Confinement Myths, Benefits … and Cuisine

Updated: Sep 8, 2021

Those living in Asia or familiar with Asian cultures and practices would be familiar with the term "confinement".

No, it is not because we have been naughty and done something wrong. Nobody got sent to the Thinking Chair to ponder over our little crimes.

Newly born Victoria bonding with mum, Liz
Newly born Victoria bonding with mum, Liz

Postpartum Confinement

Some refer to it as postpartum confinement, which helps clarify and prevent misunderstanding. It is a traditional practice following childbirth and it involves being secluded (confined) and undergoing special treatment which could last for a period of time from a month to 100 days. It is a kind of postnatal recuperation and there are some interesting myths surrounding it as well as useful benefits that we can get from this.

Confinement can be seen as the early part of maternity leave. The human body has undergone major changes over the nine months of pregnancy and the final delivery requires the body to perform an amazing feat. The body needs rest and care and it is also simply a gentle time for the new parents to enjoy being with their newborns and to learn the ropes of caring for their child. No matter how many books you read about pregnancy and childrearing, even if you have your mother and mother-in-law right next to you, it is still a steep learning curve being first time parents.

Some mothers hire confinement nannies or doulas to support them in the first weeks after birth. They provide informational support about feeding and caring for the baby. They provide physical support by cleaning, cooking meals, and filling in when a new mother needs a break. They provide emotional support by encouraging a mother when she feels overwhelmed. They are definitely a great help.

Confinement Myths

We look at some myths related to confinement and also the benefits that confinement brings (which is why many cultures continue to adhere to this practice of confinement).

1. Do not shower

"Eew! That's so gross!" The mere thought of it is enough to stop women from having babies.

It almost sounds like some horror story generations of women pass on to the next about confinement. We have heard horrified girlfriends squeal about how women are not allowed to take a shower or wash their hair for the entire confinement period because it would adversely affect their health. The belief is that (cold) water causes "wind" to enter the body which could cause headaches and arthritis.

Truth is, and as common sense would tell us, maintaining good personal hygiene is a very sensible and healthy thing to do in any given situation. In fact, it is especially important to keep the perineum area (between the genitals and the anus) clean and dry. This helps the wound to heal and avoid infection. And having good personal hygiene also makes you a much more welcoming person to live with and stand next to.

2. Wrap up and Avoid the AC

If you are a new mother, you may find people around you swaddling you in thick shawls and blankets trying to keep you warm. Again, this is to prevent the elusive "wind" from entering your body. You may be breaking out in a sweat but the Air conditioning (AC) is a definite no no. And don't even think about blasting the fan in your face.

So do new mothers really need to sweat like little dumplings in a bamboo basket at a dim sum restaurant? Good news is, no.

Even after childbirth, the body continues to make changes as it adjusts to not being in a pregnant state anymore. Hormone levels can change and result in fluctuations in body temperature. It is the body's natural process to sweat more to get rid of excess fluid, and night sweats can prevent a tired mother from sleeping well, which is going to affect the quality of her life. Postpartum sweating is common and while it may be annoying, we don't have to worsen it. Help new mothers stay comfortable and relaxed by wearing cool, comfortable clothing and drinking lots of water.

3. No Reading. And Absolutely No Crying.

This is one myth that leaves people gawking. What? I can't touch my Kindle? And when I'm frustrated at how little sleep I get and how flustered I am taking care of the baby I'm not allowed to cry? Seriously?

The reason for this myth is because childbirth was thought to make the liver weak. And the liver is linked to the health of our eyes. That is why in traditional Chinese medicine, mothers are not encouraged to strain their eyes during the confinement period either by reading or crying.

Unless you are straining to read under candlelight or trying to challenge yourself to a microscopic eye test, there is nothing to prevent new mothers from taking a break and escaping with a book. The only eye strain a new mother can get is if the book is so badly written she really shouldn't waste her time reading it.

Crying is a very healthy and cleansing thing to do. Being a new mother brings about very strong emotions and crying is a way to detox and release those pent-up emotions. There is no shame in it, and sometimes a rock solid good cry is what we need to recalibrate and feel grounded again. It helps to have understanding family and friends around to be with the new mother as she goes through such big changes in her life.

4. Do Not Move.

This myth really takes the cake. Another myth wildly exchanged among girls about how new mothers are forced to lie in bed for a month and not move. Shocked gasps of breath and widened eyes usually accompany the telling of this myth.

It is believed that since the body has undergone such a big change, it is now weak and fragile. Walking and moving about would only weaken the muscles.

Mothers who have had a C-section would need to be a bit more careful about their bodies and require more rest, but it does not mean we have to chain them to their beds and make sure they do not get restless and wander off. Speak to your doctor if you have concerns. Generally doctors recommend new mothers to start doing some light movement once they feel comfortable. In fact, some light movement can help decrease the risk of deep vein thrombosis.