Ge-Lai: Chinese Post-partum Care

A lot of my Filipino friends ask me about ge-lai, or the Chinese method of post-partum care. What is it anyway?

This is my third time to undergo ge-lai and I've been very lucky because both my mother-in-law and my mom take really good care of me at this time. Ge-lai actually requires a lot of work, not for the new mother, but for the people who take care of her. Based on my experience, my MIL supervises the preparation of all my meals. My mother also takes the time to bring me ge-lai dishes that she prepares at home.

A disclaimer before I go on, though. What is described in this post is based on my experience of ge-lai. Because we live in a country that is a melting pot of various Asian cultures, some of the practices may be different from what is traditionally practiced in China. And even so, each family has different beliefs about what ge-lai is and what it entails. What I write about here, is ge-lai as I have experienced it and as it was explained to me by my mom and my mother-in-law.

Ge-lai, or po-ge-lai, takes place during the first month after birth where a new mother is under a strict regimen to restore her qi after childbirth. The Chinese believe that the woman's body gets cold, or chin, after giving birth so the body should be heated with food that is considered warming, or diyet to restore the balance of the body by observing the following:

1. Drinking Tonics: these are usually soups/drinks made from boiled Chinese medicinal herbs.
  • Seng-hwa-theng: According to my mom, this is meant to flush out the "dirty blood" that remains in the woman's body after birth. I'm guessing this means ensuring that the uterus is cleaned out properly and that whatever remains of the placenta are expelled with the postpartum bleeding. You drink this first thing in the morning for the first three days after giving birth.
  • O-tso-tong-sim: Since the new mother isn't allowed to drink water after giving birth (more on this below), she is given a boiled drink that has prunes and dates and longgans in it that will serve as her main source of hydration. It doesn't really quench your thirst, but I still find it helpful because it softens your poop so you're not constipated. Believe me, with stitches on your lady parts, you do not want to strain that area any more than you have to.
  • Sip-tsuan-tai-po: This is taken 21 days after giving birth, right around the time the postpartum bleeding stops. It's an expensive herbal medicine that tastes awful, but is supposed to be very nutritious for a recovering mother.
2. Ge-Lai Meals:
  • Breakfast was usually oatmeal cooked with chocolate tablea with an egg stirred in. Chocolate is considered diyet, which is why it's good for new mothers.
  • Eggs: Eggs are mixed into my morning oatmeal, and if I'm in the mood for it, I can have egg that is cooked in sugar water for meryenda. Eggs are considered very nutritious in general, probably cause of the protein, so I'm guessing that's why it's part of the ge-lai diet. Big C came up with a new invention which I love: eggs cooked in fresh milk. That's what I have for breakfast instead of chocolate oatmeal on some days.
  • Soups: I usually have 5 meals a day: breakfast, morning merienda, lunch, two afternoon meriendas and dinner. Apart from breakfast, I have soup for all those meals. Usually it's fish soup, which helps with lactation as well. 
  • Chicken and ginger soup that is more ginger than chicken, mixed with mushrooms and banana blossoms. This soup is very warming because it's spicy. You drink it and sweat really breaks out all over your body.
  • Sesame oil and ginger: These are two staple ingredients for ge-lai. For example, I have fried rice with every meal, but it's not your usual garlic rice. For ge-lai, fried rice is rice cooked in ginger and sesame oil, two ingredients that are considered very diyet, and therefore, good for mommy's recovering body. Most of my viands are also cooked with these two ingredients, from black chicken, to regular fried chicken, to pork chops and steak.
3. Dietary Restrictions:
  • No water for 40 days. Because water is refreshing, it's considered chin, so it's a no-no for new moms. Diyet substances only. In place of water, I drank the o-tso-tong-sim. 
  • No fruits and veggies for 40 days. Like water, fruits and veggies are considered chin food. Even malunggay supplements to boost up my milk supply were not allowed. I think this is the biggest contrast between the Chinese and Filipino post-partum recovery methods. 
  • Nothing cold. Obviously, since the point of ge-lai is to warm the body up, cold foods are out of the question. 
4. Other Restrictions:
  • No bathing. I think I hate this most of all. Haha. No bathing for a month, and even after a month, you can't take a bath daily. You have to ease back into it. In my case, the day I took my first bath after giving birth, I waited two days, then took a bath on the third day. After a few cycles of that, you can then ease into baths every other day, then every day. 
  • No getting wet, even hand washing. Generally, water is cold, especially from the tap, so the idea is to keep your body away from cold stuff. This is supposed to help reduce the aches and pains we may experience as we get older. In my case, I was advised to use rubber gloves to protect my hands if I do need to wash things.
  • No going out. It's house arrest for a month, ladies. And while you'll experience cabin fever, you'll find that you'll want to keep your first outing after ge-lai short. You'll actually miss being in the house and near your baby (well, at least that's what I experienced).
  • No strenuous exertion and activities. In my case, I was forbidden to pick J up, which was also difficult for me. He's been a bit clingy and demanding lately, I guess, adjusting to having to share Mommy with his little brother, so he would ask me to carry him. The most I could do was cuddle him while seated.
So that's what my ge-lai experience was like. I still have 3 days more to go and I would have to say that it's a challenging experience. The no bathing part is the obvious difficulty, and eating five meals a day is easier said than done, especially when you have a newborn and a toddler demanding your constant attention. But if you're lucky enough to have someone want who cares enough to perform the ge-lai rituals for you, take the opportunity. After all, there's no harm in obeying the rules that our mothers, grandmothers and other predecessors have followed for years. At the very least, you have a month where you're not expected to worry about anything except taking care of your baby and resting. Believe me, that's something every new mom needs, even second-time moms like me.


