Confinement for Chinese, Malay and Indian

Confinement Care
Many confinement practices originated from Asian culture and possess no scientific basis at all.

Confinement food across various cultures

Confinement is a period for your body to recuperate and recover from childbirth. The idea of confinement is familiar to Asians but foreign to Westerners. In the past when infant and maternal mortality rates were high, it was a practice to keep both the baby and mother indoors during the period of confinement. This was meant to protect them from ill health.

By now, you may have been exposed to some of the practices or ideas from your parents. You may or may not agree with them but many of these originated from Asian culture and hence, possess no scientific basis at all. They range from the prohibition of certain daily tasks to the restriction of certain foods – with the strong belief that these practices can provide the mother adequate rest and replenishment during this period.

Following are some of the dietary practices observed during confinement in the Chinese, Malay and Indian communities:

Dietary Requirements:

• To purge out the “wind” in the body after delivery, promote “blood circulation”, strengthen the joints and promote milk supply
• To avoid “cooling” foods

 Chinese practices   Malay practices   Indian practices
Confinement period  30 daysTraditionally, they use a lot of ginger, wine and sesame oil in their diet.Common dishes include pigs’ trotters cooked with ginger and vinegar, fish soup, chicken cooked in sesame oil and a traditional tonic brewed from 10 herbs.

Fish soup boiled with papaya is believed to be beneficial for milk production.

It is also recommended that plain water be avoided during this period to reduce the risk of water retention.

Instead, specially prepared drinks from a mixture of herbs and preserved dates are recommended.

44 daysDuring confinement, a woman follows a special diet in which heating foods are encouraged and cooling foods avoided to restore the balance upset by the birth of the baby.Some Malay women who have just delivered often take a special drink called “jamu”.

It is believed that the body’s pores are opened during labour and “jamu” has properties that can keep the body warm.




 40 daysIndians take garlic milk to prevent “wind”.Like the Chinese and Malays, “cooling” foods are avoided, especially tomatoes, cucumbers, coconut milk and mutton.

Only chicken and shark fish cooked with herbs are allowed.

Other seafood is not allowed.

Chilli is not allowed.

Consuming plenty of garlic cooked without oil is encouraged.

Cooking is done with gingly oil.

The oral intake of herbs is encouraged to keep the body warm.

There is a restriction on the intake of fluids/fruits/vegetables as well as cold drinks.


Bathing, washing hair and going out are traditionally discouraged during confinement

The Chinese, Malay and Indian communities have a number of practices for the mother and the newborn baby during the confinement period. The basis for such practices is to protect the new mother from future ill health, restore her strength and protect the family from ritual pollution. Following are some of the confinement practices observed by these communities:

Chinese practices    
The Chinese believe in staying indoors throughout the confinement period to avoid outdoor pollution.Strenuous physical activities are discouraged to prevent further “muscle weakening”.Some hire a confinement nanny to help with the housework and caring for the baby.

Other practices may include:
• Not washing the body or hair during the month; especially avoiding contact with cold water.
• Not going outside for the entire month (or at least avoid wind).
• Not eating raw or “cooling” foods, or foods cooked the previous day.
• Eat chicken, especially chicken cooked in sesame oil; pork liver and kidney are also good; eat five or six meals daily and rinse the rice bowl with scalding water.
• Avoid all wind, fans and air- conditioning.
• Avoid walking or moving about; the ideal is to lie on the back in bed.
• Do not go into another person’s home.
• Do not get sick.
• Do not read or cry.
• Do not have sex.
• Do not eat with family members.
• Do not burn incense or visit a temple or altar.

Malay practices    Traditionally, childbirth is in the mother’shome attended by a bidan (Malay midwife) and the umbilical stump dusted with a mixture of spices.

Fortunately, this has been replaced by hospital births that reduce complications and infection rates.

Immediately after birth, both mother and baby should be bathed in heated water filled with herbs.

The mother should “keep warm” through various traditional methods. These may include sitting near to or lying above a heat source, or warming the abdomen by applying a heated stone over it.

During this confinement period, a female masseuse is
engaged to help the mother regain her figure or at least to keep her extended tummy trim.

The practice of tightly binding the tummy is called berbengkong, and is believed to help in maintaining the body shape.

Sex is also strictly prohibited during the confinement period.







 Indian practices
Indian mothers are also discouraged from leaving their homes during their confinement period.Bathing is discouraged and if done, it should be performed with special herbal preparations and turmeric powder.Bathing is only allowed between 11 am and 2 pm when the temperature is at its highest.

Daily body massages with oil are also encouraged.

