Traditional Chinese Views on Pregnancy | Obstetrician vs. TCM Practitioner

In Hong Kong where East meets West pregnant women often face conflicting advice from family and friends during and after pregnancy. With a rich history spanning thousands of years, Chinese culture has considerable influence over a life event as important as childbirth.

We invited two experts to explore different aspects of Eastern and Western Medicine in regard to pregnancy and childbirth.

Dr. Edmund Hon 韓慶璋醫生 is an Obstetrics and Gynecology specialist and Honorary Assistant Professor at The University of Hong Kong starting 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 patients with infertility.

In this interview, they will help us understand pregnancy-related traditional Chinese beliefs and how these cultural views translate in their medical practice as well as in today’s modern reality.

Myth or reality? Here is their view on traditional Chinese beliefs during and after pregnancy.

DURING PREGNANCY

1) You should not disclose you are expecting especially the first 3 months as it ‘threatens the pregnancy’.

Dr. Edmund Hon (Western Medicine): The pregnancy is not stable in the first 3 months and there is a 20% chance of a miscarriage. It therefore makes sense not to disclose the pregnancy until it is more stable.

Dr. Michelle Law (Chinese Medicine):Disclosing your pregnancy would not threaten it. Just that pregnancy is considered stable after the first trimester and people tend to wait until 12 weeks to announce the good news.

2) You should not eat foods like mango, lychee, pineapple, Mouton (risk of epilepsy), rabbit (risk of a cleft lip), snake (risk of a scaly baby).

Dr. Edmund Hon (Western Medicine): I am not aware that there is any scientific basis not to eat snakes or rabbit! But for tropical fruits, because of the high sugar content, it’s important not to have too much. For example, apples have lower sugar content compared with watermelon. Excessive sugar intake can cause 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 containing high level of fructose. As for the belief of avoiding mouton, rabbit and snake during pregnancy, there is no TCM theories backing for it.

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3) You should not 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 standing for any prolonged period of time as this may cause ankle swelling and discomfort.

Dr. Michelle Law (Chinese Medicine):This is more a Chinese cultural belief than a TCM theory. However, if there is any signs of threatened miscarriage, it just makes common sense that women should strictly stay rested at home and avoid attending activities like these.

4) You should not travel in moving homes, or carry heavy objects.

Dr. Edmund Hon (Western Medicine): One has to be careful with new homes especially if the walls have been newly painted or if there is new furniture. Even with non-toxin paints, it is worthwhile to ensure that there is adequate ventilation before moving in. Lifting heavy objects can cause back injuries especially during the third trimester.

Dr. Michelle Law (Chinese Medicine): Again, this is more just Chinese cultural belief. However, if the pregnancy is unstable, they should not carry any heavy objects.

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AFTER PREGNANCY

5) You should not leave the house for one month after childbirth and you should avoid cold in general – like cold drinks and the AC.

Dr. Edmund Hon (Western Medicine): It is true that the metabolic rate changes immediately after giving birth and it is important to keep warm especially in winter.

Dr. Michelle Law (Chinese Medicine): Avoiding coldness in general is a valid TCM rule for postpartum women. Immunity and blood circulation are compromised by the delivery and the profuse perspiration during and after the childbirth. Exposure to coldness would further impair such functions. After the energy-consuming childbirth process, new mothers are usually recommended to stay home resting as much as possible for the recovery. However, if necessary, postpartum women with good protection from cold air and wind draft can leave the house for a short period of time.

6) You should not wash your hair for one month after childbirth except with hot ginger water.

Dr. Edmund Hon (Western Medicine): Again, drying your hair after a shower makes sense but there is no reason not to wash your hair for a month!

Dr. Michelle Law (Chinese Medicine): It is partly true. This rule was established in China thousands years ago when hygiene and living standards were poor. As there was no hot water system and hair dryer, hair washing was not as easy as today and would result in more exposure of coldness and dampness which slowers blood circulation and childbirth recovery. But nowadays, if the hair is completely dried after washing, this rule no longer applies and postpartum women could wash the hair as they like. Washing with ginger in hot water could promote vasodilation and blood circulation and is thus recommended.

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7) You should not exercise in the post-partum period.

Dr. Edmund Hon (Western Medicine): Exercising is important in the post-partum period but obviously it depends on the situation. After a c-section for example, we would not recommend heavy exercise for a month. After a natural birth, one should slowly build up the strength. Things should return to normal after about six weeks.

Dr. Michelle Law (Chinese Medicine): As childbirth is regarded as a highly energy and blood consuming process, postpartum women should rest enough until they are physically recovered and strong for exercise again.

Looking for health insurance? Want to better understand your current plan or healthcare options in Hong Kong? Contact our partner AD MediLink now at [email protected] or +852 2296 9773 for expert and unbiased advice. Their advisors are uniquely trained on the Hong Kong healthcare system to answer all your questions; on both the public and private sectors.

Dr. Edmund Hon 韓慶璋醫生 is an Obstetrician Gynecologist who received his medical training at the University of London Guy’s Medical School. He specialises in obstetrics and gynecology and has obtained advanced level in laparoscopic surgery. He started his private practice in 2008 after working for 12 years in public sector at Queen Mary Hospital 瑪麗醫院. He is currently Honorary Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong.
Dr. Michelle Law Pui Man 羅佩雯 B.C.M. (CUHK), PhD in Public Health (Family Medicine) (CUHK), was born in Hong Kong and studied Traditional Chinese Medicine in the School of Chinese Medicine at Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). After obtaining her Bachelor Degree she pursued further postgraduate study at the Faculty of Medicine of the CUHK. She graduated from PhD (Family Medicine) study and her thesis is focused on acne vulgaris induced by hormone imbalance. Clinically, she has special interest in reproductive medicine and has extensive experience in treating patients with infertility or its associated problems. She is a practitioner at Vitality Centre, as well as the Honorary Assistant Professor of The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.