Confinement Practices and Myths in Singapore

Confinement is a period for your body to recuperate and recover from childbirth. You have probably heard some confinement practices yourself, and you may or may not agree with them all.

There are many confinement practices — some are useful, some are not. 

confinement practice myth singapore

In fact, some of them don't have any scientific basis at all. So, let's bust some common confinement myths.

The Confinement Myths

1. "Now that my baby is born, I will lapse into depression."

Some women experience a sad or depressed mood some days after giving birth — this "baby blues" or "postnatal blues" is short-term and linked to hormonal changes after pregnancy, and usually lasts only two weeks.

Depression is diagnosed only when these symptoms persist; it may be accompanied by suicidal or infanticide intent. Do seek professional help if you have concerns.

2. "I am not allowed to bathe or touch water for fear of 'wind' entering the body."

A related myth is: "I can only wash my hair with water in which ginger has been boiled in it."

There is no basis to these beliefs at all. Bathing helps you maintain personal hygiene and stay comfortable — plus it reduces the incidence of skin and wound infections.

And you’ll feel and smell fresh after a bath.

3. "I must consume plenty of wines, sesame oils and traditional herbs to drive out the 'wind'."

There is no medical basis here either. In moderation, there is no harm in consuming these substances. But when taken in excess, they may affect you and your baby.

Herbs may contain substances that we are not fully aware of, while alcohol might go into your breast milk and be transferred to your baby, affecting the liver or worsening jaundice (if present).

4. "I cannot drink plain water at all during confinement."

New mothers should drink enough fluids, especially if they’re breastfeeding.

Don’t worry if you find yourself frequently visiting the toilet: your kidneys produce more urine a few weeks after the baby is born to remove excess fluid accumulated during pregnancy.

5. "I must not expose myself and the baby to any wind drafts or air-conditioner."

A similar myth: "I must not leave my house for one month." For you and your baby’s comfort, there is no harm in using the air-conditioner or fan at home. It may even help prevent heat rash.

6. "I must eat liver and meats only."

Your nutritional needs are high after giving birth as your body is making up for the recent blood loss during delivery and the demands of breastfeeding.

Whatever your confinement beliefs are, it’s important to take a well-balanced diet than specific food types (e.g. liver) to replenish the body’s stores, especially if breastfeeding.

Vegetarians or vegans can also take iron or vitamin supplements to satisfy these nutritional demands.

7. "I cannot pray before an altar or enter a place of worship."

A similar myth is: "I cannot mingle with the rest of my family members or enter the kitchen."

Some believe the post-partum discharge (lochia) is unclean and that this practice prevents spiritual contamination. Again, there is no scientific basis to it.

8. "I heard that the Malay traditional practices are effective for regaining health."

There are six components to the traditional practices of postnatal care:
Tuku — daily massage over the abdomen with a ball-like metal object
Mengurut badan — massaging by an experienced masseuse
Barut — tight wrap around the woman’s waist
Salai — lying on a warmed wooden apparatus
Air akar kayu — tonic drinks made from medicinal plants
Pantang makan dan minum — to prohibit oneself from eating or drinking certain food items

Although these practices have never been proven scientifically, it is possible that they have certain benefits.

However, all these should be done in moderation to prevent burns and injuries from happening during massages and therapies. These practices have to be delayed for a month after a cesarean section to prevent the disruption of a healing wound.

It’s also important to have a well-balanced diet during this period.

9. "Bathing should not be an issue."

This is common in the Malay culture and is contrary to the Chinese practice. Bathing is good for personal hygiene and encouraged. You'll also feel fresh and comfortable.

10. "I cannot have sex for forty days."

Having sex right after giving birth is against the religious teachings of certain cultures, e.g. Malay culture. From a medical perspective, abstaining from sex allows for the lochia to be over and the episiotomy wound to be completely healed. This may also reduce the incidence of infections.

Chinese Confinement Practices

Here are some common Chinese confinement practices.

Confinement period: 30 days

1. Diet Practices

Aim: To purge "wind" from the body after delivery, promote "blood circulation", strengthen the joints, and promote milk supply. New mums are encouraged to avoid "cooling" foods.

Traditionally, the Chinese use a lot of ginger, wines and sesame oils in their diet. Common confinement dishes include:
  • pigs trotters cooked with ginger and vinegar
  • fish soup boiled in papaya – believed to be good for milk production
  • chicken cooked in sesame oil
  • a traditional tonic brewed from 10 herbs
  • pork liver and kidney
Some may also:
  • eat five or six meals daily and rinse the rice bowl with scalding water.
  • avoid drinking water during confinement to reduce water retention, and instead choose a specially prepared drink made from herbs and preserved dates.
  • avoid eating raw or "cooling" foods, or foods cooked the previous day.
2. Daily Practices

Aim: Protect the new mother from future ill health, restore her strength, and to protect the family from "ritual pollution".

The Chinese believe in staying indoors throughout confinement to avoid outdoor pollution, and avoiding strenuous physical activities to prevent "muscle weakening".

Some also hire a confinement nanny to help with the housework and caring for the baby.

Other practices:
  • No washing of the body or hair, especially avoiding contact with cold water.
  • Avoid wind, fans and air conditioning.
  • Avoid walking or moving about; the ideal is lying on the back in bed.
  • Do not go into another person’s home.
  • Do not get sick.
  • Do not read or cry.
  • Do not have sex.
  • Do not eat with family members.
  • Do not burn incense or visit a temple or altar.
By now you’ve heard many "old wives’ tales" about confinement, and you may or may not agree with them all. In fact, some of them don’t have any scientific basis at all!

Malay Confinement Practices

Here are some common Malay confinement practices.

Confinement period: 44 days

1. Diet Practices

Aim: To purge "wind" from the body after delivery, promote "blood circulation", strengthen the joints, and promote milk supply. New mums are encouraged to avoid "cooling" foods.

During confinement, some new mums follow a special diet: "heating" foods are encouraged and "cooling" foods avoided to restore the balance upset by the birth.

Some might also take a special drink called jamu — the belief is body's pores open during labour and jamu has properties to keep the body warm. Another dietary practice: drinking air akar kayu, which are tonic drinks made from medicinal plants.

2. Daily Practices

Aim: Protect the new mother from future ill health, restore her strength, and to protect the family from "ritual pollution".

Traditionally, childbirth takes place in the mother's home and is attended by a bidan (Malay midwife), after which the umbilical stump is dusted with a mixture of spices. Fortunately, this practice has been replaced by hospital births, reducing complications and infection rates.

Other practices:
  • Mother and child bathe in heated water filled with herbs immediately after childbirth.
  • Mum will "keep warm" through various traditional methods, including sitting near to or lying above a heated source, or warming the abdomen by applying a heated stone over it.
  • A female masseuse helps the mother regain her figure or keep her tummy trim by tightly binding the tummy, a practice called berbengkong.
  • Sex is strictly prohibited.

References:

https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/1068/pregnancy-confinement-practices-and-myths

https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/1877/confinement_practices_and_myths_part2

https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/1878/chinese_confinement_practices

https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/1879/malay_confinement_practices

Related: 

Confinement Nanny Agency Singapore

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