiding Screens
There are very real and practical reasons for this. For example, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, staring at screens too often dries the eyes and depletes “liver blood”. Well into a postpartum state when blood has been lost, it is important to avoid activities that would further stress this system.
All the rules of zuo yue zi are there in an effort to optimize replenishment and reduce the likelihood of getting sick or perpetuating deficient conditions that could prolong healing or contribute to postpartum depression. You have just gone through such a massive life event and to expect new mothers to return to "normal" life and function with the same obligations as before delivering a child is absurd.
You deserve rest.
You deserve to bond with your baby out of your womb. You deserve the time and space needed to rebuild, recover, and restore what you used for growing and bringing a new human earthside. Most of us are not at risk of significant illness or infection due to taking a shower or brushing our teeth, but in a vulnerable state, those tasks could have created huge problems 2,000 years ago.
Zuo yue zi is traditionally outlined by a set of rules, but most American women would feel overwhelmed by this set of rules, unable to practice them all due to their unique set of circumstances and our cultural expectations of new mom’s so they may resist zuo yue zi altogether. This is why a modern adaptation of traditional practice is so important.
Respecting and honoring the traditional concept but adapting it to modern society truly optimizes the benefit to new moms. Even practicing some elements of sitting the month will benefit you and your family.
Zuo Yue Zi Today: As Relevant as Ever
During childbirth, you lose blood and by virtue of both growing a new human and bringing them earthside, you have also diminished your stores of Qi (energy) and Jing (essence). This loss of blood and utilization of Qi leaves new moms in a physically vulnerable state and in a place of needing nourishment and recovery.
Zuo yue zi can help revitalize Qi and blood to prevent system disharmony from affecting you. Let’s break down a few aspects of sitting the month so you can incorporate them into your postpartum experience.
Nutrition – The use of your energy in labor can put strain on your digestive system so nutrition is paramount to recovery. The ultimate goal is to restore Qi and blood, promote milk supply, promote healing, and when applicable wound healing from c-section or tears.
It is important to start with simple, warm, and easy to digest foods and progress to heartier soups and stews. You should avoid cold and raw foods, which can further strain digestion or slow down blood flow to the uterus. Soups and stews made with bone broth are typically easy to digest and can help balance your body's post-birth recovery efforts.
You can start this nourishment early on, by sipping bone broth through your laboring process to help keep your energy up during the process of delivery. Here are a few key postpartum nutrition points:
New mom doesn’t cook – your partner, mom, family, friends or neighbors can all chip in to help. You can even do some of the meal prep ahead of time so that things are ready when it’s time for you to rest. I send pregnant mamas home with postpartum herb broth packets at about 36 weeks so that they can prepare broths ahead of time if they’d like to.
High protein, easy to digest healthy fats, simple nutritions carbs such as rice
Don’t diet – now is not the time to worry about your post-partum body, honor the incredible work you have done. You need calories to recover, sleep, and if breastfeeding, to help promote milk production.
Examples of herbs and foods that help you recover post-partum include ginger (lots of ginger), red date, longan fruit, bone broth, eggs, coconut milk soups/curries, rice congees (porridges), goji berries, avocado, cooked greens, shredded chicken
Exercise – “Don’t”, at least for a few weeks and then very slowly. In Chinese Medicine theory, the body is considered “open” after delivery and too much movement too quickly can inhibit proper “closing” and can lead to pelvic floor injury. When you think about the physiologic process of giving birth, this totally makes sense, your pelvis literally opens up to allow for passage through the birth canal. Allowing your body to heal and "settle" after so much change can help reduce the impact on the pelvic floor long term.
Give yourself a few weeks of ease
I promise you can wait for those high intensity activities and you will do so much better not being short sighted on this. Start slow, first with short walks, post-natal yoga, and kegals. Give yourself a few weeks of ease. This tender time is not about weight loss or bouncing back, it is about nurturing, recovering, and allowing for rest.
Rest – Obviously, this includes literal rest – sleep when possible, nap when needed, quietly bond and ogle the beautiful babe that is now in your arms. But, rest here is also about care. Care for you and your amazing body that just went through a huge transition.
Rest is just as essential as your intuition is telling you it is. Your organs and body have undergone such a huge transformation and rest is imperative to them restoring to a more baseline place. Literally, your uterus is now required to shrink back down and the organs repositioned from its previous growth must find their home again. Besides physical rest and nutrition, there are some practices that can help you rest as well. Sitz baths and vaginal steams made with nourishing herbs can help alleviate any uterine congestion, promote uterine toning, and nourish the tissues of the perineum.
Traditional zuo yue zi says no showering, bathing, or brushing your teeth, but now, I recommend that showers and baths be with warm water only, don’t keep your hair wet, use warm water to brush your teeth and after showers or baths get dressed quickly in loose, warm, and cozy clothes.
Visitors and Guests - you deserve help, and by all means you should accept help from family and friends you trust, but you can still have boundaries. If you have too many visitors or too many “cooks in the kitchen” you may feel frazzled, drained or that the peaceful quiet time you crave with your new family has been disrupted. This is where boundaries are essential, and only you can decide what those boundaries need to be. Here are few boundary questions to think about before you enter your postpartum period. You can enjoy visitors and remain social, all while setting boundaries and feeling confident keeping them - you need your time too, especially as a family.
Do you only want a certain number of visitor per day
Do you only want visitor during a certain time window each day
Do you want entire days with no visitors
Do you want just a few go to visitors that are helping with your zuo yue zi – preparing meals or caring for baby while you rest.
Do you want to set a date for when visitor will be allowed to enter your home -keeping it to just your family and those helping in the home until that date.
Do you want a gate-keeper or advocate that helps you maintain these boundaries, a spouse, parent or doula can be excellent for this
Consider setting these guidelines as a family so that everyone is on the same page
As I’m sure you have realized through pre-conception, pregnancy, and for some of you delivery, things don’t always go as planned and this may be the case for your postpartum period as well, but you can set yourself up with the foundation for a postpartum period filled with recovery, nourishment, and bonding with your new little, and the expectation that there may be moments that you have to surrender, go with the flow and adapt to this new life.