As mentioned in my previous entry, I am currently observing 30 days of traditional Chinese postpartum confinement practices. This is just like Annakate’s birth where I was confined at home for 30 days. (Read Part 1 here)
This custom may sound foreign to most Americans but it is very common in Asia, especially in Malaysia. From all the excitement and bliss of the arrival of our little one, a mother’s body is readjusting and recovering from the physical and psychological fatigue after childbirth. Hence, a month of solid rest is strongly recommended after childbirth, and for good reasons, too.
What is Postpartum Confinement?
Postpartum confinement is a 28 to 40 day period of restoring the new mother after childbirth. As the traditional Chinese saying goes “Nurture the baby when it’s in the womb, nurture the mommy when the baby arrives”. During confinement, mothers will take time to recuperate and renourish the body to normal condition.
Why is confinement necessary?
A good rest and proper postpartum care during confinement period benefits the mother’s future health. In addition, lack of rest may lead to plenty postpartum conditions which include headaches, arthritis, depression, insomnia and etc.
According to the Orientals, a woman’s body is the weakest and most vulnerable to future ailments from the ordeal of childbirth, and thus a confinement period of at least 28-40 days will ensure great recovery and to help her restore her body after 9 months of nourishing her baby in her womb.
What is the confinement diet?
Mothers are encouraged to eat more nutritional foods like brewed tonics, soups and certain foods to be avoided. Any gas-producing or cold-based foods are to be avoided.
A typical confinement diet basically consists of “heating” ingredients: old ginger, sesame oil, wine, black vinegar, etc., which are used excessively in almost every meal. The Chinese believe that the vinegar purifies the blood & cleanses the arteries while the old ginger drives out the excessive gas in the body.
Also, drinking plain water is strongly discouraged as it will cause water retention, hence it is replaced by red dates tea as a nourishing drink for the new mother. Red dates tea can be easily made with about 15 red dates, 8 black dates, 3 dried longans, 3 astragalus root, 3 Codonopsis root, a handful of wolfberries, and 1 apple (optional: I add an apple as an addition to nourish the respiratory system).
Herbs are also used in cooking confinement meals such as black fungus, red dates, wolfberries, Chinese angelica root, etc.
What are the benefits of the above-mentioned herbs?
Red dates are high in vitamin C, iron, and calcium. They help to stimulate the production of white blood cells, which improves immunity, and decrease the levels of cholesterol. Because of the high levels of iron and phosphorus, red dates help to prevent osteoporosis and anemia, which are both common in women.
Black dates facilitate digestion, decreases high cholesterol, controls blood glucose, and they are high in potassium.
Wolfberries (Goji berries) contain more beta-carotene than carrots and are used in traditional chinese medicine to improve eyesight. They also promote youthful-looking skin by nourishing yin and improving blood production. They also reduce the risk of liver and kidney illness.
Codonopsis Root (Dang Shen) enhances immunity, tonifies Qi of spleen and lungs, lowers blood pressure, dilates blood vessels, improves microcirculation, and enhance liver function.
Astragalus root stimulates immune system and has antioxidant effects that inhibit free radical production. It is also used to treat arthritis, asthma and nervous conditions as well as to lower blood sugar and blood pressure. It also helps to improve overall weakness especially liver, spleen and lungs.
Black fungus is a beneficial herb that helps to treat lungs, stomach, liver and has a chemical that inhibits blood clotting. Black fungus also helps to promote blood circulation and treating bruises (such as hemorrhoids).
Chinese angelica root (Dang Gui) is also known as the female ginseng because it is widely used in traditional chinese medicine in nourishing women’s health. Dang Gui tonifies the blood, regulates menses, moistens dry intestines due to blood deficiency, reduces swellings, and it is an important herb to stop pain due to blood stasis.
What are the brewed tonics/ herbal soups served in my confinement?
Most of my herbs were brought into USA from Malaysia. My mom ensured that I had the herbs presorted and packaged for our convenience, each day in its own bag.
We certainly have come to appreciate how presorted herbs ease the confinement frenzy regardless whether we are with or without a confinement nanny (in my case, my husband is my confinement nanny). With this convenience we can easily focus on cooking confinement food and caring for the newborn without the hassle of following recipes. On another note, these soups help to boost my milk supply and I have been happily nursing my little one with ease.
1. Sheng Hua soup – Removes blood stasis from uterus
2. Shen Shi soup – Strengthens heart and nourish blood
3. Bu Nao Soup – Prevents migraine
4. Si Zou soup – Improves digestive system function and energy
5. Tian Qi soup – Improves blood circulation
6. Tiao Jing soup- Aids the uterus shrinking process
7. Yang Xue soup – Improves vitality, liver and kidney function
8. Bu Shen soup – Revitalizes the spleen, liver and kidney
9. Bu Yao soup – Prevents arthritis
10. Dang Gui soup – Improves body immunity
11. Huo Xue soup- Prevents mental fatigue
12. Bao Yu soup – Improves memory
13. Shi Quan soup – Nourishes ‘Yin’ energy
14. Ba zhong soup – Treats arthritis and backache
15. Yik Qi soup – Improves energy level
16. Shou Wu Soup – Revitalizes hair and improve complexion
17. Chong Cao soup – Protects internal organs
18. Dang gui soup – Strengthens ‘Qi’ , tonifies blood and warms the body
19. Cong Yong soup – Stay young and beautiful
20. Ah Jiao soup – Prevents fatigue
21. Ling Zhi soup – Promotes anti-aging
22. Niu Xi Soup – Loosens veins
23. Qi Shen Soup – Improves stamina
24. Gao Li Shen Soup – Strengthens body after giving birth
What have I been eating besides the herbal soups?
What are the other Do’s and Don’ts of confinement that I adhere to?
(a) No washing of hair until Day 11 (and then, only with herbs) as it will slow down the detoxification of the womb. (It’s day 11 and my head feels good today – Finally!)
(b) No showering with usual tap water but with boiled water infused with herbs as the body needs to be in the state of warmth at all times after childbirth.
(c) No exposure of joints and limbs to the cold environment as “cold air” will bring forth arthritis or rheumatism or headaches during old age.
(d) No heavy contact with water.
(e) Do not engage in strenuous/ high impact exercises.
(f) Do not lift heavy objects or overexert the body excessively.
On another note, I don’t buy the old wives tales of no reading, no crying, no staring into computers, no shower for 30 days, no eating while standing, and some other weird beliefs.
I know many of my Malaysian friends and relatives specifically hire a confinement nanny to help with cooking and taking care of their babies during this one month. Like our confinement days in 2012, we did not hire a confinement nanny. However, I am definitely eating and resting well at home. This is simply because my husband has been so helpful in preparing the herbs, meals, and handling two precious children. I am so glad he can be home for 3 weeks to embrace this journey together. My mom, too, is constantly watching me like a hawk (via Skype) to ensure that I am doing the right thing during the confinement.
Also, we are extremely grateful for friends and church-mates who are so generous and kind in dropping off meat and peeled ginger during the first week to save us time and effort. I have another 19 days to go. I hope I don’t develop any cabin fever. Don’t get me wrong. I love the confinement meals, but I miss the freedom of going out and get together with my mama friends.
But… rest assured, my second postpartum recovery rate is way faster (and better) than the first. I have more energy than ever.
So there you go, friends and family. We are loving life so far because of the new addition to the family. Keep us in prayers and I cannot wait for this confinement (house arrest) to end!
Much love to all of you who have been a blessing to us.