There are many beliefs in Asia regarding confinement. Here's the lowdown:
By Dr Janice TUNG,
Associate Consultant and Associate Professor Tan Thiam Chye, Visiting Consultant, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, KK Women's and Children's Hospital
Confinement is a period for your body to recuperate and recover from childbirth. The idea of confinement is very familiar to Asians. Many Asian confinement beliefs and practices originate from culture, with little or no scientific backup. The different cultures' confinement periods last for different durations: 30 days for the Chinese, 44 days for the Malays and 40 days for Indians.
However, the common basis for these beliefs is that they help provide adequate replenishment and recuperation for mothers after delivery. Your elders mean well, but do discuss your preferences with them.
These practices are usually to purge "wind" in the body after delivery, promote the circulation of blood, strengthen joints and promote milk supply.
Fish soup boiled with papaya (thought to be beneficial for milk production), chicken cooked in sesame oil and a traditional tonic brewed from 10 herbs
No raw food or food cooked the previous day
Avoid plain water to reduce the risk of water retention. Instead, consume specially brewed drinks from a mixture of herbs and preserved dates
Eat five or six meals a day and rinse the rice bowl with scalding water
A special diet consisting of "heating" foods is encouraged while "cooling" foods have to be avoided to restore balance within the body
A special drink — jamu — helps the new mum keep her body warm, as it's believed that labour opens the body's pores
Garlic milk is consumed to prevent "wind". "Cooling" foods like cucumber, tomatoes, milk and mutton should be avoided
Chicken and shark meat cooked with herbs are good; other seafood and chilli are not allowed
Plenty of garlic fried without oil is encouraged
No cold food and drinks
These practices protect the new mum from future poor health, restore her strength and protect the family from ritual pollution.
New mums should stay indoors to avoid outdoor pollution and wind
Strenuous physical activities are discouraged to prevent further muscle fatigue
No washing — especially with cold water
Recommended to lie in bed and avoid walking and moving around
No sex, reading or crying
No eating with family members
No burning incense or visiting a temple or altar
Mum and baby should bathe immediately after the delivery in heated water filled with herbs
A female masseuse is engaged to help the new mum get rid of "wind" in her body and to help her regain her figure. The practice of tightly binding the tummy (called
berbengkong) is believed to help maintain shape
No leaving home during the confinement period
Bathing is only allowed between 11am and 2pm when the temperature is at its highest
Daily body massages with oil are encouraged
Hair can only be washed on odd days (day three, five, seven, etc) during the first two weeks. Hair to be dried with incense smoke
Tummy is bound with a piece of cloth measuring six feet (1.82 metres) long
Note from your doctor: Confinement practices are deeply rooted in our Asian culture; some practices such as no bathing or washing may be old-fashioned, and cause wound or episiotomy infection.
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Read these next
The New Art and Science of Pregnancy and Childbirth 2008, World Scientific
Healthy Start for your Pregnancy 2012, Health Promotion Board Singapore
This article was last reviewed on
Tuesday, July 6, 2021
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