Various cultures honor the postpartum period in various ways. Sarah Lu-Otero, a licensed acupuncturist and board-certified herbalist, put her own spin on zuò yuè zi, the Chinese “confinement” period and tradition that stretches back over two millenniums, where you’re meant to safeguard your and your baby’s health for 30 days, as your body is in a fragile state after birth. Except that Sarah didn’t want to confine herself at home as the tradition states, but rather she chose a different kind of confinement (or liberation, depending on how you look at it). She took herself off social media for seven weeks in order to ground herself in healing and to keep her energy focused on her baby.
Seeing as May marks Mental Health Awareness Month, and seeing how scrolling social media can be a triggering activity for many (especially in those early days and weeks following birth), we’re bringing you Sarah’s story to possibly inspire you to make some confinements of your own.
What inspired you to take a digital detox when you had your baby?
My digital detox stemmed from a place culturally, in Chinese medicine. In the Chinese culture, we have something where in the first 30 days or even the first 40 days after birth, you’re supposed to be in a period of “confinement.” I could not follow this at all, because I had no family nearby and we didn’t have the resources to bring anyone in, nor did we really want to. So it was just me and my husband. However, I wanted to retain kind of the essence or the intention of this. What it means is that this is a really, really fragile time after you give birth, where you’re diverting all the resources in your body to healing yourself and also taking care of your baby. In Chinese medicine, we look at that period of time, right after you give birth as actually an opportunity. You’re not necessarily going to be worse after you give birth, it’s actually an opportunity for you to rebuild your health. It’s kind of a golden moment in the woman’s life.
So what did that look like for you?
I wanted to remain how an athlete trains for a marathon, where they just devote all their energy and resources towards that one thing. That’s the intention I wanted to go in with. So even though I didn’t have a nanny, or I didn’t have a mom or mother-in-law, or anyone there to help, we were going to try to do as many things as possible to keep this space very pure and sacred, and social media was one of them.
Let me also preface this with the fact that I love social media. I’m on it all the time. I find joy in creating things and watching things that you can learn in 15 seconds. It’s really democratized people’s voices. But it’s also a space of very rapid fire information access. So you know that feeling when you’ve been on social media too long, like sometimes for hours by accident? And you come out like a little bit dazed, and you literally have lost your center? For me personally, I’m usually in bed on my side, comfortable, but probably not in a spinal neutral position. I also get a peripheral neuropathy in my right arm from keeping my arm bent too long, like holding a phone or an iPad. So my body is very strained.
What about the content itself?
Well, when you consume something, that takes energy from your body to do it. And you can’t really control what you’re consuming. Sometimes, really emotional videos come on. Then you start crying. Those are just things that you don’t need to be like doing at that time when you have other reasons to be kind of stressed out. Also, when you’re looking at something so close to your face, like 10-15 inches away, when you come out from your phone, sometimes you have to refocus or look out the window, just because it’s been way too way too much of taxation on the eyes. So your eyes are straining, you also feel a little brain fog, sluggishness. Also by looking at the light, your pineal gland is not producing melatonin, which throws off your circadian rhythm, which is already thrown off with night feedings. You want to minimize that as much as possible.
So in a way this detox sounds both physical and emotional.
So, yeah, there are a lot of biological reasons reasons why I did it as well. I was kind of thinking, what were my boundaries? I basically deleted Instagram off my phone and deleted TikTok. I didn’t want those rapidly changing pictures, lights and sounds to be near my baby, because she just came from the womb. She also came early, so she was still meant to still be there anyway. I wanted to respect that.
Do you have any tips for mom who might want to do the same thing?
Yes. First, make a post announcing your hiatus. That way, if you feel like people are going to be like, where did you go? Or you’re just worried that people are wondering why you didn’t respond, you just make a post and announce it. But you don’t have to give a reason why. I didn’t even say I was taking time off to have a baby. I was just like, this is seasonal, the holidays are a really busy time. And that’s kind of where I left it at.
And then the second is again, along that same vein, be very unapologetic about it. Don’t apologize for being away. Because even apologizing to someone, even if you’re just being polite, you’re believing that you owe either your friends or strangers your creativity. And you really don’t owe anything to anyone at that time. Because you need to heal yourself and you need to take care of your baby. And then the third is to give select people your contact information. Like I had some internet friends that I only talk to on Instagram. So I found those people before I left and I was like, give me your phone number. If we can keep in touch well through text, that would be great.
Lastly, delete all the apps off your phone and computer. And then the fifth is just to return when you feel refreshed. So for me, I took seven weeks off. So it was about 42 days. I mean, I think there’s a big argument to be made for the fact that social media is very damaging to people’s mental health in this time and age. And or you could even like do a mini hiatus every season, which is something I’m thinking about as well.
Is there even a reason to stay on social?
I have one friend who said she learned how to be a mother on Instagram, because she gave birth during Covid-19. So I want to respect the fact that it’s the only community that people have sometimes. So I would never tell someone what they have to do. It’s really, if you’re already leading in that direction and feeling like social media is getting me down. But I just never thought about taking that detox or using this time for that. This is the thing I think could like push someone to take that next step. But I wouldn’t want to convince someone to do it if they don’t have a problem with it. But it was just so nice to be like to be clear headed and only focus on my baby. Also I made a folder and labeled it the 40 days postpartum. I just put all of my pictures into that folder. So you can share them later if you want. Just remember, enjoy that time with your baby because you’ll never get that back.
Sarah Lu-Otero L.Ac, Dipl.OM, MSW, is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Board-Certified Herbalist.
Sarah practices traditional East Asian medicine through a modern lens. Her focus areas include pain and injury rehabilitation, pregnancy and postpartum health, as well as sleep and stress management. She incorporates movement assessment and prescribes corrective rehabilitative strategies. Sarah also creates bespoke herbal formulas.
Sarah earned her Master’s of Science in Traditional Oriental Medicine from Pacific College of Health and Science, where she completed an externship at Columbia University Medical Center. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in TCM. She also holds a Master’s in Social Work from Columbia University.
Sarah practices in New York City, Roslyn, and the Hamptons. She is a new mom to a baby girl. You can follow her on Instagram at @yunmedicine.