CONFINEMENT CHRONICLES • Anastasia Koss


Discover our new limited series, the Confinement Series where we share the experience of mothers who practiced varied forms of Chinese Confinement. Whether it is within a postpartum care centre or in the comfort of their own home with the support of family, this series will spotlight how these new mothers draw on the concept of 'Sitting the Month'. Through the experiences of these women, we highlight the importance of our postpartum care pillars while practicing confinement:
Ritual and Celebrate
Rest and Retreat
Nourish and Restore
Support
Empower and Enlighten
Meet Anastasia Koss, an American native, now living in Hong Kong. After giving birth, she followed the Chinese tradition of zuo yue zi (坐月子), a 40-day period focused on rest and bonding with her baby. With her husband's support and the help of a confinement nanny, or yuesao, Anastasia was able to recover and learn how to care for her newborn. Despite some challenges, like adjusting to having someone live with them and language barriers, Anastasia found this tradition incredibly helpful. She shares her journey, tips, and encouragement for other new mums.

 

How were you supported by your loved ones?
(partner, immediate family, extended family, friends)

My husband and I currently live in Hong Kong, and he is from Mainland China. He was very supportive in making sure I had the proper support after birth. In Chinese culture, it is normal for women to practice the “one month sit,” a 40-day confinement period. During this period, you are encouraged to stay home, rest, and bond with your baby. You should try to stay in bed as much as possible, keep yourself warm, and limit the amount of household chores. Because of this postpartum tradition, some women hire a confinement nurse, known as yuesao (月嫂) in Mandarin, or pui yuet(陪月)in Cantonese to aid during this special period if their mother isn’t around to stay with you during the zuo yue zi”坐月子” period. Since my husband only had one week of paternity leave, I needed the extra help and support at this time.

What did you find most valuable about the confinement experience?

The most valuable part for me was focusing on my baby and health during this time. I had a pretty tough labor experience, so I needed to rest well. We also do not have any family living in Hong Kong, so hiring a yuesao to help around the house, cook meals, and teach us how to take care of the baby relieved a lot of new parent anxiety that most people feel around this time. It also allowed me to rest properly without having to worry about doing household chores like unloading the dishwasher, cooking meals, and folding laundry. She is also trained to give massages, and ginger baths and assist as a lactation consultant.

How did you go about finding a confinement nanny to support you?

There are many agencies and online resources in Hong Kong that can help with finding a confinement nanny, as this tradition is normalised all over China.

Can you share some pros and cons of your home confinement and being cared for by a family member/ confinement nanny?

The biggest adjustment for me was having someone live with us 24/7. The normal time in Hong Kong to have a confinement nanny is usually one to three months, and we opted for two months. I was newly postpartum and hormonally imbalanced after just giving birth at the hospital. Coming home with a newborn and adjusting to that was already pretty foreign to me, but then having a stranger whom you’ve never met live with you all the time? That was hard. I didn’t feel comfortable with her until around the second week, especially because her English was very limited. My Mandarin is decent, but it was very difficult waking up for 3 am feeds and having to speak Mandarin to her while she was helping assist with breastfeeding. My milk came in full force on the first day she arrived and my breast engorgement was quite painful, so within the first hour of her arrival she had to help massage me during feeding and pumping sessions. It was a lot to take in and get used to with a stranger while trying to get breastfeeding down. However, she is professionally trained for these sorts of situations, so there was no need for me to find a lactation consultant or doula. Needless to say, my Mandarin improved a lot when she was with us!

What food were you fed?
 

I was fed a normal Chinese diet- no spicy food, however. She focused a lot on feeding me papaya, fish, and various soups which are known to help promote milk supply. She is a fantastic cook and there was always so much variety and healthy fats and protein, which is exactly what I needed during this time to recover my body. We joke that my husband has gained weight during this period as he also really enjoyed having a live-in chef!

Were there any rules/myths that you observed throughout your confinement?

