Is Postpartum Confinement Necessary

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Every year, millions of Asian women deliberately isolate themselves for 1 whole month after giving birth. This practice is known as Postpartum Confinement, or ZuoYueZi in Chinese, which translates to “sitting the month”.

Confinement comes with many terms and conditions. Avoid doing this, must drink that. No one is sure which rituals are a must, and which are just superstition.

Here’s where comes in. But first, let’s backtrack 2,000 years to ancient China where it all started.

Back then, toilets were located outside of the house. It was extremely inconvenient for new mothers to relieve themselves. To make their lives easier, they were given night soil buckets so they wouldn’t need to step out of the house at all.

This evolved into our modern understanding of confinement where new mothers don’t leave the house. As the years passed, the rules also started to pile on.

Confinement rule number one. Women cannot shower.

During the whole confinement period, women are supposedly not allowed to shower. It’s said that when you shower, cold elements will enter the body. This increases the chances of chronic migraines and rheumatism in the future.

Not showering made sense in ancient China. Back then, water heaters were not yet invented and new mothers could’ve easily caught a cold.

But this rule doesn’t apply in modern day tropical climates like Singapore. Wrapping yourself into a bak chang in 35-degree weather is just going to give you an infection. Today, any doctor will encourage mothers to maintain good personal hygiene.

The verdict? Hygiene is important. Go ahead and take that shower.

Confinement rule number 2. Women should bind their stomachs.

A woman’s body goes through so much change over the course of 9-months. After giving birth, some women bind their abdomen in an effort to improve their waistline.

Some may laugh at the superficial vanity of this practice, but binding has an important practical purpose.

As the uterus expands due to the growing foetus, organs are displaced in the process. After the baby pops out, the uterus doesn’t bounce back to its original size right away.

Binding offers a light compression that hastens the contraction of the uterus. It also helps to stabilise loosened pelvic joints while narrowing the width of the hips.

The verdict? Binding does help and new mums can now fit into their pre-pregnancy jeans.

Confinement rule number 3. Women should obey a strict diet.

Many food confinement myths revolve around Traditional Chinese Medicine also known as TCM.

According to TCM, new mums should include “heaty” ingredients such as ginger, Chinese wine, sesame oil and red dates into their diets. These ingredients are said to expel the wind accumulated in the body and restore blood loss. “Cooling” food like shellfish, watermelon and cucumber should be avoided.

Many local hospitals have confinement menus where they serve dishes like red dates longan soup, sesame oil chicken and papaya fish soup. Some mothers even hire costly confinement nannies just so they can cook special confinement food.

Western doctors argue that new mothers should consume a wide variety of food. This is to restore all the different nutrients lost during childbirth. Of course, including TCM food into your diet is not harmful, but it’s benefits are not scientifically proven.

The verdict? Eat a wide variety of food but in moderation.

After giving birth, everyone can agree that it’s good to have plenty of bed rest, nourishing food and round-the-clock help with your baby. To all mothers out there, if you are planning to follow traditions, make sure you stay comfortable and not follow the rules blindly.

In 2015, a woman in Shanghai died from heat stroke after wrapping herself in blankets during her confinement, in order to obey the advice of her elders.

Remember, you are in charge of your own body. Nobody can force you into doing confinement, not even your mighty mother-in-law.