'Doing the month' good for post-natal blues, experts believe

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2005, 12:00am

The Chinese tradition of having someone to accompany new mothers in the first month after delivery would prevent post-birth depression, according to local and overseas experts.

But they warned that the companions would have to be carefully selected in order to ensure they would not put pressure on mothers who are prone to developing mood swings.

If hospitals provided aftercare services, it would particularly help expatriate mothers without other family in Hong Kong, according to Jane Fisher of the University of Melbourne.

In Hong Kong, about 12 per cent of women suffer from post-partum depression, which is comparable to 10 to 15 per cent in Australia.

Dr Fisher, a clinical psychologist on a two-week visit to Hong Kong, said a major source of stress for new mothers in the west was a lack of direct family support. This was mainly due to a different culture and geographic barriers where family members usually lived too far apart to provide assistance.

According to the Chinese tradition known as 'doing the month', a family member, usually the mother-in-law, accompanies and takes care of the new mother in the first month or so after delivery.

In her study of 81 new mothers in Melbourne in 2000, Dr Fisher found the group were in a better emotional state after being provided with a five-day aftercare service by a team of medical professionals, including paediatricians, psychologists and nurses.

Hong Kong experts were not sure the 'doing the month' tradition was the full answer to post-natal stress.

'We believe the Chinese tradition has some protective effect,' said psychiatry professor Dominic Lee Tak-shing of the Chinese University. 'But it is not a panacea because we also find that the tradition is useful only if the mother perceives the helpers as supportive and friendly.

'The new mothers would feel even more emotionally disturbed if they felt there was an enemy or dictator at home; for example, if they were forced to follow the restrictive traditional rules.'

When doing the month, women have to follow rules such as having to stay indoors, eat chicken and avoid cold food. They are also forbidden from touching cold water or doing exercises.