The Wonders of Yuu Fai – Traditional Medicine of Thailand

Many visitors to Thailand get to benefit from Thai traditional medicine during their trip. Thai massage is the treatment that gets the most attention worldwide; I’m not talking here about the special ‘soapy massage’. There are other parts of Thai medicine that are not so well known and one of these treatments is yuu fai (อยู่ไฟ).

The first time I heard out about yuu fai was three years ago when my son was born. We were living in my wife’s village at the time. Even though my wife had described in some detail what was about to happen the actual process took me by surprise. My mind was overloaded with the excitement of my first child; I failed to appreciate that this traditional medicine treatment was going to turn our house upside down.

Yuu Fai can be translated as meaning to ‘stay by the fire’. It is a traditional treatment that the mother undergoes following pregnancy in Thailand and Laos; it is most practised in rural locations like the Northeast of Thailand. The process of yuu fai is believed to help the mother’s womb and birth canal to fully recover following childbirth. It has been practised in Thailand for centuries.

We had stayed in the local hospital for two days following the birth of our son. It was with great excitement that we returned to our home. My in-laws had arrived there before us and had already started getting things ready for the yuu fai. My mother-in-law was to take charge of the whole treatment and was to be staying with us for the next few days; this was one part of the process that my wife had conveniently not told me about – it came as a shock. Don’t get me wrong, I get on great with my mother-in-law but I also value my own space. I had spent more time with my in-laws during the previous three days than I had in the previous three years; even though we lived in the same village.

My father-in-law and brother-in-law had arrived with the metal base of a bed which they placed in our front room. My mother-in-law was soon busy building a fire underneath the bed. This seemed completely crazy to me; why would anyone want to build a fire when the heat was splitting the stones outside. I suddenly felt extremely sorry for my wife when I realised that she would be expected to stay on this bed for the next few days and the only break she would get would be to go to the toilet and feed our soon. It seemed like a torture device. They were going to roast my wife alive.

My mother-in-law had collected bags of herbs and tree bark which she began turning into different concoctions. My wife would not only be expected to drink these but also wash herself in the different potions. This yuu fai treatment was planned to last one week.

We were two days into the yuu fai when my wife decided that she could not stand another second of it. This came as a great relief to me because not only was I worried about my wife, but also my mother-in-law was driving me batty- she was convinced that our house was full of ghosts and spent most of the day trying to keep them away from my son. I appreciated the efforts, but the constant chants had me on edge. My wife’s family were disappointed that my wife had given up on yuu fai without completing the full course but could see that my wife wasn’t going to be swayed. Peace was restored in our home.

I am not sure about the benefits of yuu fai, but I once mentioned it to an English midwife and she was very enthusiastic about it. It seems to offer some benefit for the healing process following pregnancy. A Thai village woman once confided to me that the main advantage of yuu fai is that it discourages the husband from wanting sex for the first couple of weeks following childbirth; this seemed a bit extreme to me. I was surprised that some men would want sex straight away after childbirth, but also that women would find the fire bed a good alternative – couldn’t they just say they have a headache?

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15 thoughts on “The Wonders of Yuu Fai – Traditional Medicine of Thailand

  1. Hi Paul,

    A very interesting story. There’s a lot of stuff going on unknown to us. The Thai part of my family keeps surprising me on a regular base. For instance, in a village a few kilometers away from our house is a Thai Doctor that used to be the main doctor for islanders in the Northern part of Samui. His clinic is still around and after 11 years of being together with my wife, a few months ago I was taken there for the first time with my father in law since he felt ill.

    The father in law himself is a bit of medicine man and can cure certain children diseases, plenty of times i arrived of parents in law house when sessions where in progress for curing young children with a certain skin disease.

    Just fascinating. Interesting to see that your wife had enough of it after a few days 😉
    Camille recently posted..Camilles Samui Info blog- Samui Island Marathon- Nathon delicious

    1. Hi Camille, I got to experience a lot of traditional Thai medicine when I lived in rural Thailand. If I got ill there would be a queue of people wanting to rub things into me or with things for me to eat.

  2. Paul fascinating stuff. Like you and Camille I have had a brush or two with the local “witch doctor.”

    Almost three years down the line I am less sceptical, but not totally convinced of the benefits. I do however believe there is a place for herbal cures in modern day medicine.

    As for the Yuu Fai, I reckon your wife was right 🙂
    Mike recently posted..Thailand Floating Markets

  3. Hi Mike, I’m quite open minded about traditional Thai medicine as well. After all, so much of western medicine has come from things that were once considered traditional. A lot of the Thai medicines are alcohol based so I can’t use them anymore 🙂

  4. Paul, I haven’t been exposed to many traditional ways in Thailand but the few traditional remedies I have used or my friends have used worked extremely well without having to rely on modern medicine so, I am much more susceptible these days to trying or experiencing any traditional Thai ways.
    Talen recently posted..A Measure of Life in Thailand

    1. Hi Talen, I do agree that it is best to have an open mind. These things have been used for centuries so there must be some benefit. Western medicine likes to dismiss such treatments as just benefiting from the placebo effect – like this was somehow bad. Most western treatments also rely heavily on the placebo effect and there are some drugs that we have no real idea why they work (including anesthesia).

  5. Interesting tale Paul, my wife didn’t go for this – nor did her family force her – but a neighbour recommend a course of steam treatments to help recover which she did do.

    She had a C-section, so had to wait a while, but did daily half an hour steam sessions although it was nothing like the borderline-torturous picture you pain. Was more like a mini-sauna and it did her the power of good in recovering.

  6. Thank you for this excellent explanation, Paul. I’d heard about the treatment, but not in so much detail. I had Malaysian women friends who talked about what happened when they gave birth. Lots of herbs and massages and such, but my memory fails me for the rest.

    Starting tomorrow, I’m embarking on a 7 days detox. Wish me luck 🙂
    Catherine recently posted..Successful Thai Language Learner- Joe Cummings

    1. Hi Cat, I hope your detox doesn’t involve a fire bed. I wish that I had the discipline to do a detox; maybe in the future. I do think they are a great idea. I would love to do the fruit juice only diet for a week or two, but I doubt I’d get past the morning. I’ve just got too much going on at the moment.

  7. Hi, Paul,

    I’ve finished my report on the cross-cultural project. Thank you again for your support : )

    And now I’m back to read your blogs again for now I’m free from all the assignments yay!

    About the “Yuu Fai” benefits, actually it’s more than that. I’ve read your article 2 days ago, I asked my mom and research a little bit for it .. mom said to me that the Yuu Fai helps the mother to get back to normal way she was before the pregnancy and it’s good for health too if you do it entirely.

    Because of the 9 months of pregnancy, the mother was heavier, ate a lot more than she used to, the rest of the food she ate for baby would be kept in the form of fat. Her skin was also affected from the quick enlargement. During the pregnancy, mother had to carry a heavy weight. She might have a back-ache, leg-ache and the muscles are so tired and tense. The Yuu Fai will help the mother to let out the dirt and sweat out from the skin, help the blood to run better and makes the womb get back to the position it should be, yet keep it dry.

    In the ancient time, to deliver a baby is not easy and the medication is still undeveloped. So ancient people came up with the way to disinfect the mother, I guess. End of the story. And I hope this would gives you some useful information, goodnight : )

    1. Thanks Supalux. I hope you get top marks for your assignment. Thank you for the additional information about Yuu Fai. It would be interesting if there were some scientific investigations into the benefits of this traditional practice .

  8. It is my understanding that the way the body is treated after childbirth affects how women go through menopause. Can you ask your wife what menopause it like for women where she is from?

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