Supporting Breastfeeding

La Leche League Canada

Breastfeeding: Chinese Culture and Resources

on March 21, 2016

In celebration of the Chinese Year of the Monkey (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 are still in the stage of 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.

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The Chinese 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 postpartum care giver to provide this level of support. In California 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 postpartum foods, while others are mainly interested in the convenience of home-delivered meals of any kind.
Many Chinese herbs are not recommended for pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers. 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.
Traditionally, in addition to the special diet, 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.
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 among 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)
  • Tips for Breastfeeding Twins (Simplified 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.

La Leche League Canada Leaders are available to help any breastfeeding mother 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.

With the exception of links to LLLC and LLLI information, the provision of links within our blog posts does not indicated La Leche League Canada’s endorsement of the linked content or any other information that may be found on these sites.

http://www.lllc.ca/thursdays-tip-breastfeeding-chinese-year-monkey
If you need more information or have a breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to an accredited La Leche League Leader. In Canada, Leaders can be located by clicking http://www.lllc.ca/find-group or Internationally http://www.llli.org/.

If you have found this article helpful, La Leche League Canada would appreciate your support in the form of a donation at http://www.lllc.ca/join-lllc-friends so we can continue to help others breastfeed. Thank you!

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