Metro Morning

New moms spend a month in bed in this Chinese post-natal program

The Centre for Immigrant and Community Services is offering a month-long program to become a post-natal caregiver, with an emphasis on Chinese traditions.

Emphasis on the mother after birth

In traditional Chinese post-natal care, both the mother and the infant spend a month in pajamas. (Stringer/Reuters)

After a baby arrives, mothers often feel weepy, irritable, moody — an experience so common it has a name, the baby blues.

There is no Chinese equivalent. That's perhaps because for a month after giving birth, a Chinese mother is as closely tended to as her baby. That tradition of maternal care is being revived in Toronto, including traditional recipes to help mothers nurse and heal from labour.

The Centre for Immigrant and Community Services is one agency offering a month-long program to become a post-natal caregiver, with an emphasis on Chinese traditions.

Sixty-five women have graduated as post-natal caregivers from the program, all of them Chinese speakers. 

"We actually have a different phrase. It's not 'baby blues', it's 'sit for a month,"' said Moy Wong-Tam, executive director of the centre, on Metro Morning on Friday.

The lessons include confining the mother to her bedroom, with someone cooking and serving three meals per day. Breakfast is served to the new mother's bedside.

"She may be confined to the bedroom because if you let her out, she'll start working," said Wong-Tam.

The centre is reintroducing the tradition of maternal care to Toronto because Wong-Tam said staff were observing many new parents who don't have family or any support or care for them in town.

There are other factors too, she said.

"Some traditions were lost in the Cultural Revolution, so even Chinese immigrants need to relearn these things," she said. She also teaches how to adapt traditional recipes to local ingredients.

"We have the concept of hot and warm foods. Warmth is conducive to lactation. So no watermelon or salads or anything considered a 'cold' food," she explained. "Papaya is conducive to lactation."

Some of the recipes are regional. Others are based on ethnic backgrounds.

"Ginger is a common denominator," said Wong-Tam. "It's a warm food and also helps with circulation."

The month-long course was started a year ago. All the graduates are Chinese speakers.

The course includes exercises, first aid awareness and common infant ailments. The centre has a Mandarin-speaking dietician, who demonstrates how to cook and prepare meals, and a registered nurse.

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