Zuo yue zi (坐月子)dates to very early in China’s history. Naturally, since then there have been a decent amount of practices and rituals that don’t serve any purpose or have since been debunked. For example, some women in China will not take a shower during the entire month. The reason is because long ago, China didn’t have access to clean, hot water. Chinese people are also afraid of feeling cold or cold water, which is why it’s not suggested to shower and have a wet head because they believe it could make you easily catch a cold. This doesn’t serve any purpose in the modern world now that we have access to clean water and hair dryers. My confinement yuesao only recommended that I blow-dry my hair directly after showering and not walk around barefoot, as my body is easily susceptible to illness.

Were you surprised by anything from your confinement period? 

I was surprised by how stir-crazy I felt going into the second week. Hong Kong was having beautiful weather and I didn’t want to stay inside all the time. It’s not recommended to go outside during this “one month sit” period, hence the “sit,” part. But now that I have experienced this tradition for myself, I firmly believe it could take a toll on your mental health, especially if you live in a small apartment. As new mums, we already feel a little detached from society and do experience a sort of identity loss now that we are needed by a little human 24/7. When my body was a little stronger, I felt it was best for me to take short 20-minute walks every day and get some fresh air. My husband and I would go out after dinner and just walk around the block after he got home from work, and this was something I would always look forward to. I understand that the tradition is trying to promote healing and practice bedrest as much as possible, but that element was tough for me mentally. Fortunately, I had a yuesao that wasn’t too judgmental and after all, I was paying for this service myself. Therefore if there was something I wasn’t comfortable with, I would voice my opinion. I tried to not get caught up in the idea of “because the old Chinese tradition says so” and just used the parts of “zuo yue zi” that worked for me and my family.

Did you seek any support from people outside your family?
(Doula, massage therapist, lactation consultant etc.)? 

The yuesao was pretty much equipped with everything postpartum so no other outside support was needed.

List out any positives and negatives from your confinement period? 

The biggest positive I had from this experience was the genuine care and support I received from my yuesao. I spent a lot of time with her, especially late at night, and near the end, I felt a bond with her. Truthfully, I was feeling melancholy when she left. However, I felt the care she provided for me and my baby plus the education on caring for a newborn made us feel better equipped to be parents. I will look back on this period with a fondness for those days with my newborn and all she taught us and helped us with. I know that we will always stay in touch even after she goes on to her next family.

Another big takeaway from this experience was the “it takes a village” mentality that is rooted in Chinese postpartum health and childrearing culture. I grew up in the U.S. and unfortunately did feel some shame from friends and family in the U.S. who thought I was crazy to go through this tradition. They simply couldn’t understand it. In the U.S. you are expected at least 8 weeks (sometimes 6 weeks!) to go back to work and you are expected to do it all on your own when you leave the hospital. The culture sort of feels like “if you aren’t doing all the late-night feeds and diaper changes yourself and doing it while being sleep-deprived and struggling 24/7 you aren’t doing enough as a new mum.” That was the type of idea I was exposed to in the U.S. and so that was the mindset I had going into the postpartum stage that I needed to do everything myself. But my husband and yuesao encouraged me to relax, rest my body, and let them help where they could.

That being said, I encourage and advise new mums to get as much help as they can. “Help” in most places in the West is usually grandparents or friends coming by every couple of days to hold the baby and drop off a meal but in my opinion, I don’t think that is enough “help” for a mum. Especially since the focus is just on the baby, not on the mum. I think having someone mainly assisting with the majority of household responsibilities, especially if your maternity or paternity leave is limited, is important and gives the mum one less thing to worry about and she can just chill. You also need to nourish your body well, and how can you do that if you need to do everything? I understand that this “zuo yue zi” experience sounds like a luxury in most countries, and some may not want another person living with them all the time. But going through a major physical and emotional change such as pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding can push us to our limits. I really would hope more governments would take greater consideration in postpartum health. Because of my husband and our yuesao, I emerged from the “zuo yue zi” period feeling stronger mentally and physically, and better capable of taking care of my baby. I feel more confident as a new mum and most importantly feel that my body has the proper time to heal. I am beyond grateful I had the resources to help me through this new season of my life and if I plan to have more children I will certainly do the zuo yue zi period again.

See Instagram post here.

Follow Anastasia here.