Lifestyle, Stories

Po Ge Lai: The Rules of Chinese Postpartum Recovery

While childbirth can offer families the miraculous gift of life, it is also one of the most painful and physically strenuous experiences that a woman has to endure. This is why it is especially important for postpartum mothers to be shown proper care as their bodies recover from the ordeal. 

Among Chinese households, postpartum recovery is usually handled with zuo yue zi (坐月子), a practice that literally means “sitting the month.” Here in the Philippines, it is more widely known by its Hokkien translation po ge lai — or just ge lai, for short. As its name implies, ge lai involves a month-long period that is dedicated to postpartum healing and restoration through the application of concepts found in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). 

For those of you not in the know, this means that certain infamous rules and traditions — such as not bathing for an entire month! — have to be followed in order to maximize this healing period. But do you know why such practices are followed? To mothers looking forward to a healthy postpartum body or for the unpregnant and merely curious, here are the rules of ge lai and what they actually mean:


1. No baths: Stay warm and dry. 

We’re starting off with what is probably ge lai’s most controversial rule. According to TCM, childbirth expends an excessive amount of heat and vitality (read: yang energy), making the postpartum mother susceptible to sickness. In order to avoid such ailments, women should bundle up — usually with pajamas, socks, and other long articles of clothing — and take care to not expose herself to any form of cold. 

Of course, being drenched in water is one easy way to welcome the chills, which is why baths have been traditionally discouraged during ge lai. However, with the advent of technology, warm baths have quickly become available to modern society, making this rule become much more flexible among younger practitioners. 


2. No trips: Stay at home. 

It has long been proven that recovery is best when you don’t strain or stress yourself with anything unnecessary. Since this kind of environment is best preserved in the comforts of one’s home, it is advisable for women to not go out of the house for the entire duration of ge lai. Additionally, what makes a month-long “house arrest” ideal is that it provides mothers not only with the time to heal but also to bond with their newborns. Lessened contact with the outside world may also help to prevent illnesses that may further weaken both postpartum mothers and their infants. 


3. No chores: Stay relaxed and rested. 

What did we say about stress? New mothers should not participate in strenuous activities, such as carrying heavy objects and climbing stairs, especially since it is best to dedicate all energies possible to the process of healing. Instead, take this time to sleep and indulge in some calming music and low-energy hobbies. Being happy can go a long way into healing one’s body. 


4. No unhealthy food: Eat nutritious meals.

As a recovering mom, try not to indulge in those chips until at least after your ge lai is over. Rather, it is best to follow a nutritious ge lai meal plan. Some medicinal soups, tonics, and lapu-lapu dishes, for example, can provide postpartum mothers with health benefits which may include but are not limited to increased breast milk production, toxin cleansing, and enhanced tissue repair. 


A sample of healthy ge lai dishes. Source:


5. No “cold” food: Eat prescribed “warm” food. 

When we talk about “hot” or “cold,” we don’t necessarily mean the temperature of the food itself. (Ice cream, however, is still not allowed.) Rather, according to TCM, certain foods have been grouped together based on their natural yin-and-yang properties. Some cold foods to avoid in ge lai, for instance, include pears, bananas, cucumbers, eggplants, and Chinese cabbage while hot foods that rebuild blood supply and replenish nutrients include lamb, beef, duck, ginger, and chocolate. 


6. No stomach: Wear an abdominal binder or girdle.

It’s not that having a protruding stomach is bad. It’s just that wearing an abdominal binder for the first four weeks after giving birth will actually help to decrease bloating, reduce postpartum cramping, and accelerate the body’s general recovery. As with the previous rules, we recommend this specifically for the health reasons of the new mother!  


7. No questions: Sit above boiling guava leaves. 

We’re kidding on the ‘no questions’ part! But if you’re really curious, the reason that it’s tradition to sit above the steam of boiling guava leaves is that it contributes to the contracting of the uterus, as well as the improved healing of wounds down under. Everything, ultimately, is done with the purpose of helping the postpartum mother ease into her new life.


Steaming via boiled guava leaves. Source: Hello Doctor PH


Want to know where you can get some nutritional ge lai meal plans? Check this article out here!


Leave a Reply