Chinese Confinement also known as 坐月子 or "sitting the month" has been practiced by Chinese women for many generations. However many of the "rules" around the practice may seem like old wives tales. So let's take a look at some common misconceptions.
You are not allowed to shower and wash your hair during confinement.
TCM perceives that opening pores (through wet skin or wet hair after a shower) allows wind to enter your body causing ailments. Bear in mind back in the day there were no hot water systems, heaters or hair dryers and winter in China can be extreme. Today if mothers are properly protected, quickly dried off and warmed, it is ok to shower and wash your hair - especially if it keeps you sane. Another option is that because we don't leave the home during confinement a wipe down using a concoction of warming herbs is sufficient to keep a new Mum fresh.
You should stay in bed during confinement.
Traditionally, women were encouraged to stay in bed in the first week, sit up in the second, move around in the third and then venture out after the fourth week. All this was to limit gravity on the pelvic floor and prevent prolapse.
We definitely don't want mothers to suffer from Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) so some movement is required during the postpartum period. Also if gentle movement is beneficial for your mental health, we are here for it.
Avoiding overexertion and listening to your body is key. In a world where productivity is a measure of success, slowing down during this sacred time can be hard but we encourage you to rest and receive care that you so deserve.
You cannot leave the house during confinement.
Strict observers of confinement will stay homebound for the month. In TCM the new mother is extremely vulnerable and being out and about will expose her to the elements. Many women also choose to stay home in those early days to avoid taking baby out before their vaccinations if this is something they are waiting for.
While staying home may suit a homebody, it does not serve everyone. Mental health important during this time and if a little walk in the sunshine brings to light happy hormones then we would not suggest against it. We'd recommend avoiding extreme weather (rain, wind, cold) and to dress to keep warm. Beanies, hats, scarves and socks to keep your extremities warm and protected is a good guide.
You can't drink plain water during confinement
The myth is that plain water leads to water retention and the body to be susceptible to "wind" entering. However, it is important that mothers stay hydrated postpartum especially whilst breastfeeding. We don't recommend drinking cold water but warm or room temperature water is fine. To boost the nutrients of your drinks, Red Dates or herbal teas, bone broth, coconut water are all beneficial as long as not consumed cold as it is a shock to the system and restricts digestion.
You cannot eat fruit or veg during confinement as they are "cold" foods
Again this is about "wind" entering your body with the consumption of raw or cold fruit or vegetables. We recommend eating fruit at room temperature. Cooked vegetables are best as they are gentler on the digestive system. Warm fruits and stews are also great as you get the fruit intake and they form beautiful desserts that are gentle on the tummy.
PSA: Cold smoothies and raw salads are not an appropriate meal for the postpartum mum.
All I'll be eating is ginger in everything during confinement.
Ahh the power of ginger - warming and healing and is a favourite in Chinese cooking to ward off cold elements in food and drink. Often its just a couple of slices added in cooking so it is not overpowering in flavour. But do note that it is important to be mindful of one's own constitution and if naturally on the hotter side, you probably won't need as much ginger in your food. Some of my personal favourite confinement recipes that include ginger - ginger in red dates tea, ginger fried rice and pork knuckle with ginger and black vinegar.
We hope this sheds some light on traditional practices of Chinese confinement and help understand that there are modern applications to these practices.
Are there any confinement practices you've heard of that seem strange or would like clarity around? Leave us a note.
If you found this interesting, be sure to check out our latest Around the World Series that shares our founder's confinement practice as a Malaysian Chinese woman living in Australia.