The old Chinese saying about postnatal care, “Eat well, sleep well, nothing is better than sitting the month well,” implies how important it is for Chinese mothers to rest and recuperate for a month after giving birth.
Chinese confinement practices can be very rigorous, limiting the diet and movement of mums. Should each and every one of the rules be followed? What are the Chinese confinement practices that Singapore mums should follow?
Is it wise to follow all Chinese confinement practices in Singapore, or should you pick and choose?
Some Chinese mums find it difficult to adhere to the countless do’s and don’ts imposed by their well-meaning parents or in-laws.
We spoke to mums to find out how they coped with their confinement, and here is what they shared with us.
Rule #1: Don’t wash your hair
There are mums such as Tracie, who believe strongly in following the traditional confinement practices in Singapore. This mum of one says, “I’m a strong believer of TCM. I did not wash my hair for two weeks as advised, and I’ve never gotten migraines ever since!”
Mum of two, Stacy found the rule tough, but powered through and followed it. She shares, “The no washing of hair for 30 days was unbearable but I managed it by applying baby powder instead.”
She did break one rule and it did not serve her well in the long run. “I took a shower two days after delivering as it was encouraged in the hospital in New Zealand where I gave birth. But soon after I realised it gave me backaches,” she shares.
Singaporean mum, Cheryl, with her daughters, Mikaela and Shayna.
Rule #2: Eat lots of ginger
A strict and regimented diet is part of confinement practices all around the world. It is no different for Chinese confinement practices in Singapore. Tracie shares, “I ate confinement food full of ginger and other wind-eliminating ingredients, so my immunity is pretty good; I rarely fall sick.”
But not all rules of diet work. “One thing that didn’t work for me though was consuming papaya and fish soup to increase breast milk flow. That had no effect on me and sadly, I didn’t produce any milk,” shared Tracie.
Another mum, Cheryl followed the diet rules very diligently. The mum of two says, “I didn’t touch any tap water. My helper boiled water to fill up a pail- enough for me to use daily. I used a herbal bath and boiled water for washing hands, brushing teeth etc. I didn’t drink water for a month, only had red dates tea.”
“All of my confinement food consisted of ginger and lots of it!” says Suzanna, a mum of three.
Rule #3: Avoid fans and air-conditioning
According to Cheryl, one rule that she could not follow was to sleep without air-conditioning. “My mum wasn’t too keen, but allowed me to sleep in an air-conditioned room, although she didn’t allow me to sit in the direct draft of wind, so no fans.”
Rule #4: Restrict movement
New mums, according to Chinese confinement practices, must rest and have limited movement. “I broke the rule of no climbing stairs with my second child who was born early. It was not a good idea and proved to be bad for my joints,” shares Stacy.
Following all the rules can be hard says Suzanna. She adds, “I’ve tried both Chinese and Malay traditional postnatal practices, and I feel that the Malay method has fewer ‘pantangs’ (superstitions).”
Experts say a lot of modern mums prefer not to follow many of the confinement practices.
Traditional Chinese postnatal confinement practices originate from China, where the climate is quite different from the sunny and tropical weather in Singapore.
So do the rules about keeping warm, avoiding wind, and abstaining from taking showers or washing hair apply here, in sunny Singapore?
We spoke to Winnie Chong, Director of STAR Confinement Nanny Agency, who agrees that because Singapore is a hot and humid country, some traditions do not work well here and most mothers choose to only follow the more simple confinement rules such as consuming confinement food and bathing with special herbs.
She recommends new mums to only bathe with the traditional Da Feng Ai herbs—which are said to help improve blood circulation and remove body wind. Ali recommends that although using air-conditioning to keep cool is acceptable, it should not be blown directly towards the mum; she personally feels that using an electric fan is a big no-no.
Winnie has witnessed mothers suffering from poor health because they did not receive much help post-delivery or get proper care from confinement nannies. As a result, these mums constantly experienced headaches and backaches.
Mdm Gladys Yip, who is a confinement nanny and owner of Gladys Care 1987, provides professional Chinese confinement. Yip offers her services to mums of all backgrounds in Singapore, even those not of Chinese heritage.
She explains that some mums here have a more “westernised’’ way of thinking and do not want to follow the confinement practices closely. She also agrees that not all the customs are relevant in Singapore’s setting and environment.
In fact, she actually recommends her clients to maintain their hygiene and cleanliness by showering regularly with warm water, especially if they are breastfeeding and coming into close contact with their baby. She shares that during her lactation consults, some mothers who did not have proper hygienic upkeep found that their baby would actually refuse to latch on when nursing!
Tradition vs practicality
Chinese culture recommends a one-month period of postnatal confinement for new mothers.
Although it is great to have all the help you can get as a new mother, it is best to follow your instincts. It will help you feel comfortable during your recuperation period.
Delicious hot meals loaded with ginger may not be on your usual menu. If someone is lovingly preparing it for you on a daily basis, then by all means let them send the confinement dishes your way!
If you’re feeling sticky and uncomfortable after a long day in the sweltering heat, there is no harm in having a nice shower to cleanse yourself and feel re-energised to focus on your baby.
When your mother fusses over you and insists that you leave the housework for someone else to handle, it won’t hurt to listen.
In fact, many mums in China who can afford it are now turning to modern postnatal confinement services that are steadily becoming available, so mothers in Singapore should not feel guilty about not being able to follow the traditional customs.
If in doubt, always discuss things through with your healthcare provider and listen to your gut feel. You know what’s right for your body and you should do whatever feels right for you during this resting period.
Did you follow the traditional Chinese postnatal confinement practices? Or were you not keen on the various rules?
Confinement practices from around the world