Traditional Confinement Practices – Passé or Relevant?

Category: Birth & Beyond
Traditional Confinement Practices – Passé or Relevant?

In this day and age, are women still adhering to the mandatory one-month confinement? How and why is it carried out? 


Traditional confinement practices can be rather sticky issues for new mums. Like literally. Practices such as not bathing, staying indoors and keeping warm by wearing long sleeves and socks, are quite a turn-off to many women today, especially considering Singapore’s hot and humid weather.  
It’s thus not surprising that many choose to modify these age-old practices to suit their needs and lifestyle.
But how do we know what can be modified, and what can’t?  
To be honest, the views and opinions out there are diverse. Everyone cites their own experiences, and every woman’s body and make-up are different.  
Valerie De Costa, founder of Nouri Face & Body Concepts, has been providing pre and post-natal massage services for the past 16 years. According to Valerie, when a new mum delivers, her pores are open and she is susceptible to catching a chill. “This is why she needs to practice confinement,” she says, adding that a strict 30-day regime will help new mums regain their health, improve constitution and enhance beauty. For Valerie, all of the confinement practices listed below are mandatory and important.    
Fonnie Lo, senior manager / lactation consultant at Thomson ParentCraft Services, names her top three practices as drinking red date tea, taking tonic soups, and having postnatal massages. She says, “Red date drink is to replace iron loss during delivery. New mothers will be exhausted after delivery and it can get worse if she is anaemic. Tonic soups are good for recovery and recuperation, while postnatal massage relaxes. A combination of the three activities helps new mothers to promote sleeping and relaxation, thereby improving breast milk flow.”
Yvonne Phua, chief trainer at PEM Confinement Agency shares that her top three confinement priorities are getting sufficient rest, eating nutritious food, and taking tonics. But she also adds that all these practices are important and are must-dos for new mums.  Drinking Tonic Soups In traditional Chinese medicine, “heaty” and “cool” are commonly used to describe the body and types of foods that we consume.  
Because a new mum’s body is believed to be cool, “heaty” foods such as recipes cooked with rice wine, sesame oil, Benedictine DOM and other herbs are recommended as part of the maternal postpartum diet.
But just how important is it to consume tonic soups during confinement and what are its benefits? Susan Lim, a TCM advisor at Mummamia Confinement says, “Some studies have shown that Chinese herbs help to regulate the endocrine system. It helps the Hydro-thalamus (part of the brain) to control the autonomic nervous system and the Pituitary gland (master gland) to regulate other hormones glands. Proper regulated glands can stimulate proper messages to the brain to produce adequate amounts of breast milk for newborns. The Pituitary gland is also able to stimulate hormones in the body, allowing the uterus to contract, shrinking it back to its pre-pregnancy state faster. The contraction of the uterus also triggers the mother to produce milk.”
The benefits of eating nutritious foods to build up the body are obvious, and most mums will readily accept these foods. But just a word of caution here as there is such a thing as overdoing it. Particularly if you’ve had a caesarean section, experts in confinement food recommend putting off those “heaty” tonics until the second week in order to prevent wound infections.  Eating Foods that Promote Lactation Given the benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and child, many mothers deem breastfeeding as one of their top priorities. Barbara Lim, 30, a communications executive, recalls her confinement experience a year ago. “At that time everything was about how to increase milk supply. To help boost supply, I took Fenugreek tablets and drank papaya fish soup.”
