By Maysee Lao, UWO Peer Wellness Educator
Many cultures have different traditions that they follow. In the Hmong culture, typically for those who practice Shamanism, the Hmong women follow a strict diet for an entire month after giving birth. Now, before getting into details about the diet, it is important to know a bit of history on who the Hmong people are and where they came from.
The Hmong come from mountainous areas of Southeast Asia which are the countries Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar. The spread of communism in areas where the Hmong lived eventually became a problem, so John F. Kennedy eventually stepped in and worked alongside General Vang Pao (a leader of the Hmong at the time) to recruit many of the Hmong to fight alongside the U.S. in order to stop the spread of communism in Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam (the Secret War). As time went on, many of the Hmong fled to the U.S. looking for safety and for a place to start a new life. With that being said, many Hmong traditions that were practiced in their homeland were brought over and are still being used today. One of them in particular is the postpartum diet.
The Hmong Postpartum Diet
“What is the diet?” you may ask. It is called the chicken diet. It sounds pretty plain and simple, but there is actually more to it than the name conveys. In the Hmong culture, after a Hmong woman gives birth, she is to stay on a strict chicken diet for the entire month. The meal consists of boiled chicken still in its broth with a little seasoning of salt and black pepper and the addition of special herbs. This meal is to be eaten warm and with soft rice, and if the woman wants a drink it has to be warm to hot water.
As for the herbs, they are not your typical herbs that can be bought at the grocery store. Instead, they are properly planted and grown to be used for this chicken recipe. They all have their own individual names, but altogether in Hmong they’re called “tshuai rau gaib” meaning herbs for chicken. The reason why many Hmong women have to follow this strict diet is because it was once said that if they don’t stick to this diet their bodies won’t heal properly during the months after giving birth. The warmth of the food and the herbs are supposed to cleanse the body and make the healing process quicker after childbirth. In addition, her menstruation may become heavier and will take a longer time for it to stop if she does not stick to the diet.
Many Hmong families always prepare their chicken meal from home and bring it to the hospital for their family member who has just given birth. They are told to not eat anything from the hospital, only the homemade chicken. Because hospitals see this happening often with Hmong families, some hospitals have started to serve their own version of this chicken meal, which demonstrates how the hospitals serve the different needs certain patients may have!
Now, one may have many questions such as “do you have to give birth in order to eat this dish?”. No, but this is the diet for many Hmong women after childbirth. One can easily make this dish if they wanted to for no reason. Another question one may have is “does this diet work for everybody?”. No, it does not. This is just a tradition many Hmong people have carried on for many generations. Everyone has their own remedies or ways of getting their health back to normal, but this is just a way for some of the Hmong women. Some Hmong women don’t even follow this diet and are still well on their way. This all comes down to what an individual believes is the best way to recover after childbirth. There are many different and interesting ways to recover from childbirth within every culture.
A Hmong Woman. 10 Mar. 2012.
https://ahmongwoman.com/2012/03/10/hmong-postpartum-care/. Accessed 6 Sept. 2018.
Minnesota Historical Society. http://www.mnhs.org/hmong/hmong-timeline. Accessed 5 Sept. 2018.
CWenGaukel. 20 Aug. 2017. cwengaukel.wordpress.com/2017/08/20/hmong-chicken-herb-soup-thsuaj-rau-qaib/. Accessed 5 Sept. 2018.