Hong Kong is a globalized city where multiple cultures around the world integrated. During pregnancy, pregnant women often get different advice from the others, which may be contradictory sometimes. With a rich history spanning thousands of years, Chinese culture has considerable influence over life events, including pregnancy and childbirth.
We invited two experts to discuss topics on pregnancy and childbirth from both Eastern and Western Medicine perspectives.
Dr. Edmund Hon 韓慶璋醫生 is an Obstetrics and Gynecology specialist and Honorary Assistant Professor at The University of Hong Kong, who started his private practice in 2008; Dr. Michelle Law 羅佩雯 is a TCM Practitioner at Vitality Center and Honorary Assistant Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong with special interests in gynecological medicine and extensive experience in treating infertility.
In this interview, they will help us analyze pregnancy-related traditional Chinese beliefs and understand pregnancy more.
Myth or reality? Here is their views on traditional Chinese beliefs during and after pregnancy:
1) “Don’t disclose your pregnancy in the first 3 months”
Dr. Edmund Hon (Western Medicine): Pregnancy is not yet stable in the first 3 months and there is a 20% chance of miscarriage. It does make sense not to disclose the pregnancy until it is stable.
Dr. Michelle Law (Chinese Medicine): Disclosing your pregnancy would not threaten it. Just that pregnancy is considered stable after the first trimester, that’s the reason why Chinese people usually tend to announce the good news after 12 weeks of pregnancy.
2) “Foods to avoid”
There are traditional Chinese beliefs of some foods may cause certain medical conditions to infants, so pregnant women are asked to avoid these foods during pregnancy.
These are some foods to be avoided and their reasons according to traditional Chinese beliefs:
– Mango, Lychee, Pineapple: No good for infant’s health.
– Mouton: Increase the risk of epilepsy.
– Rabbit: Increase the risk of cleft lip.
– Snake: Increase the risk of a scaly baby.
Dr. Edmund Hon (Western Medicine): There is no scientific basis not to eat snakes or rabbits during pregnancy. Besides, tropical fruits are generally rich in sugar content, they should be avoided in a large amount of consumption, since excessive sugar intake can lead to health issues, such as diabetes or gestational diabetes.
Dr. Michelle Law (Chinese Medicine): Mango, lychee and pineapple are not contraindicated for pregnancy from TCM perspective. However, pregnant women with gestational diabetes should stay away from these fruits with high level of fructose. And for the belief in avoiding mouton, rabbit and snake during pregnancy, no TCM theories are backing up.
3) “Don’t attend weddings, birthdays and funerals”
Dr. Edmund Hon (Western Medicine): There is no reason why one should not attend these whilst pregnant. It is, however, important to avoid prolonged standing during pregnancy as it may lead to ankle swelling and discomfort.
Dr. Michelle Law (Chinese Medicine): This is more of a Chinese cultural rather than health-related advice. However, if there are any signs of potential miscarriage, one must stay at rest strictly and avoid attending these kinds of activities.
4) “Avoid traveling, moving house, carrying heavy objects”
Dr. Edmund Hon (Western Medicine): Moving house is not forbidden during pregnancy. Instead, pregnant women should be alert to newly painted houses and new furniture. Even with non-toxic paints, adequate ventilation is necessary before and after moving in. Moreover, lifting heavy objects can cause back injuries especially during the third trimester.
Dr. Michelle Law (Chinese Medicine): Avoiding traveling and moving house is solely Chinese culture instead of medical advice. However, one must not carry any heavy objects if unstable pregnancy is suspected.
5) “Stay home for one month after pregnancy & Stay away from cold”
Dr. Edmund Hon (Western Medicine): It is true that the metabolic rate changes immediately after giving birth and it is essential to keep warm after childbirth especially in winter.
Dr. Michelle Law (Chinese Medicine): In general, avoiding coldness is a valid TCM rule for postpartum women. Immunity and blood circulation are compromised by delivery and profused perspiration during and after childbirth. Exposure to coldness would further impair such functions, thus avoiding air-conditioning is true from TCM perspective. After the energy-consuming childbirth process, new mothers are usually recommended to stay home resting as much as possible for recovery. However, if necessary, postpartum women with good protection from cold and wind draft may go outdoor for a short period of time.
6) “Avoid hair washing for one month after childbirth, Except washing with hot ginger water”
Dr. Edmund Hon (Western Medicine): Drying hair after a shower makes sense, while there is no reason to not washing hair for a month.
Dr. Michelle Law (Chinese Medicine): It is partially true. This rule was established in China thousands of years ago when hygiene and living standards were poor. Because of a lack of hot water system and hair-dryer in the past, hair washing was inconvenient and would result in exposure to coldness and dampness. In TCM theory, cold and damp can slow down blood circulation and childbirth recovery. However nowadays, if hair drying is done properly, this rule no longer applies. Besides, hair washing with hot ginger water is recommended to promote vasodilation and blood circulation, according to TCM principles.
7) “Don’t do exercise during postpartum period”
Dr. Edmund Hon (Western Medicine): Exercising is important in the post-partum period, depending on individual situation. For example, strenuous exercise is not recommended after a C-section, while one should gradually build up strength after a natural birth. Lifestyle could return to normal six weeks after childbirth.
Dr. Michelle Law (Chinese Medicine): As childbirth is regarded as a high energy and blood consuming process, postpartum women should rest more until they are physically recovered and strong enough for doing exercise again.
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