Zuo yuezi is the month postpartum in China associated with a variety of traditional beliefs and practices. We explored the current status of zuo yuezi from social, cultural and western medical perspectives.
We interviewed family members (36) and health workers (8) in Fujian Province, selecting one rural and one rapidly developing urban county. We asked about their traditional beliefs and their behaviour postpartum. We used a framework approach to identify main themes. We categorised reported behaviour against their probable effects on health, drawing on Western standards.
Respondents reported that zuo yuezi was commonly practiced in urban and rural families to help the mother regain her strength and protect her future health. Zuo yuezi included: dietary precautions, such as eating more food and avoiding cold food; behavioural precautions, such as staying inside the home, avoiding housework and limiting visitors; hygiene precautions, such as restricting bathing and dental hygiene; and practices associated with infant feeding, including supplementary feeding and giving honeysuckle herb to the infant. Respondents reported that the main reasons for adhering to these practices were respect for tradition, and following the advice of elders. Categorised against Western medical standards, several zuo yuezi practices are beneficial, including eating more, eating protein rich food, avoiding housework, and daily vulval and perineal hygiene. A few are potentially harmful, including giving honeysuckle herb, and avoiding dental hygiene. Some women reported giving infants supplementary feeds, although zuo yuezi emphasises breast feeding.
Zuo yuezi is an important ritual in Fujian. In medical terms, most practices are beneficial, and could be used by health staff to promote health in this period. Further research on reported potentially harmful practices, such as supplements to breast feeding, is needed.