Jenny @ Chronicles of A Nursing Mom said...

yehey!! i guess you are done with your ge-lai? i only did the chocolate part and the otsongtsimo drink for N. I guess that was because my mom and MIL weren't with me when I gave birth. otherwise, bantay sarado!

quakermommy said...

Hi Jenny! I'm so glad to finally be done with it. I was really good about the food and the medicine, I ate and drank all of it. The other parts of it are a bit harder, especially since you have another child to care for. :)

julie christie tan said...

Hi mommy. I'm about to give birth this December. I just want to ask if you breastfeed your baby, and if practicing ge-lai affected your milk in any way? I am also wondering how to hold, breastfeed or bathe a baby if we cannot wash our hands? (esp after using the toilet)

thanks a lot!

julie christie tan said...

By the way, i just started following your blog. =)

quakermommy said...

Hi Julie! I hope you're enjoying going through my posts. :)

Yes, I still breastfeed my son, well, at least I exclusively pump for him. From what I've read from other blogs and from the other moms I know, ge-lai doesn't really affect your milk supply. Some of the ge-lai soups, especially the fish soups, can even boost your milk supply.

I'm afraid I wasn't very obedient when it comes to the handwashing, since I was the one who washed my pump. The most I can advise on this matter is to use rubber gloves to keep your hands dry when washing stuff or bathing your baby, or to keep your hands clean when you go to the toilet.

Have a safe delivery!

Karla said...

I just read an article about how all of these post-partum care facilities are popping up all over China. This led me to do a Google search, and I found you! So very interesting. I want to share this info with all of my customers!

Diths said...

Thank you for this post! Very informative! I was just wondering, did you take any Western medicine while taking the Chinese teas? Did it cause any effect?

quakermommy said...

Hi Diths! Yes, I did take the prescribed postpartum antibiotics and some Dolfenal after giving birth. My doctor also prescribed iron supplements. These medications did not go against any of the ge-lai restrictions, so I took them. My MIL advised against taking malunggay pills though, because it's considered "chin" and could counter the warming effects of the ge-lai food and tonics.

Diths said...

Thank you! :-)

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Jehanna Callosa said...

Hi. I am about to give birth this July and i also want to undergo Ge-Lai. Thank you for this blog! :) By the way, may i know where you bought those chinese herbs and teas needed for Ge-Lai? thanks again! :)

quakermommy said...

Hi Jehanna! I'm not sure exactly where, but Ongpin is a good place to start. My mom also told me that she bought some of the herbs for my sister in Hong Kong Drugstore in Greenhills, in V-Mall. :)

gina oliva said...

hellow every one! for those moms who are seeking for Ge lai, Visit us at Hao PoPo office located in #68 Jose Abad Santos St., Little Baguio, San Juan Metro Manila, contact no: 02-542-5253 / 09192705629,, Thanks

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