If you’re a millennial or Gen Z parent, chances are pretty good that you’re sceptical of traditional Asian confinement rules that seem completely outdated in 2022. After all, mothers from many cultures don’t follow the same practices, and they seem to do perfectly well. If you’re not familiar, confinement refers to the month-long period after childbirth in which mothers are expected to stay indoors to recover and care for their babies. It is known as 坐月子 in Mandarin which literally translates to “sitting the month”.
With emotional and physical changes, hormonal shifts, and the challenges of looking after a newborn, new mothers have enough to deal with. It takes time to adjust to the physical and psychological changes that occur after giving birth. When it comes to the confinement period, well-meaning relatives and colleagues often add on to their stress by sharing (unsolicited) advice, including long lists of do’s and don’ts.
Is confinement necessary?
Could these ancient rules still be relevant today? Here’s the good news: there are actually several rules that you can break, either because they’re not based in fact or because they’re no longer relevant. Read on to find out what they are!
Confinement rules you can break
#1: No air conditioning and fans
You’ve probably heard that you should wrap up in long sleeves and pants, close all doors and windows, and avoid fans and air conditioning after giving birth. Does this mean that you should be “steaming” yourself into a feverish, sweaty mess? Goodness, no.
It’s important that you and your baby are kept cool and comfortable during the important “fourth trimester”. In Singapore’s hot and humid weather, it doesn’t make sense to perspire in long sleeves and pants with the fan and air conditioning turned off. Excessive humidity and sweating can lead to wound infections and skin issues such as heat rashes for both mother and baby.
Air conditioning is generally safe for postpartum women, as long as you and your baby avoid direct contact with the cold air. A room temperature of around 26 degrees Celsius is ideal for most people.
#2: No showering and washing your hair
This is probably a relic of the olden days when hot, clean water was not readily available to the common people. In ancient China, bathing with water drawn from wells or rivers meant that women were exposed to all kinds of bacteria and pathogens, which caused them to fall sick. This led them to associate baths with ill health.
Thanks to modern plumbing, mothers no longer face this issue. Because newborn babies are more vulnerable to germs, mothers should take greater care with their personal hygiene. Take short showers of around 5 to 10 minutes daily and avoid soaking in the bathtub, especially with wet hair. Dry your hair and body thoroughly and put on clean clothes immediately after your shower.
If you have a major tear in your perineum or a c-section wound, you may opt for body sponging or wiping down your body with a damp towel instead.
#3: No drinking plain water
There is a belief that women should drink red date longan tea in place of water during the confinement period. Red date longan tea is beneficial in warming the body, improving blood circulation, and replenishing blood supply.
In general, breastfeeding mothers should drink more fluids, plain warm water included. Drinks like red date longan tea that have added calories and sugar shouldn’t be used exclusively in place of water, especially if you have diabetes.
How much tea you can drink also depends on your personal body constitution. For instance, people with yang body types tend to resent hot weather, are often thirsty, and are more prone to symptoms like fever, constipation, and sore throat. Consuming too much red date longan tea along with the ginger and warming herbs in typical confinement meals would cause their body to heat up too much (上火). If you’re not sure what category you fall under, consult a TCM physician for an accurate diagnosis.
#4: No walking and moving about
It’s true that women need plenty of rest after the ordeal of giving birth, especially if you’ve gone through a caesarean section or experienced a long and difficult delivery. However, lying in bed all day will only prolong your recovery process.
Don’t be afraid to move about the house – it’s a good idea to get out of bed as soon as you feel up to it. Simply walking can encourage blood circulation and reduce the risk of developing blood clots and deep vein thrombosis. It also helps with the shrinkage of the uterus, expulsion of lochia (postpartum vaginal discharge), and toning of pelvic floor muscles.
#5: No reading and crying
This is by far the strangest myth in the list. It may have originated from the belief that the blood loss involved in labour also weakens the eyes, because eye health and blood both are linked to the liver in TCM. Another traditional belief is that women should not get overly emotional and cry during the confinement period.
If you enjoy reading and it helps you relax, go ahead and do so. It’s less tiring for your eyes than staring at a screen, whether it’s your phone, tablet, or the television. To avoid straining your eyes too much, just ensure that there is adequate lighting and that the print isn’t too small.
