Confinement Practices and Beliefs

Infant and maternal mortality was high even as recent as 200 years ago. Yet, the nascent beginnings of documented practices and belief began closer to 2000 years ago.

It was important to keep mother and child in environments that remained consistent. One crucial concept remains – that the mother must be kept warm as she recovers from pregnancy and birth, and that she is not casually exposed to cold or even wind.

Below I share my own views as a modern-day Chinese Medicine practitioner:

(1) Wind

In Chinese medicine, ‘wind’ is supposed to enter through the surface of the skin into the interior of your body. ‘Wind’ is capable of bringing with it other ‘Evils’ like cold, heat, damp, etc.

While we do not experience the ‘wind’ chill that is common in many cities in the winter, I see non-pregnant people coming with a wry neck, the cause of which was exposure to an air-con draft blowing in their direction.

That said, it is not everyone who experiences this. Some people just do not go into spasm like that when exposed to wind; others do. And then there are those who usually would not have such a reaction, BUT they may when their body is weaker than usual — which is highly possible during postpartum.

If I were you, even if I have never experienced the ill-effects of ‘wind’ on my body, I would not want to risk doing so just to make a postpartum point. Not worth it. I have heard from patients who did not practice confinement in after an earlier pregnancy, who then ended up feeling hollow in their body, with aches and pains.

(2) Cold

I have heard from many patients with a history of running cold (cold hands, cold feet, cold nose, adverse to cold, needing warm drinks, etc), who report that their bodies have changed after diligently following a confinement protocol that errs on the side of warming the body up.

Wind-Cold:

So yes, those who possess a ‘cold’ body constitution will have the most benefit from doing confinement. When these people order set meal plans, these meal plan tend to err on the side of moderation, but ‘cold’ bodies are the one that may need specific ways to warm up without over-heating.

What is considered warming? Sesame oil, ginger and wine (another hot topic!)

Dietary Cold:

This includes staying away from raw or ‘cooling’ foods, or food that has not been freshly prepared (e.g. leftover food from the day before). The list to abstain from includes:

  • cold drinks, ice cream, icy desserts, sugarcane
  • fruits like: pear, watermelon, fresh coconut, mandarin, grapefruit,  persimmon
  • cucumber, bitter melon
  • seaweed
  • crab

And yes, I do feel that some people with robust constitutions can get by with a minimal confinement, as they recover well and are somehow up and about despite experience intense sleep deprivation. The thing for such new mums is an amorphous ‘what if?’ While you may believe that ice cream or coconut water cannot be too harmful, it may still be good to play to the tune. Hence, even if you are of a robust constitution,  I would say to (1) abstain from all the listed cold foods; (2) opt into a simple confinement meal plan and keep to it as much as is comfortable for you.

(3) Damp

Wind-Damp:

Damp can enter the body through the help of ‘wind.’ The confinement idea of not having showers or not taking baths is so that wind, cold and damp do not enter your body in tandem, creating chronic aches and pains.

My take: not taking showers is taking things too literally.

My suggestions:

  • Please take warm showers only.
  • Please do not leave your hair wet, sleep with it wet, or walk past an air-con draft with your hair wet.
  • Dry yourself up quick, dry your hair, and wear enough clothes so you err on the side of less cold and more warm.

Dietary Damp:

Damp also references food that can be damp for the body. This includes to much carbohydrates, dairy or sugars. Just think of a postpartum mum with candida. The people most susceptible to damp accumulation are those who already have a greasy complexion and oily sweat, have body odor, may present with a compromised digestive system and a tendency toward water retention. This demographic who is more susceptible may have also had labels like ‘candida,’ ‘metabolic syndrome’ or ‘PCOS’ placed on them before.

For these people more prone to dietary damp, foods that act to eliminate damp are useful during postpartum. This includes red beans, coix seeds, Chinese yam, lotus seed, fox nut, ginger and winter melon

(4) Heat

Wind-Heat:

The ‘wind’ in wind-heat does not refer to any wind blowing at the mother, certainly not in the way wind-cold and wind-damp speak of true ‘wind.’ The ‘wind’ here refers to the sudden nature of the flare, as well as the location of the flare, which often on the surface (skin) or on the the upper part of the body.

Woman come into the clinic with varying levels of heat. Those who have ‘hot blood’ even before pregnancy are usually suffering from excess body heat during the end phase of the third trimester. These people are those who should be very careful following confinement protocols which are set in stone by the strict old nanny from Malaysia making sure you follow her confinemnt protocol to the ‘T.’

Worse yet if you already suffer from an inflammatory autoimmune condition or a skin condition. The typical confinement protocol is likely to cause a flare. PUPPP is a commonly seen in the third trimester, yet, some women present instead with post-partum wind-heat skin rash.

Dietary Heat: 

This speaks to how eating overly spicy or heaty foods is often contraindicated for a new mum. It may end up worse for a body constitution which is already warm (someone who is constitutionally ‘hot-blooded’). But even if you are not ‘hot-blooded’, heaty foods which are often drying, may also cause a dry, sore throat, red eyes, nose bleeds, headaches, an acne breakout and even a skin rash. Chinese medicine uses words like ‘heaty,’ but it speaks to out trigger foods may be allergenic, or pro-inflammatory.

I hope that postpartum mums-to-be find this article useful and they have a better sense of what to do during the confinement period.