| |

A New Mom’s Guide to Ge Lai

Have you been wondering what ge lai is really all about? Are your elders telling you to practice ge lai, and you want to do it in a way that is also medically safe for you and your baby?

If these are your questions, you’re in the right place. In this article, we will talk about what ge lai is. We’ll also go through the common ge lai practices. We’ll help you practice them in a way that respects Chinese culture and tradition, while still keeping up with medical recommendations.

Ge lai, literally Chinese for “sitting month” or “month inside”, is a set of practices for the first month after a woman gives birth.

One of the most common questions we encounter is whether or not “ge lai” is medically sound. There is no simple answer to this question, because “ge lai” is actually a collection of different practices. We’ll examine each of these practices.

Ge Lai Practice #1: Don’t Do Household Chores

Claim: You should not do any household chores. You should focus on taking care of her baby. Other members of the family should take over household chores for you.

Our take: Sure! (And we’d like to add – yehey! 🙂 )

The first six weeks after giving birth are considered the recovery period. It’s wonderful that the ge lai practice takes this into account.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also recommends breastfeeding on demand during this time. We love to call this “unlilatch”. If you don’t need to worry about household chores, it will help establish breastfeeding and improve breastfeeding success rates.

Ge Lai Practice #2: Don’t Go Out

Claim: You should stay at home and not leave the house, otherwise you will be exposed to cold.

Our take: It depends on what you mean by “going out”.

Yes, you should rest. This includes not going to work. (It’s great that our maternity leave has now been extended well beyond the ge lai period!).

Also, during the newborn period, the mom and baby are considered one unit. The World Health Organization discourages separation of what they call the “mother-infant dyad”. This means that where mom goes, baby goes.

Even before the pandemic, if mom goes to places like malls and brings a newborn baby, this will expose both of them to many viruses and other pathogens. The experience can also cause sensory overload and stress for baby.

And right now, ge lai or not, going to a public place definitely places both mom and baby at risk for COVID exposure! So definitely, we would recommend avoiding public places.

However, moms and babies need sun exposure. This helps prevent jaundice, or yellowing of the skin, in newborn babies. Sun exposure is also needed for Vitamin D, which is important in building the immune system for both mom and baby.

That’s why we do recommend that both mom and baby should go to any outdoor space, even if it is just a balcony or a backyard. If the cold is a concern, she can go between 7-8 am. During this time, the sun is warm enough, but not too hot. She can also wear a light jacket on cooler days.

Going outdoors in a backyard or balcony can be good for mom and baby.

Ge Lai Practice #3: Don’t Take a Bath

Claim: The new mother should not take a bath for an entire month after giving birth.

Our take: When people think of ge lai, this is usually the first thing that comes to their mind. Keep in mind that this is only one of many practices. If you choose to take a bath during the first month after giving birth, this does not mean that you are disrespecting the ge lai tradition.

Based on our medical training, postpartum mothers should take a bath. In fact, obstetricians include this in their orders – “full body bath daily”.

As pediatricians, we have seen our share of infections in newborns. Good hygiene is very important to help prevent this. Added to the fact that with the COVID pandemic, even if you don’t leave the house, there is no way to know whether one of the other people in your house has been exposed to the virus.

There are many products available in the market to help with moms who are not taking a bath for a month. There are sponge bath wipes, dry shampoos, and others. However, none of these can replace an actual bath with soap and water for killing germs. Not to mention that not taking a bath for a whole month in our weather simply feels icky!

But, your elders will say, this is a practice that has been handed down since ancient China! And yes, that’s exactly it! Let’s take a look at what ancient China was like.

According to Traditional and Chinese Medicine specialist and medical doctor Dr. Philip Tangatue, “Most people in China, up until around 100 years ago, didn’t have the luxury of hot bathwater. This means they would bathe in cold water. And it’s the COLD that we don’t like.”

Taking a quick shower in warm water will follow the principle of avoiding cold, while maintaining hygiene.

Taking a bath for the first month postpartum (and even during the menstrual period) is blamed for all sorts of ills. It gets blamed for making the woman “sickly” at some indefinite time in the future, for an unspecified illness. A woman gets arthritis in her 50s? It’s because she took a bath during her period at some point in her life. Woman gets migraines, or feels fatigue? It’s because she took a bath a few days after giving birth.

While there are no actual experiments on this, this is easily disproven. It is sort of a natural experiment when we compare the cultures that practice “ge lai” with the cultures that do not practice “ge lai”. If it were true that taking a bath during your period or after giving birth would make you sickly, then there should be significantly more sickly women in cultures that do not practice “ge lai”.

However, you find that this is not the case. For example, women in Switzerland, which has a healthy population and one of the longest life expectancies in the world, do not practice “ge lai”.

In order to respect this tradition and maintain good hygiene at the same time, as soon as your doctor allows it, you can take quick showers in water that is at least as warm as room temperature.

Ge Lai Practice #4: Avoid exposure to wind.

Claim: The new mother should keep doors and windows closed in the house.

This stems from the Chinese belief that for good health, there must be a balance of dyet (loosely translated as heat) and tsin (loosely translated as cold). Cold entered a woman’s body when she gave birth, so she must avoid all exposures to cold, and retain as much heat as possible.

