Confinement is a normal practice for Malaysian-Chinese mothers after a baby is born. It is a way to keep the mother and the baby in a ‘quarantine” period of 28 – 40 days to ensure they are safe and recover well. It might sound a bit ‘restrictive” but it has become a culture that almost everyone after childbirth, will follow. In this article, you will find what are the common confinement challenges for Malaysian-Chinese mothers and how to overcome them.
According to journal, The ‘Irrational’ Taboos and ‘Irrelevant’ Traditions Related to Postpartum Women’s Health and Well-Being, almost 90% of women in Malaysia are still practicing traditional postpartum confinement which involves Malays, Indians, and Chinese.
It is a traditional practice for Malaysian – Chinese women to undergo postpartum confinement after childbirth. Both the mother and the baby will undergo postnatal care for a period of time (28-40 days or longer). During this period, the mother will have more time to rest and recover from childbirth, and at the same time learn the skills of breastfeeding. The baby will be taken care by an experienced midwife/nurse from a certified confinement center or by an experienced confinement lady if they are at home.
New mothers will not be allowed to do physical housework and cooking by themselves. They will focus solely on taking care of the newborn and eat certain types of foods to heal their body after childbirth and gain back their energy. There are more restrictions and rules that the mothers are not allowed to do during this period and I will be sharing them one by one. It may sound like traditional taboos, and some people still believe in them and follow this tradition until now.
Let’s see the confinement challenges for Malaysian-Chinese mothers and what are the logic behind them.
5 Confinement Challenges for Malaysian Chinese Mothers
1. No hair wash & no shower
This rule is set previously by our ancestors because they think that our body needs to avoid cool air or touching on cold water to prevent chills in our body. After childbirth, the body is weak due to loss of blood, loss of nutrients and need to retain as much heat as possible to avoid health problems like headache, body pain, rheumatism and arthritis later in life. Therefore, mothers are advised not to touch on cold water, take a bath or even wash their hair during this period.
Besides the cold elements, personal and genital hygiene is important. It is to prevent infection and keep your genitals clean. This also can prevent mastitis and breast infection if you are breastfeeding. This is what you can do:
- Prevent to get chilled, you shall have a short warm shower to clean your body as well as your genital parts.
- Dry your body immediately to prevent your wet body exposes to the cool air.
- Wash your hair with dry shampoo.
Some mothers will choose not to wash their hair or shower too early after childbirth, at least they will wait until their postpartum period is completed which is around 2 weeks after childbirth. They believe getting their hair wash and shower may interrupt their postpartum period. They will just wipe clean their body part with a clean towel in lukewarm water with specific herbal therapy from TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine).
2. Do not drink plain water
Yes, you hear me right. Malaysian-Chinese mothers are advised not to drink plain water because it will cause water retention in the body. They will be given longan and red dates tea instead of plain water. They believe longan and red dates tea can increase milk supply and keep your body warm. Again this is related to the cold elements.
The doctor, in fact, will advise mothers to drink more warm water as it will cause us no harm by drinking water. Water is essential to keep our body function well and it is extremely needed especially if you are breastfeeding. If you sweat a lot due to hormonal changes, you need to get hydrated to replenish the loss of water in your body. Therefore, this is what you can do:
- Drink warm water instead of cold icy water
- No alcohol or caffeinated drink
- Drink herbal soup as well as warm tea made of longan, red dates and wolfberries to increase breast milk supply and replenish the loss of nutrient in your body
Talking about alcohol, mothers are given herbal wine or confinement dish that contains rice wine during their confinement period in order to promote blood circulation. Yes, in fact, this is true according to TCM that alcohol promotes blood circulation and keeps your body warm. Be aware if you are breastfeeding, as alcohol may transfer to your newborn through breastmilk. Moderate to the high alcohol content in breast milk will harm your newborn growth and sleep pattern. The high content of alcohol also will affect the mother’s judgement and ability to take care of the infant safely.
According to CDC, it is not advisable to drink alcohol more than one drink per day. It is no known affect on the infant if you take one drink per day and wait at least two hours before you nurse your baby.
3. Do not expose to cool air directly
You will notice the eldest will always advise us not to expose to cold air or wind directly on us during confinement. This taboo may be originated from the people from the past and believe you will get cold or chill if you expose to cold air. Again, this is about the belief that it will cause health problems later in life.
It really sounds uncomfortable as our weather in Malaysia is humid and hot, staying in a room without a proper ventilation system is really a nightmare. Due to the heat and sweat, it will also lead to heat rash or other skin infections. Therefore, an optimal ventilation system to make sure the mother and the baby are comfortable is important.
Electric fans and air conditioning systems actually help to cool down your body temperature. The key here is moderation. This is what you can do:
- Let the fan on low speed and swing around, keep one or two windows opened to have better fresh air circulation
- Turn on the air conditioning system, let the room temperature fall in between 25-27oC.
4. Confinement diet – no cooling foods
For Malaysian-Chinese mothers, we are very particular about the foods we take during this period. No cooling foods such as pineapple, cucumber, cabbage, water spinach, crabs, oyster, banana, coconut, etc. It is believed from the perspective of TCM, cooling foods will have the risk of harming our spleen and stomach which later will affect recovery. In our confinement diet, we concentrate on foods that can:
- Warm and promote blood circulation
- Replenish the loss of blood and nutrients during childbirth
- Increase breast milk supply
- Fast wound healing
We eat a lot of foods made of ginger, sesame oil, rice wine (but alcohol will be expelled during cooking), herbs such as “Kacama leaves” (also known as Chinese motherwort), green vegetables such as broccoli, Chinese kale (Gai lan) and drink a variety of soup recipes made of green papaya, wolfberries, pork knuckles, chicken, pork liver and kidney, etc. In the Chinese confinement dish, only little to no salt is added to the food (low sodium) to avoid water retention in our bodies.
5. No crying and reading
This is about the belief related to TCM that one’s body is weak after childbirth due to loss of blood, it will affect the liver which is linked to the eyes. Reading and crying may cause stress to the eyes which may affect the recovery. As the matter of fact, forbidding the mothers to read or cry has no scientific evidence to show it will cause eye problems later in life. Some said, avoid crying may associate with emotional management to avoid postpartum depression.
These 5 confinement challenges for Malaysia-Chinese mothers are the most common ones. One chooses to believe and follow the traditional practice to avoid any argument and accept these challenges. One chooses not to believe as they only believe in a scientific approach. Well, it is all about individual choice. No harm following the traditional practice but the keys here are moderation.
Share with us your experience after childbirth. Do you follow all the above 5 confinement challenges? Let us know in the comment box below.