When Noelle Leung learned she was pregnant, the first person she called was her doctor. The second was a confinement lady. So-called confinement ladies are highly sought after in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia as experts who can guide women through what's believed to be a critical month after birth.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, the month after giving birth is when new mothers are especially vulnerable to health problems, so they're not supposed to go outside, take a bath, brush their teeth or do anything else that could allow "bad wind" into their bodies.
Today, the rules of confinement, called cho yuet, are being rewritten to adapt to the realities of life. Relatives used to care for new mothers and their babies, but today's changing needs are spawning alternatives, such as confinement ladies and postpartum hotels.
Big business in Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, confinement helpers have become so popular that newly pregnant women have to reserve them immediately — and sometimes, that's not even soon enough. "It's very competitive," says Leung, 39, who practiced confinement after the births of Colin, now 5, and Chloe, nearly 3.
The concept of cho yuet, which translates to "sitting through the month," dates back thousands of years. Today, living conditions are more sanitary and hot water is readily available. So while it might not be necessary to follow every rule of confinement, the overarching principle is that "you have to be careful and let the body recover," says Lixing Lao, director of the University of Maryland's Traditional Chinese Medicine Research Program.
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