3.096 Postpartum Recovery Meal

-Cycle 3, Item 96-
10 (Tue) April 2012

Postpartum Recovery Meal


at Hosan Women's Hospital

-Sinsa, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

In Korea, women who've just given birth are expected to eat miyeok guk (미역국) as part of their postpartum recovery plan, or they'll die (see 1.257 Tofu with Crab).

At the hospital where the wife is staying for a week following the c-sec birth of our second child last Friday. "post partum recovery center" where my wife received treatment for 2 weeks after giving birth to DJ.  These centers, often but not always affiliated with and adjacent to an obstetrical hospital, are like hotels with a 24-hour nursing staff. In the better (i.e., expensive) joints, mom is housed in a private room equipped with a personal bathroom and shower, wide-screen TV and home theater setup, computer with internet access, and sofas for guests. Meals and snacks are brought to the room. During the day, classes are conducted on cooking, arts & crafts, yoga and stretching, auto repair--and, hopefully, some stuff about childcare. As for the baby, the baby is kept in a separate room with the other babies, delivered to the mom's room for brief intervals at various times for feeding; breast milk may be pumped in advance and stored and/or supplemented with formula for feeding at night, you know, so mom can sleep.

Seaweed soup is served 5 times a day: breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, late evening snack. Same regimen for another 2 weeks at home after her release, and another 6 months on a less regular basis. The theory, or "fact" as they would have it, is that the iron in the seaweed rebuilds the damage to the mother's body caused by the delivery process.

We signed up for the optional deluxe meal plan, which isn't covered by health insurance and requires us to pay out of pocket [at the moment, I don't have specific figures, but I believe it's somewhere in excess of 50,000 won per day]. Supposedly, the difference is in the quality of the side dishes, as well as the quantity of beef in the soup.

Part of the fun is popping the lids to see what awaits inside.

the omnipresent/omnipotent miyeok guk

steamed rice, just as essential

yeon-geun jeon (연근전) (lotus root pancake)

cabbage-seaweed-tofu rolls in sweet chili sauce

pan-fried tofu with bacon and cherry tomatoes in soy dressing

Because Koreans insist on kimchi with every meal, and heavy spices are believed to taint breast milk and harm the newborn, baek (백) (white) kimchi is served as a compromise.

spinach namul (나물)

All giddy in getting ready for the hospital, I realized that the excitement was not just about the baby but also about the opportunity that the situation presented to have an extended slumber party. The rooms in the patient ward had been renovated with hardwood floors, making them more like bedrooms. As I was packing the gear, pretty much the same stuff that I take on camping trips--folding tables and chairs and sleeping bags and burners and pots and pans and cooking implements--I kept saying to the wife, "I told you that this crap would come in handy someday." I also packed a ton of food that I was planning to cook in the room. The only thing that I didn't pack was charcoal.

leftover chicken jjajang (짜장) from yesterday

Maybe it was the stink that I was causing come dinner time, but the head nurse turned to me in the elevator yesterday afternoon and offered to provide extra rice/soup for me and the kid at every meal upon request. We took her up on the offer this evening. Of course, because the side dishes weren't enough for the three of us, I still ended up cooking few things.

breakfast (note: miyeok guk)

lunch (note: miyeok guk)

afternoon snack (note: miyeok guk)


  1. Give me your take on why Korean women in Korea believe checking into one of these places is essential after childbirth or their bodies will simply fall apart. Is it because they believe Korean women are built a certain way that requires this?? I mean, ths is a relatively recent phenomenon (like in the last 15 yrs or so or less right?) and how did women survive before??

  2. I have the same question as Lisa. As someone who has never lived in Korea (in fact, I've only been twice - once when I was three and again when I was eleven, we're talking circa the '88 olympics), and someone who was discharged from the hospital 4 days after my own c-section and truly did it all on my own at home with a newborn baby immediately thereafter, I cannot comprehend the need for such a prolonged stay. And OMG, HOW CAN YOU COOK IN A FREAKIN' HOSPITAL?!? It's supposed to be a sterile environment!!! PS - don't tell my mom but I dumped about 90% of the miyeok guk she brought me after I had Megan.

  3. last photo in the post. the afternoon snack. is that 닭백숙?

