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?
I’m Chinese and I’ve never heard of half of these! Not have a dog? Whaaaaat!! And I’d never cut my hair short! I think a lot more people nowadays are dispelling these taboos though. I guess it just depends how superstitious you are, or how crazy your family is, haha! 🙂
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I’m glad to hear that as I thought people in Hong Kong were even more traditional, haha. The dog one is fairly common in here and I think everybody has heard about it! The hair one I think only uneducated or rural people believe it. I used to have a colleague who got a horrible bowl cut when she got pregnant.
The most ridiculous superstitions in Poland are:
1. You can’t eat strawberries as it will cause cavernous hemangioma on baby’s skin
2. If you get scared or burnt, you can’t touch your belly as it will cause a mark on baby’s body
3. If you wear scarf your child might choke on its cord …… Or go under a string of laundry etc. … We are one weird nation.
4. You can’t look at attractive people, otherwise your child will be ugly!
In Poland people also say you shouldn’t buy baby stuff before its born as it brings bad luck for the baby.
I guess every nation has some weird superstitions based on their past history :D
Haha how interesting! The strawberries one is great! And no scarf?? What do you do in the winter then??
Regarding number 4, in China they say the opposite! You should look at pictures of beautiful babies so your baby will be beautiful too (I can picture a couple of very ugly people wishfully looking at model babies hahaha).
Can’t buy anything in advance? Then your baby goes out of the hospital naked? xD For the moment I only bought a couple of onesies because they were on sale!
It all doesn’t make sense when you judge it now, but in the past at least not buying in advance made sense due to high rate of baby mortality so in order not to waste limited resources women waited until the baby is out, but for last century or so it doesn’t make sense.
Once I’m finally pregnant I will buy all the shit, just because I can :D
if the modeling thing is true I’m going to look at Nicholas Tse all day long, he’s so cute :D
My mom tells me a lot of superstitions about what not to do during my period (don’t drink cold things, don’t let my feet get cold) because they will cause my uterus/period to seize up and go away and I will become infertile. I really enjoyed reading about all these crazy superstitions. That’s a lot of things to keep track of!
Yes! Here people say that if they drink or eat cold things during their period, it will either stop the flow or make it more abundant (it seems they can’t even agree, haha). When I tell them that in western countries we eat/drink cold things and we are fine, they say it’s because foreigners are stronger. There’s also a saying that when a couple cannot conceive it’s because the woman’s uterus is cold…
Never heard about not keeping a dog. Wired!! But have heard of the cat litter one.
I guess the dog one is only said in China! I even read a news story about a man whose flatmate got pregnant and made him move out because he had a dog…
Ha ha …
I want to bang my head on the desk after reading these. I know not everyone has a sister who was in obstetrics like me, but do they not have freakin’ google?!
In the U.S., there’s just limiting caffeine to avoid miscarriage, but it’s like pineapple — you would have to drink a Starbucks or something. In California, of course, the healthy lifestyle cult has taken over and there’s everything from don’t dye your hair or the chemicals will kill your baby (false), and don’t eat sliced meats because of nitrates (semi-true, you should probably not have a pound every day), and avoid sushi at all costs (yeah, there’s a mercury issues sometimes, cut back on the tuna but don’t freak out).
Hahaha NO!! They have no google here!! It is blocked and the Chinese equivalent (Baidu) is a joke. The first results are always from forums or places like that!!
In Spain the recommendations are no alcohol, little caffeine, no raw meat or fish and no unpasteurised milk or milk products. And the big fish that contain mercury, yes. But I thought no sushi was because of the anisakis worm, not because of the mercury. In theory if the fish/meat has been frozen the potential thingies die and you can eat it, but meh. I’ll just stuff my face after I give birth.
Yeah, you’d have to really love a food to risk a fetus. So it’s a good thing chocolate is okay.
I remember most of them as well. What terror my wife’s family and friends were orchastrating when we didn’t want to give away our bunnies or take care of a dog from time to time…
The haircutting thing is also amusing as all of my wife’s Chinese friends cut their hairs short during the pregnancy :D
I hope they did it because it was hot or because they wanted a change of style, not because “it steals nutrition from the baby” xD
Was all about them nutritions :D
OH dear god. You can’t do anything!
You can stay in bed and rest for 9 months while you are fed by a drip. This way you are a completely safe receptacle while you bake your baby xD
Oh my. I think in the UK we’re haven’t got any pregnant superstitions!
I’m sure there were some at some point! But people learned, haha.
Some of the taboos are crazy.
As for house renovations..more important that you are not exposed /breathing in chemical fumes.
The exercise thing is insane. For sure, when the woman is quite pregnant, her centre of gravity is different and some sports just doesn’t work well at all….ie. tennis. While cycling, I saw ahead a very pregnant woman jogging across an traffic intersection. For sure, she did have a lot of people craning their necks. :)
I also read that pregnant women should not ride bikes to avoid falls, but was wondering if this is also said in places like the Netherlands where everybody goes everywhere by bike…
Omg this post cracked me up. So many ways to ruin a pregnancy…!!
I did not know the pineapple thing (will note!) and the bath thing… whaaa? Please let me know how it goes when you take a dip in the swimming pool this summer!
I told a friend here who is 3 months pregnant to go to the swimming pool together and she said she is worried the water will not be clean enough… but then it would be a problem for everybody, not only for us! I think the pool opens in July, let’s see.
And it seems it is so easy to ruin it, right?? I wonder how people all over the world manage to have babies at all xD
hahahah they are indeed so typical for Chinese people!
We are usually too careful, we don’t drink coffee because it ages people (pff, don’t know why), but in Belgium I drink 2 cups per day otherwise I cannot survive.
You should write about 坐月子 the one month crazy rules after you give birth, ask you mother in law about that!
And congrats again and good luck with the baby.
Hahaha, zuo yuezi is so scary. Fortunately my mother in law is a reasonable person and never forces me to do anything. I already told her I won’t zuo yuezi and I will turn on the air con and she was fine with it. But I might write a post with all the crazy rules, hehe.
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Interesting collection of myths you have here.
About checking the gender, I would to try : https://www.prokerala.com/kids/baby-gender/chinese-gender-predictor.php
Given eh mother’s dob and conception date, I have had correct results over a long period of time.
I have heard about pineapple though, and it does have a matter of truth in it! It heats the body, and too much intake may cause uterine bleeding. So, that’s a risk in all senses.
I had seen the Chinese gender predictor before, hehe. In my case it’s correct, but I still don’t believe it much. Does that mean that all women born in 1984 that conceived in November/December last year everywhere in the world are having boys? I find it a bit hard to believe as I’d think the father has some input too xD
8 pineapples in one go! 😂
Something very common. Don’t you eat 8 pineapples in one go every day? xD
Those are very interesting! If these are true I’m in trouble, I’ve done most of the things listed!
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