Breaking confinement rules

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A new mother speaks her mind about confinement rules...and how it made her feel good to break them.


Should you follow traditional confinement rules, or is it okay to break them?

The logic behind these centuries-old confinement rules ranged from acceptable to outright bewildering. It just made no sense to me why I should not wash my hair for one whole month after the birth of my child.

Fortunately for me, my husband and I attended antenatal classes at Thomson Medical Centre and were corrected on most of these historical practices by my class instructor – the reputable Mrs Wong Boh Boi.

Although it has been almost two years since I sat in that class, I still can recall her incredulous expression when she shared with us that “it is nonsense that you cannot shower or wash your hair after birth”.

Mrs Wong emphasised that it was basic personal hygiene that we should pay more attention to – especially if mothers were to breastfeed – and also to prevent infection of any stitches we would have had due to delivery.

Down the Rabbit Hole: Breaking Confinement Rules

confinement nanny

After I had delivered my boy via emergency C-section, I took Mrs Wong’s professional advice to heart and ignored all the superstitious warnings of rheumatism and migraines.

I showered regularly in warm water and washed my hair.

But to play safe, my husband would close all the windows and doors to ensure I didn’t catch any “wind”. He also insisted I dry up and get dressed quickly in something warm instead of inspecting my new figure naked.

In my situation, it helped because we did not hire a confinement nanny or lived with any of our parents, so there were no elders around to constantly question my rebellious behaviour.

My father, however, did nag me each time he visited us and brought Chinese rice wine for me to wipe my body with in replacement of showering. Of course, I took no heed and continued to shower. It made no sense to me to rub alcohol on my body when my newborn would be suckling off an alcohol-covered breast every few hours. Also, I could not imagine rubbing alcohol anywhere near my fresh cesarean wound! That bottle of wine still sits in my kitchen today, with the original seal intact.

I ate burgers and fries.

As for the various special dietary needs of a new mum, I only managed to stick to two weeks’ of confinement food – provided by a confinement caterer – before I gave up and cancelled my order for the rest of the month.

I also have to admit that aside from the burgers and fries I ordered from the nearby 24-hours fast food chain, I ate pig’s organ soup, ice cream, roti prata, breakfast cereal with ice cold milk, chocolates, sushi, potato chips and other foods that would have sent most other confinement mothers into a panicked frenzy.

I drank iced water…lots of it.

Instead of the usual longan and red date tea that most new Chinese mothers would have to consume, I downed at least three litres of water daily (half of it being iced water) and I also drank sodas and fruit juices.

I was feeling parched from my new duties of breastfeeding and – having given birth during the hottest mid-year period – had a constant thirst that was screaming to be quenched. The red date tea did nothing bdut made me more thirsty, and I was beginning to wonder if my milk would start tasting like red dates and longans very soon.

Continue reading to find out what my gynaecologist told me…