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Confinement Myths, Benefits … and Cuisine

Updated: Jun 23

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.

In fact, some forms of exercises such as Pilates can help mothers build up strength again after childbirth, and encourage the body to recover with a series of exercises that are gentle but also toning. My Body My Pilates offers pre and post natal Pilates classes that are low impact and safe for mothers. The exercises help to stretch the muscles, tone the body, improve posture and help in stimulating blood circulation.

We may have a bit of a giggle at these myths, but it pays to think about why those myths emerged in the first place. It is actually a common thought that pregnancy and delivery can be stressful and painful experiences. Occasionally we may hear of one lucky mother who had a beautiful pregnancy free of discomfort and who had a smooth delivery. We naturally assume that is the exception not the norm.

What if the entire birthing process can actually be a gentle and kind one, which can be fully enjoyed by the parents-to-be, and where both are fully engaged in the process from start to beyond. Perhaps what we need is to learn to trust our bodies again, that the human body is infinitely more powerful and wiser than we give it credit for.

Calmbirth® helps mothers to understand their bodies and learn to trust how their bodies feel. What the program makes available to mothers is the confidence and trust to birth well because they are made to feel safe, undisturbed and respected. The Calmbirth® program takes care of mothers' emotional and mental wellbeing through pregnancy and after birth by educating and improving the birthing outcomes for mothers and their families.

When there is clear information, trusted knowledge and supportive experience, women can understand and know what their bodies need. Myths then become something interesting to read about, but they know what is the necessary thing to do for their own wellbeing.

Now that we have debunked the myths of confinement, does it mean that mothers do not take care of their bodies after birthing and are free to do whatever they want?

Confinement Benefits

There are benefits to confinement and they are really simple but necessary things to do for the mother's wellbeing and recovery.

1. Time for Bonding

Physical tiredness aside, new mothers often express how they want to be with their newborn all the time. This is a little bundle of miracle and it is hard to tear one's eyes away from what many mothers think is the most beautiful thing in the world.

Confinement allows mothers to have quiet, quality time to bond with their newborns without having to worry about 101 other things. Usually during confinement, the mother is the protagonist so to speak, and other household chores and cooking are left in the hands of a trusted family member or professional. The mother is therefore free to fully focus on being present with her newborn.

Mother Bonding with Baby, Brilliant-Online
Confinement allows mothers to have quiet, quality time to bond with their newborns

Babies need the bonding and regulating with their parents. Most of us probably do not recall what it must have felt like to be a 2-day-old infant. Still, we can imagine what the infant could feel to have experienced such a huge change in their environment. They spent months in a protected, tight, cosy, watery environment where their movements were limited and sounds were muffled. And suddenly, they are learning to breathe with their lungs, they are shocked by how cool air feels as they suck it into their bodies, they feel how awkward gravity is and how their bodies are attracted to the ground, and suddenly they have all this immense space around them to orient themselves, not to mention the sudden invasion of strange sounds, colours, shapes, textures, smells. Being born is an intense experience for the infant. Bonding with the mother helps to assure the infant and keeps it feeling safe, supported and connected.

2. Beauty Sleep

This is not a joke. People who have experienced sleep deprivation for whatever reason, work, studies etc., understand how badly it can affect their entire system, moods and ability to function and simply be a decent human being. A lack of sleep or poor quality sleep can turn the gentlest Pomeranian into a raging bull. It's not so different for humans.

Confinement is the time when mothers are able to get some quality sleep. Some may have experienced sleep difficulties during their pregnancy and now is the time where they can get periods of sleep in between being with the newborn. Sound quality sleep can help improve breast milk production and aid in the recovery of blood loss during the birth process. With someone around to help with miscellaneous things around the house, the mother does not need to wake up early or go to bed late trying to be superwoman multitasking and taking care of everyone else.

3. Treating the Body Right

The body has gone through an intense experience and regardless of how tough we think we are, it always pays to treat the body right. This is not the time to start training for the intensive marathon nor start on renovations for the house. Postnatal care is vital for the physical and emotional health of both mother and child, and this can have a knock-on effect on the rest of the family members as well.

Confinement is a time to help your body recover and ease into a new state after delivery. Some go for gentle massages to help with stimulating blood circulation and promoting relaxation. This is a time when mothers leave housework and cooking in the hands of other family members or a professional. It can be a challenge for mothers who are used to running the ship. It is a well-deserved break mothers can allow themselves and let others take over the reins.

4. Nourishing the Body

Eating well is vital during the confinement period. We have all heard of the fashion of slow food and confinement is definitely a time to eat well, enjoy and go slow. Mothers need a balanced diet to regain her strength and help her body build itself up again. Pregnancy may have caused mothers to be averse to certain foods and crave others. Confinement is a good time to bring back that balance in their meals.

Confinement Cuisine

Some may start screwing up their noses at the thought of 'confinement food' or a 'confinement diet'. It is not what people think it to be. It's not about eating so healthy that all new mothers get is a solitary leaf in a salad bowl.

Confinement food is nutritious and can also be delicious! Here we have two drool-worthy recipes to share. Dads … hands off. This is for mummies only!

More variations of this confinement chicken recipe

Try out the Chicken Mushrooms with DOM Benedictine. In both recipes you'll notice ginger is an important ingredient - ginger is important for lactating mothers and it has tons of health benefits to boot. If ginger is your snack of choice, My Blue Tea has unstoppable Dayak Ginger Crisps that is both healthy and tasty. Ginger helps fight cancer, treat heartburn, boost immunity, cure nausea, sore throat etc. These yummy crisps can be eaten as a snack, or add them as a way to dress up a dish.

Confinement is no longer a dreary, sordid concept from the past. It is a gentle, restful time for mothers to be fully present with their own bodies, with their newborns and for families to fully enjoy and welcome this new phase in their lives.

A happy, healthy infant starts with a positive confinement experience.


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