A woman’s body goes through so many changes during pregnancy and trauma during childbirth that postpartum care for a Hmong woman is very important—more important than prenatal care. Many Hmong women take postpartum care very seriously.
A woman nyob nruab hlis (stays within the month) after childbirth for 30 days, hence the name. And this means that she will need to stay home for this duration. She may go out, but it is taboo for her to enter another Hmong family’s home if they practice Shamanism. Everyone’s reason for this varies slightly, but this is what I’ve heard growing up: when a woman gives birth, the barrier to the human and spirit world weakens. Because of this, her [husband's] ancestors roam more freely in the human world. It is offensive for a woman who had just given birth to visit another Hmong family. Her baby may go inside another family’s house, but she may not. If she visits someone who does not worship the same ancestors as she does, she’ll anger the ancestors and bring bad luck to that family. If this happens, a shaman will need to be called to alleviate the angry ancestors. Additionally, a woman can visit anyone who practices other religions (Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, etc). This is why some women are restricted from visiting their parent’s house until 30 days after her child is born.
A couple of readers commented a while ago that if a woman visits another person during her 30 days, when she dies, she will see blood on the door. Her spirit will not be able to rest and will constantly come back to clean it. Nyob nruab hlis is only practiced by Hmong women who practices Shamanism.
A Hmong woman should not be expected to do anything around the house besides taking care of herself and her newborn for the first 30 days. She is recommended to stay on bed-rest for the first 7 days. She should not sleep on a soft mattress because that will bring on back pain as she ages. She should sleep on the floor, padded with blankets. Her newborn is expected to sleep with her.
It is crucial during this time for a woman to stay as warm as possible, even during the summer. Because she lost a lot of blood during childbirth, she may feel cold. It is her responsibility to keep herself warm. Back in SE Asia, a woman would sleep by the fireplace. Here in the US, she may have a portable mini heater nearby. A woman must wear a hat, head scarf, or cloth to cover her hair and wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants to cover herself. She must not let the wind or air blow on her hair. She also must not let herself get too cold. If the wind blows on her hair, she will get migraines later in life. If she gets her hands or feet cold when she nyob nruab hlis, they will ache during the cold seasons. She must also keep her belly wrapped up tightly. This is to help her uterus shrink back to its original size so you do not have that pouch.
A Hmong woman’s husband does the cooking for her for 30 days. Hmong women follow a very strict diet after childbirth. It consists of freshly-made, warm rice and boiled chicken (ideally free-range gamefowl/qaib mev) with herbs. I do not know their scientific names and cannot describe them either. They are not your usual herbs like cilantro, basil, rosemary, etc. They are special herbs that are planted and used solely for this purpose. They each have their own Hmong names, but altogether, we call them tshuaj rau qaib (herbs for chicken). The only seasoning is salt. And if you’re thirsty, a cup of hot or warm water. Cold water is not recommended. Icy cold water is a big NO-NO! A woman should eat 3 meals a day (freshly made, hot from the stove) and she may not eat anything else.
The warm food and herbs help to cleanse the uterus of the leftover blood, thus making a woman heal faster from childbirth. My grams say that this diet not only helps a woman lose the weight she gained during childbirth, but also helps her body prepare for menopause. Many Hmong women have followed this strict diet for hundreds of years and have never experienced any symptoms of menopause, my grams included. A woman is also required to follow this chicken diet after she has an abortion or miscarriage, although not as strictly.
Did I follow these postpartum guidelines? Yes and no. I did not break taboo and go into another Hmong family’s home. Although I do not fully believe in the basis for this restriction, I do respect those who do, so I made sure I did not enter anyone’s home. I didn’t cover my hair or skin as directed by my mom. I delivered my children in spring and it was already warm in California, so I could not and would not cover my head due to the heat. I did try to put my hair up as much as I can though. I also tried to cover up as much as I can. Sometimes, Dear Spouse cooked for me and I also cooked for myself. Dear Spouse’s cooking was nothing out of the norm because we take turns cooking anyway. And I did try to stay on the chicken diet. My experiences with it is this: it was easy at first, but it got hard as the end of the 30 days approached By the 25th day, I was thinking, “Come on. I have only 5 more days, there’s no need to stay on the chicken diet anymore.”
There you have it! Postpartum care for Hmong women. If I missed anything, please add it in the comments below.