It’s no surprise that if you travel halfway around the world to a country like China, you’re going to encounter a few differences, some small, some not so small. This applies to the advice you get during the process of conception, pregnancy, and birth, even though all of us want the same thing, and that is to end up with a happy, healthy baby in your arms when it’s all over and done with. We got in touch with Kenn Juliette and Dai Jiru from Oasis International Hospital, and they helped clear up some simple misconceptions, along with explaining why some of these different ideas exist.
What are the biggest differences you’ve noticed between Eastern and Western pregnancy or childbirth processes?
The diet during pregnancy is the biggest difference. In China, in the past, there were many old sayings about what kinds of food were not allowed to be eaten during the pregnancy period. Eastern society has a diet according to its culture: no cold food, consuming lots of soup, and so on. Western tradition on the other hand has a diet according to the risk associated with the food, for example: listeria infection through raw milk, raw seafood, raw meat, and fish. Now, in the internet era, this is gradually changing in China as people can get more information from websites.
Is Chinese herbal medicine often administered during pregnancy and childbirth? If so, what types?
For Chinese women not often. If during the pregnancy the woman has caught a cold, an OB [obstetrics]doctor will sometimes suggest for them to take a Chinese herbal medicine such as Ganmao Qingre Keli. For western women, Chinese herbal medicine is not usually administered.
Is it true that eating crab or raw seafood, like sushi, during pregnancy may cause miscarriages? What other foods should mothers try to avoid?
It is not exactly true. Eating raw seafood can cause infections that are harmful to the fetal development. Western OB doctors instruct pregnant women to avoid raw foods (meat, fish, egg), thoroughly wash vegetables and fruits, and avoid foods that stayed outside in the sun for too long, such as mayonnaise and those creamy cakes that have spent too long out of the fridge.
Are there any foods that are deemed okay in the West, but regarded as possibly dangerous in the east or vice versa?
On Chinese websites, many kinds of food (such as hawthorn, longan, persimmon, durian, etc.) are not allowed during pregnancy. Pregnant Chinese women often ask OB doctors whether they can eat these foods or not, even though there isn’t enough evidence to show that these foods are dangerous. It is important, however, to eat clean cooked food and take care of hand hygiene.
Are Chinese women often told to stay away from cold foods during pregnancy (like cold water and ice cream)? What is the reasoning behind cold food or drinks affecting the well-being of an unborn child?
Some Chinese pregnant women are told by their parents and elders (not by OB doctors) to stay away from cold foods because according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, cold food can cause “cold in the uterus,” and this has the potential of causing a spontaneous abortion. It is mainly cultural and has its origins in TCM. From a western point of view, It doesn’t affect the well-being of the unborn child, but cold food and drinks can affect the mother. Any infection in the mother can affect the fetus. In the past and even today, in the countryside, there were no heaters, and houses were not well insulated, so it was reasonable to avoid cold as a pregnant woman could catch a cold and get sick. Nowadays, we do have clean and warm houses, but culture changes very slowly.
Do Chinese people follow the rule during pregnancy that intercourse is forbidden for fear of harming the baby?
Yes, they usually do. Not just the woman but also the man is not comfortable having sex during the pregnancy. They think it can be harmful to the baby as it is just right there behind the cervix. Most Chinese women follow the rule that during pregnancy intercourse is forbidden. It is not just Chinese parents that adhere to this, but also western couples think it can be harmful to the baby. Western OB doctors point out that you can have sex unless there is a complication and the doctor tells you not to.
In Western countries, a little exercise is advised for expected mothers. Is it a myth that Chinese women are expected to rest and avoid physical work as much as possible?
Actually, in China, more and more OB doctors and pregnant women are realizing that proper exercise is helpful in controlling both the mother’s and baby’s weight. So OB doctors now suggest pregnant women do proper exercise and physical work if they don’t have contraindications.
How often is the Chinese medical practice of acupuncture used during pregnancies, and for what reasons?
If the baby is a breech birth, moxibustion (Ai Jiu) is used to try to change the fetal position. Sometimes acupuncture is also used in the case of stubborn hyperemesis gravidarum during the early period of pregnancy. It can also be used to help to induce labor by opening up the cervix. However, in the west, acupuncture is seen as an alternative medicine, so it is not often used.
Is there anything in particular Chinese men do to increase the chances of their spouse getting pregnant, like eating particular foods or abstaining from certain activities?
Some Chinese men eat cooked animal’s penis and other foods that can increase their sexual desire, along with quitting smoking and drinking alcohol one year ahead of conception, which is very good at increasing fertility in men. They can also protect their testicles, which will help in the production of good sperm, along with eating healthy food, avoiding stress, and participating in regular physical activity.
What are the most common natural methods people choose to increase fertility in Asian society?
In China, couples who are in a better economic situation often see a TCM doctor before pregnancy, and let the doctors help them to do body conditioning in order to get pregnant more easily. Some men also often believe in things like ginseng to boost the sex drive and their capacity to have kids.
Did the one-child policy have an impact on the caution women took during their pregnancies? Has it changed now with the two-child policy?
Of course, the one-child policy has had an impact on the caution women and their families use during pregnancies. They had no desire to take any risks whatsoever, and it made couples very nervous. They worried about everything: whether the baby would be healthy, beautiful, clever, etc. Now, if the first baby is good, they will be more relaxed when they have a second baby. All pregnancies are precious, but western people are ready to take some risks, for example, to have a vaginal birth for a breech birth or twins. Eastern women wouldn’t consider this. But now with the two-child policy more are willing to try vaginal birth as they may want to have a second child later. This also means that we now have more requests to try VBAC (vaginal birth after C-section).
Answers provided by:
Kinn Juliette, OB GYN, MD, Oasis International Hospital
Dai Jiru, OB GYN, MD, Oasis International Hospital
Photos: Uni You