malay confinement practices

Congratulations on bringing your beautiful baby into the world! It’s now time to take a well-deserved break.

Confinement is a period for your body to recuperate and recover from childbirth. In the past when infant and maternal mortality rates were high, confinement kept baby and mummy indoors, protecting them from ill health.

Here are some common Malay confinement practices.

Confinement period: 44 days

Related: Baby's Here: What to Expect Now

Diet Practices

Aim: To purge "wind" from the body after delivery, promote "blood circulation", strengthen the joints, and promote milk supply. New mums are encouraged to avoid "cooling" foods.

During confinement, some new mums follow a special diet: "heating" foods are encouraged and "cooling" foods avoided to restore the balance upset by the birth.

Some might also take a special drink called jamu — the belief is body's pores open during labour and jamu has properties to keep the body warm. Another dietary practice: drinking air akar kayu, which are tonic drinks made from medicinal plants.

Related: Top 4 Myths About the Confinement Period

Daily Practices

Aim: Protect the new mother from future ill health, restore her strength, and to protect the family from "ritual pollution".

Traditionally, childbirth takes place in the mother's home and is attended by a bidan (Malay midwife), after which the umbilical stump is dusted with a mixture of spices. Fortunately, this practice has been replaced by hospital births, reducing complications and infection rates.

Other practices:

  • Mother and child bathe in heated water filled with herbs immediately after childbirth.
  • Mum will "keep warm" through various traditional methods, including sitting near to or lying above a heated source, or warming the abdomen by applying a heated stone over it.
  • A female masseuse helps the mother regain her figure or keep her tummy trim by tightly binding the tummy, a practice called berbengkong.
  • Sex is strictly prohibited.

By now you’ve heard many "old wives’ tales" about confinement, and you may or may not agree with them all. In fact, some of them don’t have any scientific basis at all!

Next, let’s check out — and bust — some common confinement myths. Read Common Confinement Myths to learn more.

Read about confinement practices from other cultures:


Acknowledgment

Source: Dr TAN Thiam Chye, Dr TAN Kim Teng, Dr TAN Heng Hao, Dr TEE Chee Seng John, The New Art and Science of Pregnancy and Childbirth, World Scientific 2008.