An overview of Chinese confinement practices
Chinese confinement practices, also known as “zuo ye zi” – literally meaning “sitting a month”, involves confining a new mother and her baby indoors to recuperate and restore her health for 28-45 days. This traditional postpartum confinement practice familiar to Chinese but foreign to other cultures began centuries ago, to protect both mothers and babies from poor health and external risks after childbirth.
Prioritising a mom’s wellbeing, Chinese confinement practices range from restricting certain food to certain activities, ensuring sufficient recuperation and replenishment:
Adequate Rest, No Overexerting
To recover properly, new moms are expected to rest instead of exerting themselves with household chores or cooking- which is why during the confinement period, the woman’s husband, mother, mother-in-law or confinement lady will often stay with her to help her cook and clean.
Special Confinement Meal
Confinement meals are an integral part of the confinement process, so much that even if a new mom is unable to follow most Chinese confinement practices, they would still eat specially prepared meals with healthy, warming ingredients, such as ginger, and avoid ‘cooling’ food such as cold drinks, ice-cream, watermelons or cucumbers.
This is because the Chinese believe that they need to regain their Qi and boost the recovery of blood after childbirth. Soups are nutritious to help moms regain their strength. Moms should also consume less salt and oil to prevent health problems, and to ensure optimum breast milk for their baby.
Moms should also avoid stimulating food such as coffee, concentrated tea and alcohol, spicy and pungent food, as well as sour and astringent food, such as persimmons and dark plums.
Avoid Showering or Air Conditioner
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners believe that moms who have just given birth are more susceptible to cold air, making them fall sick easier, so the ‘no-bathing’ rule used to be a common practice, but modern Chinese women have now opted for washing with warm water boiled with ginger instead, to maintain hygiene. This similar logic forbids the use of air conditioners during confinement, but it has now evolved to being accepted as long as the cold air is not aimed directly at mothers.
Massages are a great way to help a mother relax, de-stress and get her body back into shape. Usually, a mom’s abdomen will be tightly bound before special ointments such as mustard seed oil, are applied for massaging.
Although mothers should avoid extreme or excessive exercise, light exercises for mobility and health are good for moms. Ideal exercises include leg slides, head neck and shoulder raises, as well as pelvic and lower body tilts.
Chinese confinement practices have evolved more practically and beneficially over the years, with the mushrooming of professional confinement centres that offer comfortable accommodations, trained nannies, and well-planned meals to pamper moms. Whichever confinement practices are chosen based on preferences and availability, the most important thing is to help moms recover and regain their health after months of pregnancy and labour.
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