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What is Confinement? (Chinese-Styled)

Submitted by on December 22, 2008 – 6:00 amOne Comment | 9,256 views

I’m kind of kicking myself for writing this so late.  It’s only because I’ve recently had many friends give birth to children and they are ASKING me for confinement details that I’ve decided to write a post on it and then send it to them instead of answering their lengthy emails and then going into more depth when they call.  I don’t mind giving details and I certainly don’t mind assisting as much as I physically can, but isn’t easier to just consolidate all my learning on to a page?  Oh and then there’s the chance that I’m sharing this with someone who doesn’t know me but wants to know anyways.

What is this Chinese pregnancy confinement?

The Chinese believe that after you give birth to a child, you’re supposed to go through confinement for at least 1 month.  The reason for this confinement is because you’ve lost your “heatiness” or you have excessive “cold” in your body and are susceptible to illness and postpartem problems later on in your life (will go into more detail).  I don’t know how else to explain it in English, so I’ll do my best with the translation.

Why do the Chinese do it?

Confinement dates way back to our ancestors when back in those days, there was limited heating and limited resources to assist with postpartem recovery.  Especially in the winter (and without advanced medicine), your already weakened body is susceptible to disease and illness.  By avoiding “cold” foods and maintaining your own physical warmth, you are able to recover faster and avoid those long term and potential health problems as you age – such as migraines, back aches, “wetness” in your joints and weak overall general health.  Back in those days, many Chinese used the skin of ginger to soak their feet and bathe in (to retain and put back heatiness).  The ginger itself would be consumed through soups, stews and various dishes.

Here are some DO NOTs during confinement:

  • You can’t wash your hair (baths are allowed, but in warm water)
  • You can’t get your head wet or get rained on (all the new mothers were wearing WOOLEN hats in February in Hong Kong when the weather was like +15 degrees celcius at the local children’s clinic)
  • You have to avoid the cold (layers and layers of sweaters and no exposed flesh – even in mild weather)
  • You can’t eat “cold”  foods (like watermelon or ice cream)
  • You definitely CANNOT squat or stand for extended periods of time (or else your uterus will pop out – so goes the Chinese theory, but I laughed my head off when they told me and not just my mom told me, other Chinese women)
  • You have to avoid cold water (even washing your hands and feet)
  • You can’t eat “poisonous” meats (duck, beef, lamb)
  • You can’t eat fish that have no scales, like eel (as it is said to be poisonous as well)
  • You can’t eat sashimi

Here are some DOs for confinement:

  • Lie down for as long as possible and stay down (true to some extent, after baby #1, I decided to go walk Yorkdale after 2 weeks.  After about 30 minutes in the mall, I was physically DRAINED and my lochia started up again – heavily.  Freaked me out that I had to call tele-health, and they also suggested I get some more bed rest)
  • Do eat lots of heaty foods (ginger, ginger, ginger)
  • Do drink supplemental health drinks designed to infuse heatiness back into your body
  • Wear more layers and cover your head and feet

A few other tips that were passed on to me during confinement and even through breastfeeding:

  • Avoid drinking ginseng during breastfeeding as any roots (or similar) will reduce milk production
  • Drink soups as often as you can.  During my confinement I was drinking 2 different soups a day (all made fresh by my mother everyday – one chicken soup for healing and one papaya fish soup for breastfeeding).  My reasoning is that soups are good for you, regardless of your condition.  Getting more water into your system and the nutrients that go with it are always beneficial.

Truly, is it necessary to go through confinement and in such detail?  Well, as a Chinese girl with western thinking, I was (and still am) skeptical to the purpose of confinement.  I hate ginger with a passion so you can imagine my willingness to eat it.  My mother would shred the ginger and use the juice in cooking instead of putting the whole pieces in (partly because I started picking them out and it tasted better).  Again, I took these rules in stride (I washed my hair on day 2 after my 2nd baby was born) but did what I could “in case”.  It’s not too much trouble to put on an extra layer of clothing or soak my feet in ginger water, so I did.  You have to keep in mind that the tradition and history of the Chinese is very extensive and maybe there is merit to these passed on “secrets” generation after generation.

Here’s a great source for a confinement diet and confinement soups.

Confinement Soups @ TheChineseSoupLady.com

Confinement Stories @ TheChineseSoupLady.com

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One Comment »

  • janice says:

    Thanks! Great article!
    Can u please do an article on Chinese pre-natal diet as well? Itll be as interesting! Im pregnant!! wooohooo

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