Confinement practices around the world that you might not believe are real
Article by Cherlynn Ng
Confinement is a typically Asian practice that is gaining prominence in various parts of the world. Its benefits are known far and wide, from allowing new mums to recuperate and transition into their new role to letting them bond with their baby.
You’ve probably heard about some common practices during the postpartum period, such as warming your body, avoiding ‘cold’ and enjoying a nutritious diet. But do you know that confinement beliefs vary from culture to culture? Some of these might even surprise you!
Confinement usually lasts for 44 days in Malay communities. Known as pantang, Malay confinement practices centre around the belief that a woman’s womb health affects her overall health. A confinement nanny, whom some refer to as a bidan, will perform hot stones massages focused on the mum’s abdomen to cleanse her womb.
A cornerstone of Malaysian confinement is bengkung: the traditional art of using a cloth wrap to bind the stomach. This helps to promote faster recovery, improve posture, boost blood circulation, stabilise loosened ligaments and provide support to a mother’s body during the postpartum period.
Confinement in Taiwan is an increasingly lavish experience, with mothers checking themselves into ‘postpartum centres’ that resemble five-star hotels. This is a long way from how things used to be, when women were expected to stay home and have the month-long process overseen by their mother-in-law. One significant reason is due to the Taiwanese moving to cities away from their extended families.
One might be reminded of going on a luxurious holiday at Taiwan’s maternity centres, where there is equal focus on the newborn’s health and on the mum’s physical and mental needs. Confinement meals are customised for each mother based on advice from doctors, while staff are trained to look out for symptoms of postpartum depression. Oh, and did we mention the lactation consultants?
Korean confinement is a strict affair. Showering is not allowed during the first week nor are you supposed to come in contact with cold water. On top of being forbidden to leave home for three weeks, visitors are banned as well. This is to eliminate any chance of infection from the outside world. Other no-nos include turning on the air-conditioner or fan, walking around in bare feet and short-sleeved outfits. This stems from a firm belief that exposing your body to cold will result in saan-hoo-poong, aka unexplained joint pains and body aches after delivery.
Expect to have seaweed soup as often as three times a day. Not only does it keep new mums hydrated, this tasty dish is also packed with calcium, fibre and iron to aid recovery. Some believe that seaweed cleanses blood, detoxifies the body, helps the womb contract and increases breast milk production.
Confinement in India typically lasts for 40 days, though some regions are known to observe it for as long as 60 days. As with many cultures, this is a focus on purging wind from the body and avoiding anything cooling. Seafood, chilli and sex are strictly prohibited.
Although bathing is not encouraged, mums may do so with special herbal preparations and turmeric powder in place. However, they will have to keep to a timing between 11am and 2pm when the temperature is at its highest. It is believed that splashing warm water on the abdomen while bathing can expel blood clots from the uterus.
Other rituals in Indian confinement include daily body massages with oil, drying your hair after washing with incense smoke, using incense smoke between your legs to dry the episiotomy wound and binding your belly with cloth.
Cambodians are of the belief that a woman’s body becomes cold after giving birth. Steps are taken to heat up the body and prevent further cooling or deterioration. New mums are advised against showering for up to a week, though a sponge bath with warm water is permitted.
Unlike many cultures, very spicy food (e.g. meat prepared with black pepper or ginger) is encouraged so that it can heat up and strengthen the body. The food will also be very salty to make the mother thirsty and consume more of a traditional medicinal remedy. This concoction is made of herbs and boiled with water or combined with rice wine.
Don’t be surprised if you see an American woman out and about just one week after giving birth. In this part of the world, it’s the norm to shower immediately after delivery. Restrictions to food and activity are minimal. Not only can you go back to your regular diet, feel free to start walking around or even go outdoors even in cold weather.
Latin American mums observe la cuarentena, a 40-day postpartum recovery period. During this time, the mother’s body is considered vulnerable and ‘open’ to the cold. As such, she has to cover her head and neck with garments as well as wrap her abdomen in a cloth called a faja. Not only should she avoid washing her hair, she should also refrain from spicy or heavy fare. Sex is a no-no while household chores as taken over by female relatives.
In some countries such as Guatemala, it is believed that bathing in cold water will decrease breast milk supply, and that bathing too soon causes stomach pains or a prolapsed uterus. Women also consume herbal teas containing artemesia, pimipinela, oregano and white honey for pain relief. In Mexico, bathing is not prohibited to protect the mother from ‘evil air’.
What do you think of these confinement practices and would you ever try any of them?
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