Pregnancy taboos in China
Chinese people are very superstitious. A long time ago I wrote a post with several superstitions I’d heard, you can check it here. They also often do things “just in case”, even if they don’t truly believe them. For example, praying in all kinds of temples when they are not religious. If they pass by a Buddhist or Taoist temple they will offer some incenses, and if they happen to visit a Christian church they will light candles or pray. You never know if any of these gods really exist, so better have them all happy just in case!
Pregnancy is a very important and special situation in the life of a woman, so of course Chinese people have a lot of taboos and superstitions regarding it (and I guess things only got worse with the one child policy, when they only had one chance to have a perfect baby). I found a scientific article published in the Asian Nursing Research journal where several of these taboos are mentioned. I’ll list some of the most curious ones:
- You can’t move home or do home renovations: these actions will destabilise the vital energy of the fetus and will cause spontaneous miscarriage and fetal malformation. [Damn, we’ve been doing renovations for months! My baby is fine for the moment though.]
- You can’t hammer nails into the wall: will cause fetal malformation. [How? By some kind of magic?]
- You can’t attend weddings: the article says too much joy can cause abnormal uterine contractions but apart from this it’s also said you will bring bad luck to the bride. [I had two pregnant women in my Chinese wedding and another two in my Spanish wedding, I’m doomed!]
- You can’t prepare the baby’s bed in advance: having an empty baby’s bed at home brings bad luck.
- You can’t attend funerals, go to the cemetery or visit sick people: upsetting occasions and grief affect the heart and liver; negative emotions liberate harmful particles that affect the development of the baby. Some people also say that spirits can possess unborn babies. [This year I wasn’t asked to go and visit the tombs for Qingming.]
- You can’t cut the wings and legs of a chicken: may harm the integrity of the baby. [This has to be magic too.]
- You can’t raise your hands above your shoulders: it will destabilise the vital energy of the fetus and can cause spontaneous miscarriage. [There’s a similar one in the West: some people believe raising your hands will cause the umbilical cord to wrap itself around the baby’s neck.]
- You can’t eat the following things: watermelon and mung beans (they slow down blood circulation, affect the absorption of nutrients by the fetus and can cause a miscarriage in early pregnancy), rabbit (the baby will have a cleft lip or cleft palate), dark coloured food (the baby will have dark skin), snake (the baby will have scales), mango, lychees and shrimp (the baby will have allergies and eczema), mutton (the baby will have epilepsy), ice cream and banana (they will cause a miscarriage in early pregnancy and the baby will have convulsions).
Those are some of the traditional superstitions and, to be honest, I think many of them are not believed nowadays, at least in mainland China, or at least I had not heard about them. What I’ve been hearing these moths are the following ones:
- You can’t eat pineapple and almonds: they are toxic, according to an app that C. downloaded. I told him I had never heard anything similar so I googled it. Turns out pineapple does contain a substance that can be toxic if eaten in huge amounts, but to be dangerous you would need to eat like 8 pineapples in one go. Bitter almonds are toxic (I ate one once and my mouth went numb) but I don’t think anyone eats them on purpose and normal sweet almonds are completely fine (and are actually high on calcium and also contain other good things).
- You can’t have a dog: before I had heard that pregnant women should not change the cat’s litter because cat poo can have toxoplasmosis, but I had never heard it about dogs. I guess it’s because they can give you fleas or some other bug? But, based on that same logic, you shouldn’t have other people at home either because they can pass their illnesses to you. I think it’s easier for my husband to infect me with the flu than for my vaccinated and dewormed dog to infect me with the rabies… By the way, one day when I was walking Nico a young woman told me: “Isn’t it said that pregnant women cannot have dogs?”. I told her in western countries we don’t have this belief and we are totally fine.
- You can’t exercise or move too much: in this other scientific article, only 11% of the over 1000 pregnant women in the city of Tianjin who participated in the study reached the minimum requirements for exercise during pregnancy (150 minutes per week). The main reason they gave was that they thought moving too much can cause a miscarriage. I think many Chinese women believe their bodies are weak and faulty, while we foreigners are strong because we eat beef and drink milk every day.
- You have to eat for two: this is commonly said in many countries and it’s not true. From the second trimester on you need more calories, but obviously not like if you were two people! Come on, one of them is tiny! When my MIL comes home she tries to feed me every two hours, but I don’t let her (because I’m honestly not hungry two hours after lunch!!). I don’t have any scientific research backing up my theory, but I think many Chinese women must gain too much weight because of the “eat for two” and “don’t move too much” beliefs. People that see me are indeed surprised that only my belly got bigger, but not the rest of my body.
- You can’t take a bath: many people honestly believe that water can enter your uterus (yes, sex education in China is practically non existent). Ahem. Many people also believe having sex is a no-no during pregnancy for a similar reason (yeah, right, man, do you think you are a horse or something?). I’m looking forward to the swimming pool opening for the summer and seeing the looks on people’s faces when they see a heavily pregnant woman swimming.
- You can’t eat or drink cold things: well, this applies always, not only when you are pregnant. For Chinese people, cold drinks and foods are the devil and the number one cause of mortality. Haven’t you heard about that young man who died after drinking a cold soft drink?
- You have to cut your hair short: because hair steals nutrients from the fetus.
What do you think of all these taboos? What I find very surprising is that, being as it seems so easy to have a miscarriage, people still go to abortion clinics and waste their money there. They could just eat pineapple and watermelon, raise their hands over their shoulders and walk a lot and their problem would be solved!
What pregnancy taboos are there in your country?