Mothers-to-be who debate the dangers of eating Chinese takeout are overlooking some wholesome care – Chinese traditional food remedies concerning pregnancy are
numerous. There’s an intricate list of things to do, eat, and avoid both before and after birth to promote the well-being of mother and child. And Kung Pao Chicken isn’t one of them.
Ancient traditions have been passed down through generations and are still used by women today. When it comes to food, it’s obvious that you should eat a healthy and nutritious diet, but the Chinese have some particular specialties.
Sweet black sesame soup is the prime choice for expecting mothers, and not only because its richness can satisfy any food craving. This thick warm dessert is imbued with goodness to help the baby grow strong bones and dark eyes.
Also, every Chinese woman and her mother will fervently warn you against foods that are “cold” – not the actual temperature, but food considered to create cold effects on the body. Cold foods eaten early in a pregnancy can lead to premature birth or miscarriage so avoid watermelon, banana and anything mungbean at all cost. However, eating these food items close to your due date can bring about an easy labor. For superstitious reasons, pregnant women will also avoid eating geese and shrimp, because they are thought to give the baby skin diseases as well as rabbit, because the character for this animal (兔) appears in the Chinese term for cleft lip (兔唇).
In addition to diet restrictions, pregnant women in China traditionally abstain from certain activities. Some make sense: Mothers-to-be are warned against moving homes or similarly laborious activities. Other taboos are more superstitious: Mothers-to-be should not use scissors, needles or knives in their own shadow because the sharp objects could hurt the baby. So make sure you know which way your kitchen light casts your shadow.
Postnatal care is equally important and there are specific Chinese traditions for this time. In the past, women stayed in bed for a month after giving birth without bathing. In their weakened state, they did not want to catch a cold by coming into contact with water. While that rule is rarely followed nowdays, Chinese women still eat a lot of the special health-boosting soups their foremothers did. To regain strength, they would drink deer antler soup, an ingredient frequently used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
For rich milk while breastfeeding, they sip soup made from fish, papaya and peanuts. The Chinese have always thought that papaya gives women fuller breasts and fish soup is a smooth white liquid that looks like milk, so together they make the best soup for breastfeeding mothers. Another popular one is a concoction of sweet vinegar, eggs, pork knuckle and ginger. Brewed in huge batches a month before the baby’s birth to get a depth of sweet, sour and savory flavors, it warms the heart and promotes blood circulation. This delicious soup is so good that relatives would visit the homes of new mothers to see the baby and have a cuppa of sweet vinegar.
Traditional practices are often neglected in the modern world, but many Chinese mothers-to-be still follow these rituals. It is believed that the month following birth determines the future well-being of the mother. If she takes great care of herself, she will enjoy good health for the rest of her life. Faced with the alternative, what’s a month without showers?