Milk-boosting foods such as fennel tea and oats are also easily found at health food stores or supermarkets, thus making this practice practical, desirable and easy to follow. Susan Lim adds that pig’s trotter like vinegar pig’s trotter and pig’s Trotter with peanut as well as stir-fried ginger fish with spring onion and fish soup can also boost your milk supply.  Resting and Avoiding Heavy Household Chores Resting comes naturally to most especially after the laborious task of delivering the baby. A woman’s body is understood to be at its weakest point after childbirth, and generally, her own husband, mother or other relatives would try to chip in and help out with the baby and household chores so she can rest.  Drinking Red Date Tea This is a sweet-tasting tea brewed with red dates and dried longan. New mothers are encouraged to drink this in place of water during the confinement period, as it helps to nourish the blood and strengthen the body.  Says Susan Lim, “There are many benefits found in consuming red date tea during postnatal. Firstly, red dates replenish blood and generate a calming effect. With combination of black dates and ginger, it nourishes our digestive system, loosens bowel movement and reduces constipation problems which are commonly found during postnatal. Hence, red dates are always a must-have herb in traditional Chinese postnatal recovery.”
Mums are happy to observe this practice even though it causes them to perspire easily after drinking. That said, most of them also feel that drinking warm plain water is not taboo, especially if you are suffering from constipation, or just want to boost milk supply. Keeping the body hydrated with sufficient liquid intake is more important than what you’re actually drinking.
As Yvonne Chee, 30, a homemaker and mother of two, says, “The purpose of drinking more fluids is to hydrate oneself as well as providing more breast milk for your child. I noticed that the more water I took, regardless if it’s plain water or soup, the more breast milk I would generate for my child.”
According to De Costa, this brew must be taken hot or at least warm, in order to obtain the optimal benefits of the tea.  Keeping Warm For most mums living in Singapore, this is not the most comfortable confinement practice, especially when all the foods you are consuming are helping you to break a sweat as well. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants or leggings can be rather uncomfortable on a hot day.  
Needless to say, most of the mums Motherhood spoke to ranked this at the bottom of their list. Tradition may tell us to sweat it out, but comfort and hygiene (not to mention one’s sanity) are far more important.  Post-natal Massages This was surprisingly high on many mums’ list! Looks like everyone loves a good massage as it helps to invigorate and soothe aching muscles. But there’s more. As Phua explains, post-natal massages help to improve blood circulation and expel wind.  
It also helps you to slim down and regain your figure. Eeleen Lin, 30, a homemaker, says, “The massages helped to restore my body and figure. I felt physically better after every session and lost weight too. The steam treatment also helped to ease my engorgement.”  Avoiding Cold Food and Drink Most mums ranked this at the bottom of the list. One mum shares, “There is no scientific reason why one should avoid cold food and drink during confinement. However, if you are sick (having cough or flu) during confinement, it may be best to avoid them for a while to aid recovery.”  
However, Valerie cautions that consuming cold food and drink can lead to wind in the body, exacerbating water retention and causing joint problems such as rheumatism.   Avoiding Baths   This practice is believed to have its origins in a cold country where it was too cold to bathe, or even wash their hands. In Singapore, clean hot water is readily accessible and so are modern-day conveniences like hairdryers, so it is not necessary for mothers to avoid baths altogether. According to Lo, mothers should shower regularly to avoid the risk of infection.
Ng Wei Yee, 28, a HR executive, says, “It’s not feasible to not bathe in Singapore. You may get rashes and it’s so uncomfortable. So bathing in warm water and drying off immediately is something that I would do.”
Many mums also practice using bath water that has been boiled with herbs like “da feng cao” or ginger and lemongrass as these have wind-expelling properties. However, Valerie cautions that this bath water needs to be boiled in its entirety and not mixed with water from the tap, so as to avoid contamination.  Staying Indoors Yvonne Phua explains that the rationale for staying indoors is to avoid over-tiredness and promote rest.  
However, if staying indoors is driving you insane, and you feel well enough to head outdoors in warm weather, most mums agree that you should do so. As Lo says, “At Thomson ParentCraft Centre, we encourage mums to resume daily activities/exercises to improve blood circulation and for a better and quicker recovery. They are even encouraged to visit the outdoors for a bit of the sun, and fresh air.”
There are many practical reasons to head out, such as for grocery shopping or medical appointments. You just need to dress appropriately so that you do not catch a cold and fall ill.
Thanks for sharing!