Chinese people love to disperse pregnancy tips, share their birthing traditions and offer up their age-old superstitions. beijingkids seeks out the modern take on these traditional Chinese beliefs from Deng Lei, mother of 13-year-old daughter Li Jiameng and one-year-old Li Jiaxua Beijing, and Dr. Sun, a gynecologist at International Medical Clinic (IMC) who has been treating Chinese and foreign patients in Beijing for the past five years.
1. After the first three months, the shape of the mother’s pregnant belly is a prediction of the sex of the baby.
It is said that a pointed belly means the baby is male, while rounded indicates a female fetus. To conceive a baby of the desired sex, tradition advises a couple to feast on specific foods seven days before conception. If they want a boy, they should eat tofu, mushrooms, carrots and lettuce. For a girl, the diet is pickles, meat and fish.
Deng believes that the belly is a prediction of the baby’s gender, but says it’s not the shape that moms-to-be should analyze but the line that runs from the belly button downward. "If it’s very deep and straight, it’s a boy. If it’s not straight, then it’s a girl," she says.
Sun does not believe in any predictions from the shape of the belly. "It’s superstition; it’s never been proven," she states. "I have been a doctor for 15 years and I cannot guess by the shape of the belly."
2. It’s bad luck to name an unborn baby.
Naming a baby before it’s born shows eagerness in the parents for a particular sex and may lead to disappointment when the baby is born.
Deng’s experience is that most hospitals require a name before the baby is born and it is not uncommon for parents to prepare two names for a boy and a girl. "In China, you are not allowed to tell the parents if it’s a boy or a girl, because most of the time, they prefer to have a boy," says Sun.
3. Pregnant women should not have sex.
Tradition forbids women from having sex during pregnancy, especially during the first and last trimester. There is fear that having sex will damage the baby. Both Deng and Sun agree that sex is okay during pregnancy, but caution should be exercised during the first three months. "During the first three months, the baby is weak and it’s easy to miscarriage," advises Sun.
4. Pregnant women should eat foods that contain brown sugar or ginger to soothe pain and increase blood flow.
In regards to yin and yang, pregnancy is classified as a "hot" condition, so pregnant women are encouraged to stay away from cold foods. Cold foods are those which are thought have cold effects on the body but they’re not necessarily cold in temperature. According to tradition, foods such as watermelon, banana and mung bean, should be avoided.
Deng subscribes to this theory to a certain extent. "Brown sugar, ginger and dates are good for your blood when you’re pregnant. It’s good to eat chestnuts too," she says. While Deng was advised to stay away from consuming crab, she ate all the shrimp and ice cream she wanted during her pregnancy. Sun generally advises mothers to "eat whatever they like."
5. Rubbing the belly too much will lead to a spoiled child.
Sun warns that rubbing too much is unsafe and may lead to an early birth. As for the act leading to a spoiled child, "there’s no proof," she says. Meanwhile, though Deng had never heard of this tradition, she feels that if a baby kicks a lot in the belly, he or she will grow up to be "naughty."
6. Mothers and newborns should rest at home for a month.
Known as zuoyuezi (坐月子), or "the sitting month," a woman who has just given birth is advised to stay in bed and stay warm, wearing socks at all times and consuming warm food. She is not allowed to shower, wash her hair or be exposed to cold conditions, such as air conditioning, open windows or doorways for fear of catching a cold.
"During the first 30 days, the woman is weak, so she needs to rest. It’s important to keep the woman warm after conception. [In China, women] shouldn’t be immersed in cold water or drink cold water right after [giving birth]," says Deng. Deng admits that she could not follow the sitting month rules closely, and confesses that she washed her hair, because she "couldn’t stand not washing it." These old fashioned rules have become guidelines for today’s Chinese mothers: "When I was cold, I wore socks; but when I wasn’t, I didn’t," Deng proclaims.
"It’s an old Chinese tradition that has changed," concurs Sun. "Now you can wash your hair and face, brush your teeth, open a window and use the air conditioning. But I still ask mothers to stay at home for a month. [In the end], it depends on the person."
7. A woman’s diet during the first 30 days after delivery should be rich in iron and calcium.
These foods are believed to help women recover from delivery. In general hot foods, which are said to rebuild lost blood, are encouraged during postnatal care for women. Aside from hot food, women are also encouraged to eat salty foods and soup made from fish, papaya and peanuts to increase milk production.
During her first 30 days, Deng ate fish and other food that provided her with much needed iron and calcium but did not follow a strict diet. She ate pig knuckles (zhuti) and peanuts, but stayed away from oily foods.
"Fish, chicken soup and peanuts are good for increasing milk production," confirms Sun. She encourages her patients to eat foods rich in iron and calcium, and gives them plenty of vitamins for nutrition.
8. A pregnant mother’s sleeping schedule affects the child’s sleeping schedule.
Though this is not among the older traditions, Deng and her friends strongly believe that if a pregnant mother goes to bed early and wakes up early, her child will do the same. This, she guarantees, lasts from birth until kindergarten-age. "When I was pregnant with my daughter, I went to bed at midnight and woke up at eight or nine and my daughter followed the same time schedule. I did the same with my son and he is the same," she says. In opposition, Sun says that the mother’s sleeping schedule during pregnancy has no bearing on that of the child’s.
9. Expectant mothers should not attend weddings or funerals.
Deng believes it’s not good to attend a wedding or funeral. She also warns mothers against visiting graveyards; Deng went to a graveyard once while she was pregnant and almost miscarried. According to Sun, pregnant mothers should steer clear of weddings and funerals. "At these kinds of places, the mother gets emotional, uncomfortable and it’s not good for the baby. It’s better not to go. It’s important for her to be happy and not cry," she stresses.
10. Pregnant women should maintain a happy disposition.
"You have to keep yourself happy; it’s good and important for the baby," Deng says. She also says that "the husband should take care of the wife." "It’s important to be happy and not stressed," adds Sun. "If the mother puts pictures of happy babies on the wall, she will be happy and the baby will be beautiful."