Po ge lai, or simply ge lai, is the Hokkien term for the Chinese traditional method of taking care of a woman after she gives birth. Internationally, it is known by its Mandarin term, zuo yuezi (tsuo yŁe-tz), which translates to either “sitting the month” or “confinement.” As its translation suggests, the practice is one month long and involves a whole lot of rest.
Ge lai is based on three beliefs that the Chinese have about mothers who have just given birth: (1) The mother is more prone to infection; (2) the mother has lost a lot of qi, or life force, which she needs to recover; and (3) the mother’s pores become open, so she is susceptible to “wind,” which can cause illness (in Filipino tradition, we call it binat.)
To protect the mother’s health and to help her body recover from the rigors of childbirth, she is confined to the house for one month, fed nutritious food and healing tonics, prohibited from doing anything strenuous such as housework, and kept away from anything cold.
Women who have been subjected to po ge lai are enthusiastic about how healthy and strong it made them feel afterwards. The generation of mothers who were subjected to ge lai in their youth claim that it was ge lai that kept them from feeling aches and pains in their “golden” days. Mothers who have experienced childbirth with ge lai say their wounds healed faster and they regained their figure more easily when they did ge lai than when they did not.
Sounds inviting? Fortunately, you don’t have to be Chinese to practice po ge lai (although with all the Chinese herbs that you will need, it certainly helps to have easy access to Chinese shops). But read on before you jump into it, because there’s so much more to it than meets the eye.