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Pregnancy: Foods for Mother and Baby

by Ashley Betts

Food as Herbs, Health, and Medicine

Fall Volume: 2013 Issue: 20(3) page(s): 12 and 13

In early China, people who had enough to eat, were careful about foods put in their bodies. Those that did not have an adequate diet were lucky to find enough to eat. Today, more Chinese people have enough food than ever before. Those that do, believe in balancing of yin and yang, eating in a balanced way, and wanting balanced body, mind, and spirit. They try to maintain these balances using four different types of foods, hot, cold, wet, and dry. They select them to keep the body in balance.

To have a healthy body, Chinese believe all the elements have to stay in balance. Women, particularly when expecting an offspring, are expected to be careful about what they eat. Chinese women are expected to take care of their husbands and their children. In normal households, they are expected to care for her entire household; and this leaves little time to care for self. When meal times come around, it is her duty to let her husband choose his foods first, then the children--eldest to youngest, and lastly she gets hers from the remanding foods still available. These can be the least tasty foods, even the least healthy.

This attitude changes when the woman becomes pregnant. As soon as she finds out she is expecting, her position of importance and her eating habits change. She is given special dietary privileges, and her protein intake increases. If the woman is expecting her first child, her food privileges are even greater. What she eats changes throughout her pregnancy, and there is a strict diet she must follow.

There is great stress on all expecting mothers. The husband's family expects a male baby, and if it is the first born, the mother is praised and congratulated to the highest degree. On the other hand, if the newborn is female, she suffers and is told she has failed the family.

There are many precautions every mother-to-be has to follow to insure a safe and healthy pregnancy and a healthy offspring. She must not do any heavy lifting nor any work because that could lead to a miscarriage or a long, painful labor. Women are discouraged, even told not to sleep during the afternoon. To do so is a symbol of laziness that would lead to her having a fat, lazy, and disrespectful child.

If she is in the presence of a deformed, disabled, or mentally disabled person, that could lead to mishaps with her child after it is born such as illness or injury. Throughout her pregnancy, there are also many rituals to prevent her child from being possessed. She is to have limited access to society, and not to attend any funeral or wedding. Why not, because the coming child could be in danger of becoming possessed.

The expectant mother has to strictly follow the special diet for expectant mothers. This can prevent illness of mother and child, and it can prevent a miscarriage. It also gives the child-to-be the personality traits the larger family desires. When the woman is in her first three months of pregnancy, she is considered 'cold.' This means she must eat an abundance of 'hot' foods in order to keep her body in balance. The foods considered 'hot' include ginger and black pepper, also mangos and pork. During this time the mother-to-be is to eat no 'cold' foods.

Some women also avoid 'too hot' foods such as chilies as these are associated with bringing on a miscarriage. 'Hot' foods considered important for positive pregnancy outcomes include fatty fleshed animals such as dog. A big part of 'hot' foods are high in calories. Pregnant women are able to eat any of the high calorie foods and encouraged to eat as much meat as they can because meat is considered strengthening. Pregnant women's bodies need to be ready for the child and they need these extra strengthening foods for her and more important, for the child.

During the second three months of the pregnancy, that is month's four through seven, the woman is considered neither 'cold' nor 'hot,' she is said to be neutral. During these months, she can introduce 'cold' foods into her diet, but gradually, while still eating 'hot' foods. Neutral foods are OK to eat. One not considered 'hot' nor 'cold' and considered 'neutral' is rice. Also, during these months, some hotter foods are to be completely avoided such as chili.

During the remainder of the pregnancy and until she gives birth, pregnant women are considered 'hot,' and that is another reason hot foods are to be avoided. During this time hot foods are said to encourage discomfort and skin problems for the child in her body. They can also provide a difficult and painful labor. 'Cold' foods best for her include fresh fruits and fresh, low calorie vegetables. 'Cold' or 'cooling' foods are also used to treat fevers and sores, even constipation. 'Cooling' foods also help during the birthing process because they help prevent her over-heating. The month after she gives birth is very important for the growth and development of her child. Called 'Doing of Month,' it is during these weeks that the mother has strict rules about how she lives. One important one is that she must avoid getting any illness or disease and must do so not leaving the house, not at all.

She also has to continue her special diet to help re-balance her 'all too cold' body. She must stay indoors, avoid all drafts and winds, and must avoid any form of bathing or washing her hair. Why is this so? It is, among other reasons, for fear of disrespecting the Gods and trying to get rid of the child. Therefore, she must stay in bed as much as possible. This is to insure healing and regaining her strength. She must not read nor cry to insure that she will not damage her eyesight or those of her child.

There are to be no cold foods allowed in her diet because her body is already considered too 'cold.' In addition, she must not disrespect the Gods and therefore, she should not have intercourse, not leave the house, and not burn any incense to the Gods. Many different meals are prepared for the new mother, the most famous one is called 'Mother’s Brew.' It includes chicken broth with lots of chicken for strengthening her, and considerable fresh ginger to expel any form of wind from her body or that of the baby. Another soup made for new mothers includes pigs feet, vinegar, ginger, and chicken broth. Lily Buds can be added to cleanse the mother's blood and help reduce any pain she may still have.

The family of the newborn receives many gifts during this month; and these often include chickens, fish, pork and eggs. The mother should consume many eggs during this month. They are to strengthen her body and enable her to heal quickly.

Poor mothers usually consume some twenty eggs a day while richer ones are more likely to eat up to fifty or more each and every day during this 'doing of the month' time. Newborns are breast fed every day except the very first day after birth. It is then the newborn is given a purgative to help this new baby become strong and to get rid of any evil and 'hotness' still in its body.

Breast feeding starts on the second day of the child's life. It lasts for at least one year but can continue for up to five years. Breast feeding lasts that long for many reasons, one to help prevent another pregnancy, another is to help the baby live a healthy life. Many poor families prolong breast feeding because it is cheaper than having another mouth to feed.

Wealthier families can hire a 'wet nurse' if the new mother is unable to produce any or does not have enough milk. This is also done to give the child another trait, one called 'strength.' Many wet nurses are poor mothers trying to make some money for their own families. Such a woman leaves her own child after two months of nursing, and goes to a wealthy family as that baby's wet nurse.

Women in China are the care givers of the household even though men are considered the strong partner and the head of the household. They are considered primary household care givers. Women who are not pregnant, always get the leftovers after making sure her family has enough to eat. There were and often still are expectations that she will give her husband and his children all the food they need and want, and do so in a proper manner.

The biggest expectation for women is to give her husband a son to carry on his family name. She is also one to take pride in the variety of dishes she can serve her family. When she becomes pregnant, then she is undertaking a larger responsibility, and that is to show her husband's family that she is able to provide them with the healthiest male child any family might want.

The different dishes and foods that she eats when carrying her husband's child are believed to affect its personality and its body. Her body is stressed when pregnant and then she follows the strict diet his family believes in to stay in balance. She does so thereafter, that is throughout the rest of her life to feed and tend her husband and their children. Doing so she is a good daughter-in-law and a good wife. In addition to all of these responsibilities, if her husband is the first born she has an additional chore, to tend to her mother-in-law in any way her husband’s mother needs or wants her to.
Ashley Betts graduated with a Bachelor's Degree from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. She continues there as 'Manager in Training' at their Apple Pie Bakery Café. She is passionate about baking and adoring every culinary task that increases her skills in every aspect of the food industry. This paper began as an assignment to learn what Chinese women consume during the important role she plays in their lives. It used many sources including those of E.N. Anderson and Frederick J. Simoons.

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