Our take: From our medical training, we know that newborns must be kept thermoregulated. They must not be swaddled too warmly, and they should also not be exposed to cold. Since mom is always with baby during this time, then whatever temperatures the mom is exposed to would also be what baby is exposed to.

So in places like China where it is very cold (even a thick jacket wasn’t enough when I went there in the month of April!), it would make sense to do this. However, if you do this in the Philippines, it would most likely get very hot and stuffy.

The funny thing is, often, when this is practiced in the Philippines, they would say keep all the doors and windows closed. Then the air conditioner will be turned on full blast – which completely defeats the purpose of avoiding cold!

Ge Lai Practice #5: Eat a Special Ge Lai Diet

Claim: You should eat food like kidneys, black chicken, and lapu lapu. They should be cooked with lots of ginger. You should also drink plenty of soup.

These are considered foods that nourish the blood. According to Dr. Tangatue, “According to traditional Chinese medicine, you lose a lot of blood when you give birth. That’s why it’s important to give foods that nourish the blood.”

Our take: Go ahead! Yummy! Except for the kidneys which I didn’t like, this is actually the part of “ge lai” that I enjoyed.

This actually makes sense. Kidneys are rich in iron. Black chicken is healthy and is free of hormones and antibiotics. Lapu Lapu is good too, and ginger is a natural anti-infective and anti-inflammatory. Drinking plenty of soup helps with your milk supply (ask someone to prepare for you some healthy and delicious malunggay and clam soup).

So go ahead with this practice, except also make sure that you get a balanced diet. Also, medically speaking, there is nothing magical about these particular foods. Other nutritious foods would be just as good.

Typically also, a relative will be the one preparing these delicious and nutritious meals for mom. so it also gives mom time to rest and concentrate on bonding with and taking care of her new baby.

Not sure what to bring to the hospital when giving birth? Get our FREE Hospital Packing checklist.

Ge Lai Practice #6: Avoid Certain Foods

Claim: You should not eat raw fruits and vegetables, or drink juice, or eat or drink anything cold.

Again, this goes with the Chinese medicine framework of avoiding tsin.

Our take: It’s true that raw fruits and vegetables may have parasites or contain pesticides. However, thorough washing and making sure that they come from a reputable source should avoid these problems.

New moms need a healthy, balanced diet.

If you are really concerned about this, you can cook the vegetables. Even fruits like apples and pears can be steamed or boiled. The important thing is that you should eat enough fruits and vegetables for proper balanced nutrition.

If balancing dyet or tsin is your concern, then avoid too many cold drinks, and avoid having the aircon or electric fan directed at you.

Ge Lai Practice #7: Drink a Special Ge Lai Tea

Claim: The new mother should drink a special tea everyday.

There is a special “ge lai” tea that moms are asked to drink, consisting of prunes and some other fruits. The tea actually tastes good and is a bit sweet.

Our take: In itself, the tea probably isn’t harmful. (You should check with your doctor, because every mom is different and they would know better what you need.)

If you’re like me though, the prunes in the tea made my baby poop 4-5 times every hour. It’s no fun changing diapers 40 times day (from the usual 8-12 times a day)! So when you consult your pediatrician, you should mention it if you are taking this tea.

There is a variation of this practice though, that may be harmful and that we strongly discourage you from doing. A variation of this practice is that the new mom should drink the tea only, and completely no water. You should not do this, as it will place you at risk for dehydration.

Breastfeeding women generally need around 3 liters of water a day. Drink a glass or two of the tea if you like, but make sure you also get plenty of water.

It's important for breastfeeding moms to drink plenty of water
Breastfeeding women need to drink around 3 liters of water a day (or as advised by your doctor).

Many of us pediatricians have also noticed that many moms who drink the tea had insufficient breast milk supply. We don’t know if the tea actually has actions that diminish breast milk supply. (We would need randomized experiments about this before we can make the conclusion). Or we don’t know if it’s because of the practice of drinking no water or less water.

But in any case, if you have milk supply problems, you can try stopping the tea. Also, to be safe, we recommend that you don’t start taking the tea until breastfeeding and your milk supply are very well established.

Conclusion: Should You Practice Ge Lai?

So should you practice ge lai or not? While there are some aspects that would be safer to avoid, the general idea of ge lai is a good one.

Ge lai is about the entire clan – grandparents from both sides, aunts and uncles, siblings – all working together to support the new mom. When done safely, it is a beautiful practice of family solidarity and showing care and concern during this month of adjustments and sleepless nights.

About the author: Victoria Ang-Nolasco, MD is a developmental and behavioral pediatrician, a mom, and one of the pediatricians in the Hatch and Grow team. Her advocacies include supporting moms in early childhood parenting. Her early childhood parenting blogs are Effective Mommy and Dev Peds Village.

This article has been medically reviewed by Philip Tangatue, MD. He is a specialist in Traditional and Chinese Medicine. He is also a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, and co-author of a textbook on Family Medicine. You may find him at Acupuncture Manila or at his own blog.

Get our Hatch and Grow Set to guide you through your baby’s first year. Includes a pediatrician-crafted, mom-approved premium baby book and journal, milestone cards and stickers, and access to the Hatch and Grow Training Vault. Learn more here.

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *