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August 8, 2015

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Calls for end to tradition after new mom dies

THE case of a new mother who died of heatstroke in the city after strictly adhering to the Chinese tradition of “postpartum confinement” has led to heated discussion on whether the tradition should be abandoned.

The mother became seriously ill after remaining wrapped in a thick quilt without turning on the air-conditioner following labor. She died after being sent to Shanghai Fengxian District Central Hospital, according to one of the hospital’s emergency ward staff yesterday.

Local media Thepaper reported a similar tragedy several months ago, in which a new mother who refused to move during her zuoyuezi time died of pulmonary artery thrombosis.

Literally translated to “sitting the month”, zuoyuezi is a Chinese practice that encourages a new mother to rest in her home for one month after giving birth, during which she will be specially attended.

New mothers should follow instructions that range from avoiding opening windows and eating cold foods to not washing their hair. They may even be advised not to leave bed.

Chinese people believe postnatal recovery is critical to maintaining long-term health. And the latest tragic case has resulted from the folk concept of keeping a “hot-and-cold balance”, said Wang Xiaoli, a professor from School of Public Health, Peking University.

“A woman giving birth will lose a great deal of blood, something considered ‘hot.’ It is traditionally believed they should take hot foods, such as soup, after delivery. They are also encouraged to wear more clothes than usual and avoid windy places,” she said.

Zhang Yun, head nurse at the Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital of Fudan University, said if too much heat stays in the new mother’s body for too long, it can cause circulatory failure, or damage the nervous system.

The recent city case has led to debate among Chinese people online, with most arguing that zuoyuezi is an outdated custom which should be abandoned.

“It is one of the superstitions of an ignorant age. Women in other countries never have to zuoyuezi, but they also maintain a healthy life,” argued user “Pujiedewangxiaomei” on microblog Sina Weibo.

But others believe this recent tragedy is an extreme case. The tradition makes sense to Chinese because of the differing physical condition of Eastern and Western people, they claim.

Three months ago, many Chinese were shocked to see pictures of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, appear outside a London hospital hours after giving birth.

Wang surveyed more than 20,000 new mothers in 105 Chinese counties 10 years ago and found that 72 percent didn’t wash their hair and 37 percent didn’t open their windows during the postnatal month.

The tradition hasn’t changed much, even in cities, due to the influence of older generations, Wang said. Many elderly Chinese women blame current health problems, such as migraines, backache or arthritis, on the fact that they didn’t have a good rest during zuoyuezi.

Some of the tradition may benefit the new mother, but some do not, Wang added. “Keeping warm regardless of the heat is an overreaction, and such unhygienic customs make them highly prone to infection.”


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