In Asia, regardless of what race or culture you’ve been brought up in, somehow, the tradition of having a confinement nanny or confinement period always creeps up during birth. Here’s why I didn’t have one, but why I suggest you do...
I was brought up by a Chinese father and a Eurasian mother. We never had a dominant race and simply aligned with the race that suited us at the moment. We were brought up to be confident, independent and forward-thinking. So imagine my surprise, when my mother – a modern, independent working woman, who took on a university degree at the age of 40 (because being a full-time teacher and part-time tutor and mother of two teenagers just wasn’t enough) – asked me if I would be getting myself a confinement nanny?
My answer to a confinement nanny? No way!
I couldn’t tell if she was joking, so I didn’t give it much thought and said no. She followed by asking if I would like her to boil some red date tea after birth. This is common in Chinese culture as a method to help remove the ‘wind’ that remains in your body after birth. It is believed that after birth, your body is ‘cold’, and your blood needs to be ‘cleared of toxins’. Don’t ask me why this blood that was nourishing my baby and giving it life a few hours earlier now needs cleaning. I was also asked if I would like confinement food. ‘Heat’ food that’s fatty and made with lots of ginger and vinegar to ‘warm’ the body and improve circulation. Hocus-pocus to me – or so I thought…
But then my baby arrived…
After having my baby, my body felt weak, hollow and…cold! I don’t know how else to explain it – I just felt cold and, dare I say, ‘windy’! I live next door to an Indian family and across from a Malay one. Everyone was excited to see my new baby, but my Malay neighbour was shocked that I wasn’t wearing socks! She insisted I wear socks to keep warm in 39 degrees Singapore weather. We usually kept our front door open, and I didn’t want her to think I was ignoring her kind suggestion, so for the next couple of days, I wore socks just in case she looked in. But if I’m honest, wearing them made me feel so much better!
Next up, the red date tea started to arrive too…
My mother had started sending over tumblers of red date tea. I drank it every day in addition to water and cranberry juice. Breastfeeding kept me thirsty, so this was easy. My Indian neighbours down the corridor were also worried when I told them I wasn’t doing confinement and brought my baby out to see them at two weeks. They insisted I eat more gourd vegetables; it apparently helps with milk supply. I had never heard about all these random ‘tips’, until I became a mother. Living in Singapore my whole life, I really thought confinement was a Chinese thing. A rich Chinese thing.
While I was getting bombarded with love and concern from my neighbours, regurgitating every postpartum tip they could think of, my mother was hounding me to see a “Juma” to get wrapped. Yes, wrapped. I had never heard of such a thing! How was that possible?
More confinement practices… When becoming a mummy means mummification (kind of)…
I am not a fan of massages or hugs – I basically do not like to be touched unless absolutely necessary. This nice little old lady named Meda came over to my place to give me a little massage; all sounds pretty normal so far. However, she ended it with a wrap. She had metres and metres of fabric. First, she doused me in cream and oil to make my body ‘warm’. Except, it was making me shiver – almost like a menthol rub – indicating once again I was too ‘windy’. Then she started to bind my abdomen. It was tight like a corset.
Aside from expelling air and flattening the stomach, it was meant to act a little like a back brace and help the mother with moving around and carrying the baby. It was deeply uncomfortable. I had to wear it until she came the next morning. I asked her when I was supposed to bathe; shock fell on her face because you’re not meant to bathe while in confinement. She got over it quickly and said, “all you girls are so modern now. You can bathe one hour before I come but don’t wash your hair”.
Does it work?
The next morning I woke up and removed the binder. My bloated post-pregnancy belly, which still looked like I was a healthy five months pregnant, was gone! It looked more like a late-night cheese platter bloat in just one day! Why had I never heard about this? Why weren’t mothers sharing this?
A broader lesson learned: Don’t try and do it all
Aside from sorely underestimating motherhood, I totally overlooked the beast that was breastfeeding. Everyone talked about how it was the most natural thing you could do as a woman, so I thought I would naturally take to it. My oversupply held me hostage most hours of the day – either latching, pumping, or being engorged standing under warm water in the shower trying to relive it. Add to that my two giant dogs at home that needed walks, baths, not to mention love and attention. We didn’t have a helper at this stage, so household duties mostly fell on me as my husband worked from 9am and got home at about 7pm most days. My parents? I told them I didn’t need help. I could do this. Don’t the westerners do it all on their own? Why was I struggling? I didn’t want them to think I was a ‘spoilt Asian’.
I messaged a friend of mine, a Singaporean living in Perth with no family, to ask how she was coping. She said it was hard and lonely, and I said I felt the same, but why do I feel like I need way more help? She said quite plainly, “I don’t breastfeed, I don’t work, I don’t have two dogs, my baby doesn’t have colic, and he sleeps three hours at a time”.
It was time to re-think how I was doing this and perhaps also admit that I was wrong about confinement.
My tip to all expectant mothers about confinement? Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it (or at least know what it’s all about!)
It is really expensive to hire a confinement nanny, so sometimes it just isn’t an option. But I now tell all my expecting friends to at least order confinement food! There are so many places now that deliver quality food with very flexible plans. When you’re a new mother, breastfeeding and trying to figure out this new life, the last thing you need to worry about is what you’re going to eat. I highly recommend catering confinement food at the very least.
Would I have a confinement nanny next time? Absolutely!
Now that one child is out and thriving, all our ‘start-up costs’ like cribs, newborn clothes, bouncers and strollers are covered. So the cash we save is going to pay for a confinement nanny the next time around. Yes, that would mean I would have a live-in helper and my parents, as well as a confinement nanny helping me with my second-born. Oh! And a husband, of course. Is that being spoilt? Some may say yes, but I see it as the best thing I can do for myself and my sanity to keep the ship sailing.
In a nutshell? All babies are different, and all mothers are different. Some don’t need help, but there isn’t anything wrong with having it either. So please don’t write off confinement before you’ve fully explored it. For many, it could be just the option you need to see you, your baby (and your body) through those newborn days.
What’s your take on confinement nannies? DM us your thoughts!