The importance of confinement after giving birth: we cover the basic do's and don'ts of post-partum confinement and post-natal care!
After nine months of gestation, baby is finally here and the journey of motherhood begins almost immediately. First of all, congratulations! Second of all, inhale and exhale. Everything is going to be alright. If you’re a little overwhelmed, we’ve taken the time to break down some of the basics and tips so you’ll know what to expect for your 30-40 day postpartum period also know as “confinement period”.
What is post-natal care aka post-partum confinement?
Don’t be alarmed by the term “confinement” – according to Asian traditions, women who begin their post-natal care journey should stay indoors to help them recover from the trauma of birth and bond with their newborn baby. This doesn’t mean that new mummies are completely blocked out from the outside world – extra help is received from mothers, mother-in-laws or a specially hired confinement lady. Think of someone who is like a temporary nanny crossed over with a chef who cooks Chinese food and has experience dealing with hundreds of FTM’s (First Time Mums).
Besides staying indoors, new mums are encouraged to ingest traditional Chinese medicines, and eat nourishing foods that can build up breastmilk supply. If you’re Indonesian, this tradition includes a special lady (yes, another special lady!) that comes every day to pamper new mums with traditional treatments like lulur (a scrub), a massage, followed by a treatment where they cover your tummy area up with jamu and wraps it (bengkung) in order to put everything back together. You can also go the modern route and go for a corset (like this breathable bamboo corset) that will help tighten your post-natal tum. However, if you’ve gone through a c-section, wrapping or corseting is not recommended as it may cause obstruction to your stitches, but the massage is A-ok – just be sure to tell your lady you had a c-section!
Some women decide to do both the Chinese AND Indonesian postpartum confinement traditions which means they eat Chinese food as part of their 30 day postnatal care and still get the lulur, massage and bengkung. Here’s another kicker: Sometimes, it is necessary to get another lady who specializes in massaging your breasts. Before you get too excited, don’t expect this massage to be a walk in the park as it aims to release knotted milk-ducts and can be quite painful. Like they say, no pain no gain, since the massage is helpful in preventing mastitis. Don’t underestimate mastitis as it is a build up of clogged ducts that essentially will lead to inflammation of your breast tissue. The worst case of mastitis is that you might have to get it operated so be proactive in making sure you don’t miss a feeding/pumping and if you do, be vigilant about releasing clogged ducts
How do you release clogged ducts? If you don’t have a lady, you can do this at home but be strong-willed and work through the pain. First, prepare a hot towel compress for both breasts, get some lotion or any massage oil and start a deep tissue stroke from the outer of your breast towards your nipple. You will need to work clockwise and continue to do this until your breast tissue no longer feels hard to the touch. You will know you are no longer clogged if you (pardon our French here) express through the nipples and are met with a surprise spray of breast milk. Once you have successfully unclogged yourself, make sure you feed your baby or pump it out. We know this can be a tedious process so that’s why most people have someone do this for you but if you keep at it, you’ll find you can do it yourself in no time.
Confinement taboos and restrictions
Some habits that we take for granted are not allowed during your confinement period. The restrictions are implemented in order to trap heat inside your body. It is said by not exposing yourself to cold weather or wind, it will help you avoid future health problems such as rheumatism, arthritis, headaches and body pains later in life. We’re not sure who started this century long tradition but we’re all very grateful – we’re being sarcastic, of course.
Just imagine having to not wash your hair, take a shower, climb the stairs, go outside or avoid wind exposure for the entire confinement period! We’re not sure how the women of the past handled an entire month (sometimes 2 months) of not showering or washing their hair but we’re starting to think that it was also done so that their husbands wouldn’t initiate sexual relations until after 6 weeks postpartum. Thankfully, there are new exceptions to this rule by washing your hair or showering with ginger water and then immediately drying your hair with a hair dryer. Not getting exposed to wind in the 21st century just means wearing cosy socks, long sleeved pajamas and staying warm.
What is confinement food?
The rules don’t stop there, of course. There are food rules involved, but don’t worry because confinement food, also known as cha-po food, is made to taste delicious. These meals are usually protein-rich, and designed to recover energy levels, help shrink the uterus, and heal the perineum. Here are some basic do’s and dont’s about cha-po food.
If you have given birth naturally, you can start eating cha-po right away, with favorites like pork knuckle with ginger and black vinegar. Pork knuckle and pork dishes are believed to replenish calcium levels, while ginger is used in almost all dishes because it is believed that it removes ‘wind’ accumulated in the body during pregnancy. Hopefully, if a mother consumes enough ginger, it will appear in breast milk to relieve any gas in your newborn baby.
If you’ve undergone a c-section, the rules are slightly different. To start cha-po, first, make sure you have no more bloody discharge. Yep, you heard us right. 9 months of not getting your period and it all comes gushing back after the delivery of baby in a 4-6 week long process, a sign of your body getting rid of all that gunk in your trunk.
Confinement food that boosts milk supply
Different cultures have different foods to help aid in milk supply. For confinement periods, some of this include:
Some of the staples include papaya and fish soup, pork knuckle soup and pork bone broth soup. For Indonesians, this means consuming a soup of daun katuk which is usually boiled with sweet corn.
Typically used in Indian confinements, fenugreek is usually incorporated into a lot of their foods. These days though, you can just buy fenugreek capsules to save you the time!
Last but not least, rest as much as you can during your postnatal care
We know that this is easier said than done especially if you’re waking up every 1 1/2 – 2 hours but you’ll be surprised how much sleep helps in every aspect of your recovery, including milk supply and post-partum depression. Most of us go through a bout of PPD and are bound to shed a lot of tears from our hormones re-balancing itself, but if you’re experiencing symptoms for longer that 2 weeks, see a healthcare professional and seek help.
Most importantly, remember that this period is a time where it may seem endless but the months go by quickly, suddenly bub is walking and you look back at your many sleepless nights with some memories you will soon share with your friends and the generation after you.