Every year, millions of Asian women deliberately isolate themselves for 1 whole month after giving birth. This practice is known as Postpartum Confinment, or 坐月子 “Zuo Yue Zi” in Mandarin which translates to “sitting the month”.
Generally, confinement comes into many terms and conditions in the Chinese Tradition e.g. mums must avoid doing these, must consume that, and a lot more. However, until now, no one is sure which rituals are a must, and which are just superstition.
So where is this Confinement Tradition comes from? Let’s backtrack 2,000 years into ancient China where it all started. Back then, bathrooms were located outside of the house, hence it was extremely inconvenient for new mothers to relive 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 evolves into our modern understanding of confinement where new mums don’t leave the house. As the years pass, the rules also started pilling on.
Do & Don’t
Myth #1 New mums cannot shower?!
During the whole confinement period, new mums 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, there were no water heaters and new mums could have easily caught a cold. But this rules doesn’t apply in modern day where where have all the heating and cooling facilities.
Today, any doctor will encourage new mums to maintain good personal hygine.
Myth #2 New mums should bind their stomachs.
Yes, mum’s body goes through so much change over the course of 9-months. After giving birth, some mum 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 fetus, 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 the loosened pelvic joints while narrowing the width of the hips.
Myth #3 New mums should obey a strict diet
Many food confinement myths revolve around Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Accordingly to that, new mums should include “heaty” ingredients e.g. gingers, Chinese wine, sesame oil and red dates. These ingredients are said to expel the wind accumulated in the body and help to restore blood loss. “Cooling” food like shellfish, watermelon and cucumber should be avoided. Some mums even hire costly confinement nannies just so they can cook special confinement food for them.
However, western doctors argue that new mothers should consume a wide variety of food to restore all the different nutrients lost during childbirth. Of course, including TCM to your food is not harmful but also it’s benefits are not scientifically proven.
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 mums out there, if you are planning to follow the traditions, make sure you stay omfortable and not follow the rules blindly.
Remember, you are in charge of your own body. Nobody can force you into doing confinement. Not even your own mother or mighty mother-in-law.