Thursday, July 3, 2014

Cultural Differences about Pregnancy in China

One of the things that is most interesting about being pregnant in another country is learning how that culture approaches pregnancy, birth and babies. Are there dietary restrictions that are different? What are pregnant women allowed to do for exercise? I have learned a lot about Chinese culture from being pregnant! And I’m sure I will learn more as we raise our daughter here. For now, here are some of the biggest differences I have noticed about how Chinese view pregnancy. 

1) Pregnant women do not drink or eat cold things. This includes some fruit (like bananas, in China bananas are considered “cold"), ice, ice cream, and room temperature or cold beverages (pregnant women are supposed to drink only hot beverages). My Ayi has never said anything to me about this, even when she sees me pour refrigerated water into my glass, however, I have had several friends say things or comment on what I’m drinking. Especially when I ask for extra ice. 

2) When you are pregnant, swimming is absolutely not allowed. Water is considered cold, so going along with the first point, submersing your body in something considered cold is not good. I will be breaking this rule a lot this summer once the pool opens in our complex. :-) Whenever I tell my Chinese friends that in America swimming is considered excellent exercise for pregnant women they are very surprised. Also, after you have a baby, you are not supposed to wash your hair or shower for 30 days - sponge baths only! Something about wet hair and cold…after I have the baby, I’m sure I will have more insights to share about the cultural difference regarding birth and newborns.

3) There is some sort of rule about pregnant women and electronics. I don’t actually know what is or is not considered ok by the Chinese, but I had a Chinese friend comment last week that since I was pregnant she called Steven because she knew I wouldn’t be using my cellphone. Uh, ok. I have also heard from friends that while they were pregnant their Chinese friend or Ayi would freak out whenever they used a laptop. One friend said her Ayi would try and take her laptop away. Too funny. 

30 weeks pregnant in Hong Kong. I broke a lot of Chinese rules on this trip
including flying and asking for ice at every place we ate.
4) Pregnant women are to do as little as possible. This includes cooking, working, shopping, etc. I get stared at a lot out in public, more so now that I’m pregnant. People almost gawk when they see me on my e-bike or shopping for groceries. I’ve had friends ask if Steven is doing all the cooking. And recently I’ve been working with a local orphanage to organize volunteers (probably more on that in a later post), however, because I’m pregnant the volunteer coordinator came up with at least 3 reasons why I shouldn’t volunteer because I’m pregnant (I’ll be too tired, the babies will kick my stomach and I might get sick - the only one being a true risk is getting sick). I feel bad for Chinese women who are confined to their homes, unless, of course, they want to be. But constantly being told what you can and cannot do must be annoying! Other random things pregnant women are not allowed to do: fly (at any point in pregnancy), and be in a room with an air conditioner (cold air - we’ve covered this, yeah?).

5) You must eat more food. I think this is also widely misunderstood in the States, but pregnant women do not actually need to eat “for two people”. Of course, being pregnant means eating nutritiously, taking prenatal vitamins and in the third trimester, yes, eating a bit more; but no, I do not need to eat double the amount of food I used to. One of my Chinese friends was surprised at how my face was not fat. He said his sister gained a lot of weight in her face and that she needed to eat so much food while pregnant. Every women is different, some gain a lot of weight, some gain a little - but I think the Chinese women on average tend to gain a lot of weight everywhere. It’s a combination of point #4 above (not being allowed to do anything) and having their mother or mother-in-law constantly cooking for them and making them eat. Although who wouldn’t want a personal chef while you are pregnant, am I right? 

6) Sex. I debated including this on here, but it is a cultural difference. Chinese think you cannot have sex while you are pregnant. That is all I am going to say about that. 

There you have it! Those are some of the biggest cultural differences I have noticed in China while being pregnant. I’m sure there are more, but these ones come up the most. It’s so interesting learning about cultural differences through the experience of pregnancy. There are also a lot of differences in how Chinese view birth and caring for newborns, but I’ll save that for later. 

Oh, look, my glass is out of ice. Better go refill it...


  1. I love your posts about cultural differences. I think it is so interesting. And you write so well! I also love #6 on this post and how you handled it. ;) Thanks for sharing!

  2. I don't know if that last comment worked...weird.

    Anyways, water is so relaxing when you are pregnant and your feet swell. I don't know how it could not be allowed! Take full advantage of your complex pool. It's nice to feel weightless.
    I will be interested to hear about cultural differences on birth and newborn care. It seems there are so many different opinions about those 2 topics in the US alone not considering other countries.