Yu Fai, which literally means ‘lie near fire’, is a traditional practice for Thai women after child birth. The practice is rooted in superstition but it also a real therapeutic medical benefit for a new mother. The practice is still common in Thailand today although, as you will see below, it has been modernised for convenience.
Traditionally in Thailand after child birth women would stay by a heat source all day long for a period of 11 days or longer (so long as it was an odd number of days). The most common method was for a lady to lie on a bamboo bed with a fire underneath. Herbs would be added to the fire. The superstitious part of the practice was the belief that the fire would ward off evil spirits an the herbs would help in the process. In Thai folklore, spirits called Krasue are believed to haunt women during pregnancy and immediately after childbirth. Miscarriages, still-births, cot deaths and other conditions suffered by newborns were all thought to stem from the malevolent intervention of the Krasue.
Modern Day Practices
In modern day Thailand Yu Fai is still practiced widely by new mothers but it is done differently and for different reasons. The bamboo bed and open fire has been replaced by the steam bath. This one, purchased for around $100, is a metal frame with a seat and a zip up nylon cover. The steam is provided by a rice cooker with a special lid. Herbs are added to the water. Women in Thailand tend to use the steam twice a day for 30 to 60 minutes at a time, and the process goes on for a month or so after giving birth.
Thai women have continued this tradition long after belief in malevolent spirits has weakened, because it has positive benefits in helping women return to a pre-pregnancy state more quickly. The theory is that the heat helps shrinks the uterus and Thai women believe that the healing process is reduced from 3 months to 1 month by Yu Fai.