Likewise with crying – it’s perfectly normal and acceptable to cry, especially because your estrogen and progesterone levels plummet rapidly after giving birth. Forcing yourself to suppress your feelings and holding in the tears may lead to more severe consequences like postpartum depression. Let yourself cry a little if you need to! It releases feel-good chemicals in your body and help you feel calmer. If your mood is constantly low, don’t be afraid to seek help.
Confinement rules you should follow
#1: Eat nourishing foods
After giving birth, mothers are in a weakened physical state and depleted of qi and blood. A good diet is important to restore your body to optimal condition. What you eat is particularly important if you are breastfeeding because whatever you eat is transferred to the milk that your baby drinks.
In general, opt for warm and well-cooked balanced meals with fresh ingredients that are rich in iron, vitamins, protein, and calcium. Include “warm” foods like ginger and sesame oil. Popular choices in Singapore are sesame oil chicken and vinegar pig trotters. Fish soup cooked with papaya is a good option for breastfeeding mothers. You can also drink small amounts of tonic wines that boost your blood circulation and strengthen your constitution.
On the same note, avoid “cooling” foods like cucumber, watermelon, green bean, coconut, bitter gourd, and pineapple.
#2: Don’t lift heavy things
You’ll be relieved to hear this one – get a family member to help if you need to move anything heavier than your baby. You shouldn’t do anything too strenuous in the first four to six weeks after giving birth. Women’s bodies are incredibly strong and resilient, but it still takes time for any tears and wound to heal.
Gentle activities like walking and stretching are perfectly fine, but you should also avoid high intensity exercises for now. Because your pelvic floor muscles are weaker after pregnancy and birth, lifting heavy objects is dangerous and may even result in uterine prolapse.
#3: Don’t rush to lose the extra weight
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to shed the extra weight and water retention, but the month after childbirth is not the time to stress about it and rush the process. Your body needs nutritious food to heal and recover.
Giving birth is a miraculous feat that should be celebrated. In our fast-paced society, many mothers feel the pressure to “bounce back” immediately after having their baby and feel they’re doing something wrong if they can’t fit into their pre-pregnancy clothes right away.
Images in the media aren’t helping too, with celebrity mothers like Emily Ratajkowski appearing perfectly trim and toned mere weeks after delivery. What we don’t see are the trainers, personal chefs, and plastic surgeons that have helped them achieve these unrealistic results.
It’s important to keep in mind that the baby weight you’ve gained during pregnancy is not simply excess fat. You start losing weight once you give birth as the amniotic fluids and placenta leave your body. Over the next six weeks, your blood volume returns to normal, and your womb gradually shrinks.
Continuing your recovery process after confinement
While the traditional Chinese confinement period is 30 days, it doesn’t mean that you’re completely recuperated on day 31. Postnatal recovery varies for every woman, and it can take weeks for swelling and soreness to go down.
Give postpartum Tuina massages a try
When you think of postpartum or postnatal massages, traditional Malay massages may come to mind. These are usually started within a week of delivery and are focused on expelling “wind” from the body and helping new mothers regain their figure. The massages end with a bengkung, or belly wrap, which is knotted tightly to flatten the tummy.
Postpartum Tuina massage is done a little later – for mums who prefer to stay in during the entirety of their confinement, you can book your appointment a month after giving birth.
In our Qi’Nergy Postpartum Tuina sessions, specific techniques are used to improve the flow of Qi within the body and eliminate blockages. These blockages would otherwise manifest as pain and illness in the body. Aside from helping to shrink the uterus, Tuina helps to improve mood, restore bladder function, strengthen constitution, increase immunity, and accelerate womb recovery.
As opposed to belly binding, which only provides superficial support to shrink the uterus, High Energy Focused Electromagnetic Wave (HI-EMT) is used to stimulate deep muscle contractions and promote muscle growth. It is particularly effective in treating postpartum issues such as Diastasis Recti (separation of the ab muscles during pregnancy) and urinary incontinence.
Click here to learn more about TCM Postpartum Tuina.