In celebration of the Chinese New Year (which will be on January 25th) and the Chinese year of the Rat (a breastfeeding species!) we will take a brief look at beliefs around breastfeeding within the Chinese culture and some resources for Chinese speaking families.
In China, as in all other parts of the world, most babies were breastfeed until the start of industrialization. In North America the lowest rates of breastfeeding were found from the late 1940’s until the early 1970’s and they have slowly increased since then. In China the rates of exclusive breastfeeding have still been dropping, going from about 67% in 1998 to about 16% in 2014. Interestingly there is still a strong belief in the value of human milk and breastfeeding within the Chinese culture even though short maternity leaves, working conditions, and rampant advertising of infant formula and foods appear to conspire against the practice of exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for as long as mother and baby desire. China also has a very high rate of Caesarean births which can add challenges to getting breastfeeding off to a good start when good breastfeeding support is not available.
The Chinese government is taking steps to try to reverse the trend. Starting on Sept 1 2015 the government began enforcing the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. Infant formula, drinks and food manufacturers in China are no longer allowed to claim that their products are a substitute for human milk. May 20th is China’s national breastfeeding awareness day.
The Chinse custom of zuo yuezi, or "sitting the month," after giving birth can be very beneficial to a new mother. This month-long period of help within the home and special food and herbs is believed to help women recover from childbirth, produce more breast milk and recalibrate their bodies. Often the grandmother stays with the new mother and takes care of all the housework and cooking. Other families hire a post-partum care giver to provide this level of support. In California (Toronto has as well) there are companies that specialize in home delivery of zuo yuezi food for postpartum mothers of Chinese background. Some mothers use this service to respect their family’s beliefs by eating the traditional post-partum foods, while others are mainly interested in the convenience of home-delivered meals of any kind.
Many Chinese herbs are not recommended by Doctors in Canada, however Naturopath Doctors practicing out of Canada may still recommend/prescribe them. In some cases they have not been scientifically tested on these groups, so their safety can't be confirmed. Always check with your health care provider before taking Chinese herbs, or any supplements or medications if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.
In parts of China, new mothers are supposed to rest in bed and avoid contact with water — that is, no shampooing or showering for 30 days. This level of inactivity can be challenging for a North American born mother who has been used to a busy life and regular bathing. Differing levels of commitment to the rules of zuo yuezi can lead to conflict between the new mother and her care giver. The support from her husband is especially critical in these situations, which helps improve the breastfeeding success.
Many mothers of Chinese background living in Canada and the USA combine the traditional views about breastfeeding with the knowledge they have gained about the western views of birthing, breastfeeding and parenting. In Canada the rate of breastfeeding amongst mothers of Chinese background was slightly higher than the national average in the 2009-2010 statistics. A study done in Vancouver concluded “Chinese mothers' concepts of breastfeeding are associated with Western biomedical thought, traditional Chinese medicine and personal experiences, especially those embedded in the traditional Chinese cultural context. Perceptions of breastfeeding and infant health regarding notions of harmony within natural dynamic patterns must be considered when promoting breastfeeding.” Some interesting articles by mothers about the practical side of practicing zuo yuezi can be found HERE and HERE.
Having access to breastfeeding information in Chinese can be helpful for new mothers and the family members who are supporting them. La Leche League Canada has the following information sheets available for download from our website:
• Amazing Milk (Chinese)
• Breastfeeding Tips (Chinese-traditional)
• Breastfeeding Tips (Simplified Chinese)
• Why Does My Baby Cry? (Chinese)
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding 8th Edition is available in Simplified Chinese
Additional articles and information in Chinese can be found on the La Leche League International website.
A La Leche League website for Mandarin speakers can be found HERE
Cantonese speakers will find useful information at LLL Hong Kong's website.
La Leche League Canada Leaders are available to help any breastfeeding parent regardless of cultural background or language barriers. We are happy to seek out information in other languages or to talk with mothers through translators. Regardless of our backgrounds breastfeeding is a universal bond that brings us together. You can find the contact information for your nearest La Leche League Canada Leader through our website at www.LLLC.ca
With the exception of links to LLLC and LLLI information, the provision of links within our blog posts does not indicate La Leche League Canada's endorsement of the linked content or any other information that may be found on these sites.