Postpartum and Breastfeeding

The First 40 Days: Zuo Yue Zi, or “Sitting the Moon”

Paula James-Martinez

"The first 40 days" is a term often used to describe the newly postpartum period, during which your body is healing, your hormones are shifting rapidly, and you are navigating the significant identity changes that accompany new motherhood or introducing a new sibling into the household. Full of tears, joy, struggles, and successes, no two postpartum experiences are alike.

But just because postpartum is a unique experience for everyone, it doesn’t mean there isn’t inherent value in sharing, normalizing, and learning from each other.
In the first installment of our "The First 40 Days" series, we're privileged to have a conversation with Jennifer Jolorte Doro, a Clinical Nutritionist and Postpartum Private Chef, as well as the founder of Chiyo, a unique meal delivery service blending Eastern food therapy with nutritional science.

We delve into the term 坐月子 (zuo yue zi), which translates literally to "Sitting The Moon." This traditional practice embodies the idea of allowing postpartum mothers to do nothing but rest and recover. Join us as we explore the essence of this ancient tradition and its significance in modern postpartum care.

Needed: Both yourself and your Chiyo co-founder Irene grew up with immigrant mothers from Philippines and Taiwan respectively and it led you to starting a company using a blend of American nutritional education and traditional Asian wisdom to nourish women in their postpartum period, can you talk to me a little bit about that?

Jennifer: The concept of Chiyo originated from Irene’s experience growing up with Traditional Chinese Medicine along with my experience as a postpartum chef incorporating Traditional Chinese Medicine principles. This is a very common practice in Taiwan, where Irene’s family is from and she was intrigued by the herbal formulas and specialty foods her mom was sending her aunt who just had a baby. We found that there is a need to bridge the gap between traditional practices and nutritional science which highlights the evidence based research behind the efficacy of this wisdom.

Needed: What are the traditional practices and beliefs associated with the first 40 days postpartum that originated in Chinese culture?

Jennifer: The traditional version of confinement consists of being cared for by family or a postpartum nanny, eating warming foods, broths, soups and specific herbal formulas like SHT (Sheng Hua Tang- specific to the first week of postpartum to dispel blood and old tissue. There are a few studies on efficacy for this!), along with not showering or washing your hair to lose heat, limited movement and focus on rest and recovery. 

Needed: What role does nutrition play during the laying in period in Chinese culture? How has that informed your own postpartum experiences? 

Jennifer: Nutrition in Traditional Chinese Medicine is very specific to constitution, the root cause of the concern or issue as well as the integrative medicine ie. acupuncture and herbs to utilize the treatment. For example, ginger which is used as a digestive aid and supports nausea is utilized similarly in TCM but also considered ‘hot’, helps to dispel cold, warms the middle, protects ‘Qi’ also known as your energy. You want to preserve your Qi especially postpartum as it can lay the foundation for future health. 

Needed: Are there specific dietary restrictions or recommendations for new mothers during this time?

Jennifer: No raw or cold foods - ie. salads, raw vegetables - everything should be cooked for easy digestion.  

"The main thing we can take away is that ‘self care’ isn’t just for special occasions - it's merely preventative care." - Jennifer Jolorte Doro, Chiyo. 

Needed: How do traditional Chinese medicine practices influence postpartum nutrition?

Jennifer: Chiyo approaches these practices in a more modern way - we utilize a majority of the traditional principles like warm foods but know that a lot of our customers also enjoy an abbreviated version of the traditional. For example, a lotus root stir fry with taro and quinoa includes traditional ingredients but quinoa for extra protein. 

Needed: In what ways do family members and the community support a new mother during the first 40 days? Having had a baby in the US, how do you think it’s different from what many new families experience here?

Jennifer: A lot of families who approach this type of philosophy really treat the postpartum period as very sacred and support the postpartum period wholly during this time. They make sure they’re getting enough rest, cook meals and herbal remedies, help care for the baby and it is mostly a familial effort and experience. In the U.S., the village is likely outsourced and those resources aren’t easily accessible or available - they largely live far from their families and the culture of postpartum isn’t given the same sacred consideration.

For example, even if you are someone who births in the U.S., you might not have family around so you’re looking for support – this is something you will need to research on your own and have the resources to do so. Preparing for your postpartum period is still a very new concept in the U.S. while in other countries that is the norm in various forms. 

Needed: Talk to me about your experiences with two very different postpartum recovery times?

Jennifer: With my first, I was really able to experience ‘my’ ideal postpartum recovery. It was exactly the way I imagined it to be - meals I prepped beforehand, support from my husband and little to no visitors so we could really learn how to be a family together. I focused on some of my favorite foods but also those that were nutrient rich like seaweed soup, pork stews and bone broths. As it was my first, I wanted that experience to be very thoughtful and on our own time.

With my second, as a small business owner, we were in the throes of growing Chiyo to what it is today but in an attempt to have a maternity leave, the replacement I trained quit the day after I was discharged from the hospital. I didn’t really have a choice, a back up plan or other ways we could temporarily pause the business - it felt like such a pivotal moment that after two weeks I was back in the kitchen with the baby in tow. It was so hard and I don’t think I knew how hard it was until months later when things changed in the business, I was finally able to breathe a little bit. I think this experience is far TOO common in today’s society with people who don’t even know it's possible to experience postpartum differently or maybe don’t have the choice or support to know it can be different. 

Needed: How has modernization affected the traditional support systems for new mothers?

Jennifer: I think there are some really great ways to bridge the gap between the traditional and the modern - which is what I think we do with Chiyo. I think the big difference between the current generation is that they typically live away from their ‘village’ ie. family or the familial/generational support they would have typically received at least initially. I think covid changed this a bit which is great as the family would traditionally support you during this time. 

Similarly – in the U.S. especially, there are a lot of great resources, companies, focus on support and ways to change this experience. With modern technology - it might be easier to find these resources or access is at the forefront so that more people can find the type of care they need and deserve. 

Needed: You are also a doula, what do you think are the benefits of observing the laying in culture in the first 40 days? Are outcomes better?

Jennifer: The benefits after support are definitely better – many of those who participate in this practice have self-reported feeling more rested, mental clarity, stronger versus not focusing on recovery. 

Needed: Do medical professionals work alongside traditional practices in supporting new mothers?

Jennifer: Yes definitely! I think you’ll find that many practices do hope to integrate more versions of this type of support whether that's including acupuncture, doulas or nutritionists into their practice.

Needed: How are younger generations embracing or challenging traditional postpartum customs? 

Jennifer: It's interesting – for my friends who are giving birth now – they do want to still hold onto the traditional aspects like nutrition, herbal formulas but they maybe don’t adhere to the restrictions in regards to steady bed rest but perhaps a modified version of what this may mean for them. But there is an ode or respect for the tradition that I think is beautiful to see but just to do it in their own way. 

Needed: What do you think all women could learn from this practice?

Jennifer: I think the main thing we can take away is that ‘self care’ isn’t just for special occasions - it's merely preventative care. It's OK to take time for yourself and fill your cup – versus feeling like you aren’t allowed to take time for yourself. If you are feeling well - that will trickle down to your family and the priority can be YOU.

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Paula James-Martinez, Filmmaker and Editorial Director

Paula James Martinez is a creative producer, filmmaker, and former fashion editor. She is the director and producer of film company Semi-Retired Productions, and in 2018, started working on her directorial debut on the documentary Born Free, which investigates the truth about birth and maternity in America. She has since founded a non-profit organization The Mother Lovers to raise awareness of the US maternal health crisis.