Ever since Amy Chua's article, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," an excerpt from her new book, was published in The Wall Street Journal, sensitivities have been stirred up among mothers across the country. But while the stereotypical Chinese mom's child-rearing philosophy is debatable, there is something indeed superior about the way Chinese moms start out—they receive more postpartum care than most new moms of other ethnicities.
In Chinese culture, every new mom is entitled to a one-month break, during which she stays home but doesn't do any housework. She won't carry anything heavier than the baby, either.
According to Chinese medical theories, lifting heavy things or making strenuous moves is harmful to the still-weak joints and muscles of the new mom, especially to her still-expanded uterus. It would put the uterus at risk of falling below its normal position.
The Chinese new mom may either hire help or ask her husband to do all the cleaning chores. In the meantime, she will get her mother, mother-in-law or another older woman who has child-rearing experience to cook some special dishes and soups with Chinese herbs for her.
Based on traditional Chinese medical theories, certain foods and herbs can help the post-labor woman recuperate sooner and better. These foods and herbs have worked for Chinese new moms through the ages, and some modern medical studies in China and Taiwan have found them effective, too.
Recipes for postpartum care are now available online and accessible in the United States. But many Chinese-American new moms in Silicon Valley don't have their mothers, mother-in-laws or other older female relatives around to cook for them. Their lack of family assistance has inspired the creation of a few service centers that cater to their needs.
The first of those centers with lawful registration, I-San House at 903 E. El Camino Real in Mountain View, delivers fresh meals six days a week designed for post-labor women to hospitals and residences all over the Bay Area. The big portions of the Monday-through-Saturday meals will enable customers to save enough food for Sunday, according to reviews on Yelp.com.
I-San House also takes phone orders from other areas of the United States and has frozen meals delivered to those customers by Federal Express.
The clientile of I-San House is not limited to Chinese-Americans. The company has received orders from Caucasians, Indians, Koreans, Japanese and Malaysians, as well, according to Frances Liao, owner of I-San House and California-certified oriental medicine practitioner.
Liao says the non-Chinese customers heard about I-San House from their Chinese friends or doctors, and some non-Chinese medical doctors used I-San deliveries for their own postpartum months, because they found the ingredients of the meals healthful, with low fat and no added salt.
Liao explains that the no-salt meals are meant to help release the post-labor woman's water retention. She says the dishes seasoned with herbs are flavorful without salt.
"I would encourage non-Chinese new moms to have our meals if they could accept the herbal flavors of the dishes," says Liao. "The ingredients we use can help them recover sooner and produce more milk."
Liao says the meals of I-San House are created based on different stages a post-labor woman goes through and the different conditions of every individual.
What Liao calls the first stage is the first week after childbirth. During this week, the new mom's main course will be sesame oil pork liver soup, which can help her uterus contract, release her water retention and make toxics leave her body through postpartum bleeding.
For those who had C-sections, however, the pork liver soup will contain no sesame oil, because the oil that can stimulate the uterus to contract may also induce inflammation and delay the recovery of the post-surgery wound.
The second week after childbirth is what Liao calls the second stage. This is the week I-San House uses sesame oil pig kidney soup (or pig kidney soup without sesame oil for C-section moms) to enhance the new mom's metabolism as well as help her prevent lower back pains, sore joints, and other common health problems in post-labor women.
Liao names the third and fourth weeks the last stage of postpartum care. It is time for I-San House to serve sesame oil chicken soup, the most widely known postpartum dish in Taiwan, or just chicken soup with herbs for C-section moms. The chicken soup can nourish the new mom's blood, boost her energy and prepare her to return to her normal routine.
In addition to the three soups for three postpartum stages, there are brown rice, vegetables and desserts in the I-San meals. It costs $1,680 to have 30 days of meal deliveries from I-San House.
Liao says she uses her expert knowledge of Chinese herbal medicine to customize meals for new moms. She has all customers fill out a questionnaire, printed in Chinese and English, so she knows their food preferences, allergies and specific physical conditions. Then she designs different menus for different customers. If they have questions during their consumption of the meals, she provides them free phone consulting.
Liao also gives free seminars on postpartum care the first Saturday afternoon of every month. She speaks to the group in Mandarin but can explain individually in English to those who don't know the language. Anyone interested in the seminar may call 650-938-5888 to sign up.
Another postpartum service center, Cowa, also offers free Mandarin-language seminars on postpartum care. The seminar may take place any Saturday of the month, depending on the speaker's schedule. Those interested can inquire by calling 408-434-6688.
Cowa is located in a Chinese herbal pharmacy and health food store, Paleo Tonic Gourmet, at 272 Barber Ct. in Milpitas.
Cowa is a branch of a Taiwanese postpartum service center of the same name. It uses recipes written by one of Taiwan's most famous Chinese medicine practitioners, Shu-Chi Chuang, who spent 40 years of her life in Japan and once worked as medical adviser for the Japanese royal family.
Chuang has a theory that keeps new moms in their post-labor month from drinking water and tells them to have soups made with rice wine instead. This may sound odd to non-Chinese. But many Chinese believe her explanation that drinking water may worsen water retention in post-labor women and make them feel cold while they need to be kept warm for their low body temperatures during postpartum bleeding.
Cowa follows Chuang's recipes, and her idea of having post-labor women eat five meals a day for a month. The five meals are all delievered at once before 9 a.m. to customers either in the hospital or at home. It costs $1,721 plus tax to have such daily deliveries for 30 days.
Cowa also helps new moms who need more assistance than meal deliveries to find nannies. A nanny sent by Cowa will stay in the customer's house for a month to look after the new mom and her baby day and night. In this case, the new mom will get the nanny to cook for her instead of ordering meal deliveries.
Some other postpartum care centers only introduce nannies to customers. They don't deliver meals. Taipei Nanny in San Jose is one of them.
Gina Jou, director of Taipei Nanny, says the center is a branch of a Taiwanese organization of the same name.
The address of Taipei Nanny is not listed below its phone number in the Chinese Yellow Pages. Jou says she prefers having potential customers call before inviting them to the center. The phone number is 408-258-7508.
Jou says Taipei Nanny employs more than 20 nannies as contractors. A live-in nanny's service costs between $2,600-$3,200 a month, depending on the nanny's experience.