Traditional Asian confinement practices and 'rules' – some mums give it a go while others survived just fine without them. But what do mums really think about it? We ask the HoneyKids mums!
Once the news gets out that you’ve got a bun in the oven, get ready for that age-old question: “Are you gonna do the whole confinement thing?” Now, living in the melting pot of cultures that is Singapore, these confinement practices come with a mix of tradition and a whole bunch of science and maybe-not-so-scientific stuff. Luckily you’ve got a good nine months to mull it over, but before you feel the pressure, it might be a good idea to dig into what these practices actually involve and hear some real mom-talk from our HoneyKids crew.
Asian confinement practices after pregnancy
1. Confinement practice #1: Kick back and relax!
You’re not allowed to do any laborious work or strenuous exercise for about 100 days after labour. That means no cooking, no cleaning, just plenty of bedrest while your spouse, mum, helper or confinement nanny take care of the rest. Some confinement practices even limit new mums to their bedroom with the warning that venturing out to do a spot of laundry may result in a higher risk of bleeding, uterus prolapse and even depression. So yay, or nay?
Syazana, mum of two, says, “Definitely yay! I had vaginal births for both my labours and each time, the first time standing up felt like such a feat. I remember being a little cocky after my second birth and stopping the painkillers after week two, thinking, “I feel fine, don’t need all that!” and even tried to get back to doing regular activities like everyday chores. But boy was I sorely mistaken… within hours of not taking my scheduled meds, the aches came at me fast. I also made the mistake of going for an outdoor carnival with the kids at around week four postpartum, and remember feeling so dizzy and exhausted after just a few hours of being outside. So I made sure to rest properly for around two months before I felt like myself again.”
Esther, mum of one, says, “I guess most people would advise to take it easy, and that’s fine but only if that’s what you want to do. If you’re not 100% and not up for it, rest. If you’re up for it, go ahead!”
Rohini, mum of two, says, “After giving birth to both my boys, I made sure to take it easy during that first week. The body truly needs time to recover after all the commotion. Then, I gradually eased into things, taking leisurely walks and resuming my usual daily activities. It’s a gentle way to encourage the muscles and the body to heal efficiently and improve blood circulation. A bit of activity can be quite beneficial.”
2. Confinement practice #2: Eating specially-cooked meals
Bid farewell to ‘cooling’ foods like salads, watermelon, onions, and ice cream, as well as deep-fried treats and burgers. Instead, embrace a diet rich in ginger, black pepper, rice wine, and plenty of soups. You’ll also savour meat dishes like liver, chicken, and pig trotters, but they must be steamed, boiled, or grilled to boost circulation and detoxify. Warm beverages like milk, hot chocolate, and longan tea are your go-to drinks. Straying from this diet doesn’t just lead to guilt; it can result in muscle soreness, bloating, and excess gas.
Syazana says, “I’m a huge advocate for eating confinement meals after labour. I arranged for a confinement food delivery service after I gave birth and I recommend it to anyone I know who’s expecting. It just helps to take the pressure off your partner, mother or helper in preparing nourishing meals for you everyday. Having the food delivered with a new menu daily also felt like a nice treat amid the sleep deprivation and chaos of having a newborn at home. They do come with hefty price tags sometimes, but I think it’s well worth it if you can splurge a little for peace of mind.”
Esther says, “Yes, I believe there’s a good reason why our ancestors put a lot of thought and care into creating confinement or postnatal care meals. A woman’s body goes through so much from pregnancy to childbirth. We nourish our child within us, and we have to continue doing so after bringing them into this world. The food we eat plays a part in nourishing our bodies too. There’s no specific confinement meal that’s better than the other – they’re all created with love and much thought.”
Rohini says, “Eating nutritious food is absolutely crucial for both your baby and your own recovery. I’ll confess, after my first delivery, I made a bunch of blunders that made it tough for my body to bounce back. While I was eating healthy, I should have dialled down on the carbs and amped up my fibre intake during those first few days post-delivery. It’s a game-changer! Lesson learned, and I didn’t repeat that mistake with my second child.”
3. Confinement practice #3: A week of spa days
Popular among the Malay community, new moms are encouraged to have post-birth full-body massages. These massages serve a dual purpose: they help contract the expanded uterus, aid post-delivery recovery by removing excess blood from the womb, and conclude with a tummy wrap believed to aid in regaining the postpartum waistline. Another common practice involves placing hot stones on the abdomen to remove womb impurities. For optimal results, women are advised to undergo these hour-long massages on alternate days for a week.
Syazana says, “Postnatal massages are so relaxing and can help stimulate the breasts to kickstart breastfeeding. There are lots of aches and pains that come with the postpartum period, so setting an hour aside each day to be taken care of physically really helped me.”
Esther says, “A big YES. I personally did seven days of traditional Malay postnatal massage. I truly believe it helps with recovery. However, I have to say not everyone finds this type of massage relaxing. But I guess the whole point of this massage is that it’s ‘medicinal’ and for physical recovery, not so much for rest and relax.”
Rohini says, “You know, looking back, I really wish I had taken some time for a week of pampering. When my little ones arrived, everything shifted, and I found myself putting their needs above my own, unintentionally sidelining my own recovery. It wasn’t until my second son was three months old that I finally squeezed in one relaxing massage. If only there was a way to turn back the clock and give myself a do-over!”
4. Confinement practice #4: Reducing/going without showers for a month
Tradition takes temperature into very serious consideration. In an attempt to ward off the ‘cold’ wind, the traditional Asian practice is to avoid air-conditioning, baths and washing your hair for up to a month – or even longer. Basically, you could really stink up the place. A cheeky wash may result in more ‘wind’ and a higher chance for your weakened body to fall ill, as some believe.
Syazana says, “I like to have a balance when it comes to this – I’m a bit old school and still listen to my elders about ‘wind’ and how bathing too often can cause wind to enter the body, resulting in more aches and frequent chills. So after I gave birth, I made sure to shower with warm water in the mornings and wear comfortable clothing (while covering the shoulders and feet as much as possible). In the evenings, I did my usual skincare ritual and changed into appropriate nightwear. I kept hair washes to a minimum, and only did it if I felt particularly grimy.”
Esther says, “As I followed the Chinese confinement care, there’s a huge debate on whether you should be washing your hair or bathing as per your usual frequency. I think whatever traditional method we follow, we should always take it with a pinch of salt. Postnatal care should be personalised as everyone’s body is different. But hygiene reigns supreme. Bad hygiene = bad health. So yes, wash your hair; bathe – we live in sunny Singapore after all.”
Rohini says, “Let’s be real, after pushing out a tiny human, things can get pretty messy – and that’s perfectly okay. To keep my sanity, I decided to take warm showers whenever I felt like it throughout the day. It wasn’t just about getting clean; it was a moment to unwind. After those soothing showers, I’d throw on some comfy, warm clothes to keep the chills at bay. It’s those little things that make a world of difference!”
5. Confinement practice #5: No sex for 40 days
We took a general poll around the office and we think all mums practise confinement very well on this front. *Cheeky wink*
And that’s the lowdown on all things confinement and then some! Got a story you’re itching to share with us? Slide into our DMs; we’re all ears!