• Not allowed to enter the prayer altar room.
• Warm water is splashed on abdomen during bathing to expel clots from uterus.
• Washing of hair is done on odd days
i.e. day 3,5,7… during the first two weeks. Dry hair after washing with incense smoke.
• Place incense smoke in between legs to dry
episiotomy wound.
• Binding of tummy with six feet cloth.
• Sex is strictly prohibited.






Confinement myths

Confinement facts

“Now that my baby is
born, I will lapse into
It is true that most women experience a sad/depressed mood, beginning some days after the birth of the baby and continuing for varying lengths of time. These symptoms are termed the “baby or postnatal blues” and are believed to be associated with hormonal changes following the birth of a baby. Fortunately, this mood is of a relatively short-term duration (about two weeks) and most women recover from it.Depression is diagnosed only when these symptoms persist in a small proportion of women. It may be accompanied by suicidal or infanticide intent. Prompt psychiatric attention is imperative in such instances.
“I am not allowed to bathe or touch water for fear of ‘wind’ entering the body.”“I can only wash my hair
with water in which ginger has been boiled.” 
There is no basis to these beliefs. In fact, bathing regularly ensures good personal hygiene and comfort. It reduces the incidence of skin and wound infections. On a personal note, it certainly ensures that the people around you find you more bearable. 
“I must consume plenty
of wine, sesame oil and
traditional herbs to drive
out the ‘wind’. ”
Again, there is no medical reasoning behind this recommendation. In moderation, there is no harm in consuming these substances.
However, when taken in excessive amounts, they may affect you and your baby adversely. Furthermore, there are various substances present in the herbs that we are not fully aware of.
Alcohol and other organic substances might go into your breast milk, and when breastfeeding, these might be transferred to your baby. These substances may affect the liver and worsen jaundice in the newborn if it is already present. 
“I cannot drink plain
water at all during
Adequate fluid consumption is advised especially if the mother is breastfeeding. The kidneys will produce more urine in the first few weeks after the baby is born to remove the excess fluid that has accumulated during the course of the pregnancy. 
“I must not expose myself
and my baby to any wind drafts or 
For personal comfort, there is definitely no harm in switching on the air-conditioner or fan, as long as it makes you and your baby comfortable. It may even help prevent heat rash from developing in our hot and humid climate. 
“I must eat liver and
meats only.”
The confinement period is a time when physical changes that occurred in the last nine months will revert to the original state. It is also a period when the nutritional demands on you are high, owing to the recent blood loss from the delivery and the demands of breastfeeding.The belief here is that the mother has been “cooled” by the delivery, and there is a need to eat “heating” foods such as meat. Many “confinement foods” have been devised to ensure that these nutritional demands and beliefs are met.Whatever your beliefs are, it is important to have a well balanced diet rather than specific food types to replenish the body’s stores. This is especially so during breastfeeding. If necessary, as in the case of vegetarians or vegans, iron or vitamin supplements may be taken to satisfy these nutritional demands.
“I have been told not to
read or cry.”
The traditional belief is that this causes eye problems later in life, which has no scientific basis.
“I cannot pray before an
altar or enter a place of
Many believe that the post-partum discharge (lochia) is unclean and therefore, this practice prevents any spiritual contamination. Again, there is no scientific basis to it.
“I heard that the Malay
traditional practices are
effective for regaining
There are six components to the traditional Malay practices of postnatal care. These are:
1. Tuku – daily massage over the abdomen with a ball-like metal
2. Mengurut badan – massaging by an experienced masseuse
3. Barut – tight wrap around the woman’s waist
4. Salai – lying on a warmed wooden apparatus
5. Air akar kayu – tonic drinks made from medicinal plants
6. Pantang makan dan minum – to prohibit oneself from eating
or drinking certain food items
The main idea of these practices is that specific massaging/heat/
selective dieting helps promote blood circulation and recovery. The Barut helps a woman regain her figure. Dieting to the
Malays, like the Chinese, ensures the avoidance of “cooling foods” and the intake of “heating foods”.
Although these practices have never been proven scientifically, it is possible that certain benefits can be derived from them. However, all these should be done in moderation to prevent burns and injuries during these massages and therapies.
After a Caesarean section, these practices have to be delayed for a month to prevent the disruption of a healing wound.

As mentioned previously, it is still essential to have a well-balanced diet to ensure adequate nutrition during this recovery period.

“Bathing should not be an issue.” This is prevalent in Malay culture and is contrary to the Chinese practice. The water is warmed and herbs are added for a “heating effect”. As mentioned before, this is good for personal hygiene and is encouraged.
“I cannot have sex for 40 days.” This is against the religious teachings of certain cultures, e.g. the Malays.From a medical perspective, it allows for the lochia to be over and the episiotomy wound to be completely healed and this may reduce the incidence of infections.
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