Pregnant in China Part I – Things my mother-in-law told me not to do

Pregnant in China Part I – Things my mother-in-law told me not to do

Pregnancy is a special time in a woman’s life. With the decision to have a child, usually everything changes. Being pregnant comes with its own challenges, but pregnancy in an unfamiliar environment can be a challenging experience, especially if you are far away from your own mother and family.

Of course despite the new and changed surrounding condition, for the sake of your baby, you should try to embrace the new culture and different medical practices. However, no matter how open minded, there are just some things I was told to do or not to do during my pregnancy here in rural China that I simply couldn’t and wouldn’t follow.

In China the rules for pregnancy are extremely strict. Most Chinese women have to follow a special set of rules which are enforced by their mother-in-laws. My mother-in-law tried the same as soon as we told her I was pregnant. Here are only a few of the things I can remember I was told by her during my nine months of pregnancy (of course every part of China has a little bit of variation to these rules, the following are only the ones I have been told here in rural Anhui).

The Personal


  • Mothers-to-be should rest a lot, lie down a lot, and better not move around too much during their pregnancy
  • Should not carry heavy things or do any physical work
  • Should always move slowly when they do anything
  • Should focus on the quality of their thoughts (don’t watch or read stories with violence, hatred, horror or sadness)
  • Should never cry during pregnancy
  • Should not go outside to avoid people bumping into their stomachs
  • Should cut their hair, as long hair takes away nutrients from the baby
  • Should not wear make up, paint their nails or dye their hair (actually they should not express their own beauty at all)
  • Should wear loose clothing and flat shoes
  • Should wear radiation-proof dresses to prevent radiation from computer screens, cell phones and other electronics
  • Sexual intercourse during pregnancy is strictly forbidden
  • Pets like cats or dogs are forbidden

The Food


  • Do not drink cold water or eat ice-cream
  • Don’t eat fruits as they are also too cold (or boil them before eating… ever ate boiled apples, bananas or grapes?)
  • Eat at least ten eggs a day to give baby the right amount of nutrients
  • Don’t eat chocolate or else baby will have dark skin (there are foods mother-to-be should eat so the baby will have white skin later)
  • In general pregnant women should eat tons of food during pregnancy which has resulted in many women being extremely over weight and having a huge baby making labor difficult

In the House


  • Don’t do needle work or use scissors around the bed as this could make your baby ugly
  • Do not raise your hands over your head (so no hanging up your washing) as this could negatively influence your baby
  • No hammering beside a pregnant woman as this could leave an ugly scar on baby’s face
  • No moving the bed while pregnant because this might result in the loss of the baby
  • Don’t use the AC or a fan in your home

There have been so many more comments from total stranger about what to do or not to do during pregnancy, but these are the ones I can recall my mother-in-law telling me constantly. Obviously I haven’t really been following those rules.

I have been wearing make up, painted my nails and would never cut my hair. This might make me look very negligent to my Chinese family in law, but personally I still trust in science and so far science has not proven that hammering beside a pregnant woman will leave the baby with a scar…

I have learned to ignore most of the comments, just nod and smile and tell them that in Germany we do things different. For some very persistent people I have even used the argument “We foreigners have different bodies”, even though I really hate that comment, but it works all the time.

At the end of the day most people, and especially my mother-in-law, only mean well. And all in all the experience of being pregnant in China wasn’t too bad. You will always get extra special care and people, even old people, jumping up in the bus to give you a seat. In fact I did not have such a nice experience during my visit in Germany when I was seven months pregnant.

It’s really interesting to see how differently pregnancy is treated and viewed here, and in the end it’s your choice to follow all the rules, just some, or ignore them all together.


What do you think about these rules? Have you ever had similar experiences?

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Anna Z. is a freelance illustrator and portrait artist in her late 20s, with a passion for Martial Arts and Chinese culture, and is the creator of Lost Panda, a blog to China and Art. Together with her husband, a Chinese national, she writes about daily life in rural China, focusing on cultural and social differences and the joys (and sometimes difficulties) as an intercultural couple. Apart from China related topics, she publishes her artwork, photography, art material reviews and tutorials to help more people discover their creative side. She is fluent in German, English and Mandarin Chinese.

3 thoughts on “Pregnant in China Part I – Things my mother-in-law told me not to do

  1. Thanks for sharing these very interesting rules!

    I find it quite crazy how some of these are at best merely superstition (like not moving the bed), based on a lack of education (like cutting the hair… although hair cells are basically ‘dead’ already) and at worst can actually do serious harm (like not using the AC/fan in hot weather or not moving around which will just have the woman’s muscles deteriorate).
    In that sense I think you’re lucky to be a ‘Westerner’ who also knows a different perspective and therefore could make a proper decision on what rules to follow and which to ignore :) In the end, you gave birth to a healthy baby and are still doing well yourself and that’s the most important! <3

    By the way: My mum was also astonished by a set of crazy/stupid rules people tried to force upon her in Germany. I'm afraid the superstition with pregnant women still reigns strong in the heads of people worldwide! D:

  2. Congratulations on the birth of your baby! I am so happy for your family.

    I really enjoyed your posting. I have heard many people express the same list that you gave. I am not pregnant but my Chinese mother-in-law really hopes I become pregnant sometime in the near future. She gave me a list of what to eat to increase my chances of becoming pregnant.

    During menstruation, my mother-in-law has very interesting rules for me to follow to protect my body. I couldn’t get my head/hair wet, not in the rain or even in the shower. She lectured my husband on the importance of him making sure my hair stays dry in the rain. She also told me not to drink cold water or eat cold things (similar to what your mother-in-law told you). My mother-in-law even made a special “tea” for me to regain my energy (it was just red sugar in hot water). The list goes on.

    I think there are many places in the world that still believe in things that once people thought were true. I am sure at one time or another there was a pregnant woman next to hammering and her baby had a scar on his or her face. Many of these speculations state some kind of truth to how it started. That doesn’t mean there is a correlation between the two but many believe there are connections.

    I like hearing your response to the random strangers that come up to you. Many people do believe foreigners are different than the Chinese. Growing up in a more diverse environment I knew people were people no matter where they are from or their looks. There wasn’t anything different or strange about another people group. We were all the same…human. To some Chinese, there is a differance mainly because of sight I think. If you see someone visually different than you are, many conclude there are more difference as well. Even though you are playing with the same mindset as people thinking non-Chinese persons are different than the Chinese, it still satisfies their thought patterns and their thoughts to. It is something they can understand. You don’t need to change their viewpoints but just acknowledge their thoughts.

    I chose to acknowledge some of my mother-in-law’s rules but I also decided to not follow some. I got my hair wet. Haha, I’m such a rebel at heart.

    Again, con graduations and best of luck.
    Jen recently posted…Chinese Memories: Hello and DramaMy Profile

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