We are all familiar with the concept of confinement - it is a dedicated period of time for you to rest and recuperate after childbirth. Many confinement practices in Asia - and Singapore - are centred on culture and belief. While some practices may seem a little much, the central reason for these practices is that they help to provide adequate rest and nourishment for the mother after delivery.
For Chinese mothers, the confinement period lasts 30 days, after an old Chinese saying that goes: “Eat well, sleep well, nothing is better than sitting the month well.”
Eating well is important for mothers after childbirth as it provides nutrients for the body to recuperate and take care of their newborn. Some popular traditional dishes you can take during confinement include fish soup boiled with papaya, chicken cooked in sesame oil and a traditional tonic brewed from 10 herbs. Ginger can also be eaten as part of meals or included in cooking as it is believed ginger can purge ‘wind’ from a mother’s body.
It is best to also avoid raw food or food cooked the previous day. Plain water should also be avoided to reduce the risk of water retention and drinks made with herbs and preserved dates are recommended instead.
Other practices include staying at home as much as possible to reduce “outdoor pollution” and refraining from strenuous activities to minimize muscle weakening.
Some daily practices a Chinese mother may follow include:
- No washing of the body or hair, especially avoiding contact with cold water.
- Avoid wind, fans and air conditioning.
- Avoid walking or moving about too much; the ideal is lying on the back in bed
A traditional Malay confinement period is 44 days. Many Malay mothers view confinement period as a test of their patience, as well as valuable time to spend with their new bundle of joy.
Similar to Chinese practices, you should eat foods made of “warm” ingredients and “cooling” foods are to be avoided. A special drink made of herbs called jamu can be taken to keep your body warm as it is believed that pores in a new mum’s body are opened during birth.
Practices such as urut (massaging) by a professional female masseuse is recommended to purge out ‘wind’ in your body. A special wrap called the bengkung can also be done as it is believed to help retain your body shape after birth.
Other practices a Malay mother may follow include:
- Drinking a tonic made from medicinal plants called air akar kayu
- Daily massages called tuku that uses a heated ball-like metal object wrapped in a cloth and noni leaf and rubbed over the abdomen area
- Avoiding squatting for too long or stubbing your toe as it is believed it may affect the mother’s uterus
The practices in Indian confinement or postnatal care are based on ancient Ayurverdic methods. For Indian mothers, the confinement period lasts for 40 days.
During the confinement period, “warm” foods are also encouraged to purge ‘wind’ out of your body. Many Indian mothers may take garlic milk and avoid “cooling” foods such as cucumber, tomatoes, milk and mutton in their diet. Fruits, juices and gassy drinks are also to be avoided.
Chicken and shark meat cooked with lots of herbs are encouraged, but other seafood and chili are strictly avoided.
Common practices for Indian mothers include staying at home as it is believed it is to protect the family from “ritual pollution”. Bathing is discouraged but must be done with a special mix of herbs and turmeric between 11am and 2pm when the room temperature is at its highest.
Other practices an Indian mother may follow include:
- Daily body massages with oils to aid muscle relaxation and tone the abdominal area
- Washing their hair only on odd days during the first two weeks of confinement and drying with incense smoke
- Binding a six feet long cloth around the tummy to prevent a “hollow cavity” from being left in the womb from childbirth and to help purge out unwanted substances from the body.
- Avoid entering prayer altar rooms
We see similarities in practices even across different races and cultures. While they have been practiced for many years and we are encouraged by our elders to follow them strictly, some practices such as not washing may not be practical in modern times and could cause infections. It is best to follow your instinct and decide for yourself what the best practices are for you and your newborn. You can also take this time away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to bond and spend precious fleeting newborn days with your family!
Note of caution: Asian confinement practices are heavily based on culture and belief. Some practices like no washing may cause wound or episiotomy infections.
Health Promotion Board Singapore (2012) Healthy Start for your Pregnancy. Retrieved from: https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/1477/healthy-start-for-your-pregnancy
Health Hub Singapore (2016) Do's and Don’ts of Asian Confinement. Retrieved from https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/1651/dos-and-donts-of-asian-confinement
Naser, E., Mackey, S., Arthur, D., Klainin-Yobas, P., Chen, H., & Creedy, D. K. (2012). An exploratory study of traditional birthing practices of Chinese, Malay and Indian women in Singapore. Midwifery, 28 (6), p.p e865–e871. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2011.10.003
Thiam, C, Tan K., Tan H. (2008) The New Art and Science of Pregnancy and Childbirth: What You Want to Know From Your Obstetrician. Hackensack (Etats-Unis). doi: https://doi.org/10.1142/6674