What with the discussion in the British media in recent days of how long mothers should be breastfeeding, I thought a Chinese angle on the subject would be interesting.
In the wake of the discovery in 2008 that manufacturers had been adding toxic adulterants to infant formula, there was an understandable move back toward natural breastfeeding in China. One website, iyaya.com 丫丫网 (it means something along the lines of “cute little girl with pigtails” and is a rough equivalent of our Mumsnet), posted recipes for soups that would help nursing mothers to produce more milk. A mixture of homespun traditional advice and Chinese medicine, they’re perhaps not what Western mothers would swallow. Pig’s trotters feature heavily, often boiled until soft with tiny amounts of (to us) obscure Chinese vegetation such as the rice-paper plant, cowherb seed or parasitic loranthus (no, I don't know either). Women are meant to eat the entire trotter, flesh and sinew alike, then drink the soup, once a day for several days. Other popular ingredients include beancurd, mung beans, papaya, black sesame, and fish such as the ubiquitous carp.
So far so stereotypical, but the subsequent posts on iyaya.com are unexpected: “I’ve had lots of this carp and pig’s trotter soup,” wrote one mother, “and they haven’t made a blind bit of difference.”
“I’ve been drinking this soup without any effect too...”
“Me too. What a downer.”
The other posts are all of a kind. Turns out that the Chinese, or at least the internet-savvy mums who post on iyaya.com, are far more critical of traditional Chinese cures than many in the Western media, who lap up this kind of homely oriental wisdom.
And another thing came as a surprise when I started to look into it: nursing mothers in China have a raft of statutory rights when it comes to breastfeeding. For example, the 1988 “Regulations Concerning the Labour Protection of Female Staff and Workers” prevent employers from cutting nursing mothers’ basic wages or cancelling their contracts. For legal purposes, a child’s mother is said to be breastfeeding until it’s a full year old. Mothers of children under a year old have a legal right to two feeding sessions of 30 minutes each during every shift. For twins, they’re allowed an hour each time, for triplets an hour and a half.
As ever, China never ceases to surprise me!