  4. yes, baeksuk.

    the notion that i couldn't cook in the hospital room didn't occur to me until later. even then, it was more about the possible fire hazard rather than sanitary issues. it's just that the hospital room seems so damn cozy/homey.

    korean women all believe that "postpartum recovery" of some sort is necessary or their bodies won't mend properly, resulting in long term chronic pain/illness. the center is one part of the plan, though not all women go, whether for time or money reasons, but i'd bet that 100% would, and for as long as possible, if they could. the soup is also part of it.

    compared to 15 yrs ago, they would say that women now are far healthier precisely because of the postpartum regimen.

    and yes they believe that korean women are built differently, whether because of genes or environment. just this afternoon, SY's aunt came to visit and freaked out because the windows were open (the room is stiflingly hot otherwise); she said, "Do you think you're an American?!?!" korean women aren't supposed to be exposed to open air for the first couple months postpartum. if u try to explain that american women eat whatever, certainly not miyeok guk, they'll say that miyeok guk is perfectly calibrated to suit the korean physiology.

    even though i don't believe in the pseudoscience of it, i'm all for the recovery center in terms of convenience. if i can put off having to deal with 3AM feedings for a couple weeks, then why not?

  5. so i might agree with the pseudoscience of it too if biologically korean women like me, june, and dc all were falling apart because of the lack of postpartum recovery care, but i doubt that we are/will. anyway the convenience is nice i guess, though i'd much prefer to be in my own home.

  6. like i said, it's supposedly a combo of genes and environment. they would argue that that u and june and deborah have all lived in the states, which has altered your physiology, thus making miyeok guk and other measures unnecessary for you.

    look--it's all rationalization/superstition. if they wanna spend their time and money on it, and it makes my life a bit easier, then I'm not about to get in the way.

  7. Lisa - I prefer my own home too!!! My cousin hired a post-partum caregiver who came to her house every day for a month. She made the soup and other Korean food, took care of the baby and did other housework. In fact, she was so great, I recommended her to my friend, Min. I suppose it's nice if you have the money and it fits into your lifestyle. But I don't like having people in my house, and we don't eat Korean food at home, so it makes no sense for me.

  8. about this so-called "they" - it just proves to me that Koreans can be so crazy.

    So you're saying "they" would have the gall to infer that Lisa, June and I are not REAL Koreans but instead alien life forms, morphing halfway (or even all the way) into physiologically un-Korean women because we live among those defective North Americans, exposed to virulent and unstable magic air, water droplets and microorganisms that diminish Korean-ness. I call total bullshit. What, do I need excess amounts of Seoul-induced pollution to maintain my Korean-ness? psh

    And I can see how the PPR center would be great for you, not having to cook and lose sleep (with your wife being able to recover either way BECAUSE SHE'S EATING MIYEOK GUK which I STILL think really helps no matter what you think)

  9. oh btw, because of this post i was inspired to make a big pot of miyeokguk and ate it all weekend.

  10. Lisa, that is so funny because I did the same thing! Phil is so sick of miyeok guk but I really enjoyed it b/c it was a little chilly this weekend.

  11. becca loves it too so it worked out great for me. it also freezes well for those days when she's finicky about food.

  12. Lisa - I totally freeze miyeok guk for Megan too!!!

  13. glad to see that my writing has inspired so much solidarity among korean-american women.

    i showed this thread of comments to my wife, and she would like to add that you're all just bitter/jealous. if you could all experience the PPRC for yourselves, then you'd be singing a different tune, she said.

    didn't think that miyeok guk would freeze well. seems like the seaweed would get all mushy.

  14. i may have to report back on this after i confer with a korean american friend who just happens to be in one such pprc right now. her mom and her inlaws are in korea so she went there to deliver. if she says it's all that and then some i may rethink my skepticism.

  15. I don't think I expressed any bitterness/jealousy, all my best to your wife for enjoying her stay. I was just pointing out how ridiculous it is for you to try and say our genes and environment are not "Korean enough" to warrant staying at a PPR center.

  16. i'm going to write a bit more about the PPRC in a near future post....

    and DC, I never meant to imply that it has anything to do with being "Korean enough" to "warrant" staying at a PPRC. koreans believe that local korean women are frail and weak and susceptible, which makes them "need" extra care, such as that provided at a PPRC. if i were to use korean women in the states as an example that korean women can and do recover fine without a PPRC, then the same koreans would say that korean-american women have the advantage of having grown up in a different environment, making them stronger and therefore capable of recovering without a PPRC. it's a compliment, if anything.