A woman’s body needs to be nourished with highly nutritious food from the moment she becomes pregnant until she goes into labour in order to strengthen her body and nurture the foetus. Pregnant women go through a number of bodily changes that can weaken their immune system, cause a loss of strength, and wear down their physical function after childbirth. A nutritious diet and plenty of rest are essential for protecting both the mother and the baby. It is also associated with normal brain development, a healthy birth weight, and can help reduce the risk of many birth defects.
Whether during pregnancy or after childbirth, mothers must consume highly nutritious foods and avoid certain foods that can be harmful to their infants. In Chinese culture, the first 30 to 40 days after delivery are critical for recovery, this is also known as the confinement period, during which mothers are expected to rest as much as possible and consume a confinement food menu filled with beneficial foods. Read on to learn more about this tradition and to get more pointers on how to make your confinement as pleasant as possible.
1.1. What Is Chinese Confinement?
Chinese confinement, 坐月子 (zuo yue zi) or literally translated to ‘sitting the moon’ refers to allowing postpartum mothers to do nothing but to rest and recover for a month following childbirth. This practice has been a tradition for thousands of years in Chinese history and it is still practised by most Chinese, including those in Singapore.
Mothers are encouraged to rest and recover from the physical trauma of childbirth for at least 30 days, if not longer. Many believe that this is the most critical period of recovery and that mothers must be nourished with highly nutritious confinement foods supported by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or they will suffer from a variety of other ailments or a weaker body.
In Singapore, a typical confinement period lasts for 28 days. It can go up to 42 days for some mothers. This period of confinement is still insufficient as postpartum recuperation typically takes about three to six months. A woman’s body must undergo significant physiological changes, such as hormonal changes, weight gain, fluid retention, stretch marks, stretching of abdominal muscles, and many others. This puts a lot of stress on the mother both physically and mentally during the 9 to 10 months of pregnancy. It will take an equal amount of time for mothers to fully recover and regain vitality.
1.2. The Purpose Of Chinese Confinement
The purpose of this confinement period is to allow your reproductive organs to recover and return to normal. There is also a lot of emphasis placed on the confinement foods that mothers eat; these meals must be tailored to help accelerate the mother’s recovery from her weakened body, dispel “wind” from the body, alleviate the heat in the body, boost blood circulation, revitalise strength and increase the mother’s breast milk supply. Furthermore, this period of care, as well as the special diet consumed, can prevent postnatal hair loss and depression, as well as backaches, rheumatism, and other ailments, while preparing your body for future pregnancies.
1.3. What To Take Note Of During Confinement?
1. Physical Care
Your physical body underwent rapid transformations, and you had to endure hours of labour, even sustaining wounds during childbirth. It’s no surprise that your body is tired and weak. There are a few things you should do to care for your physical body during your confinement.
- Keep your body warm
According to TCM, it is critical for mothers to keep their bodies warm after delivery because their body constitution has weakened, resulting in lower immunity. Mothers with a weakened immune system are more susceptible to catching a cold and falling sick. While it is safe to turn on the air conditioner or fan, mothers should take care not to be directly exposed to the wind flow and to keep the air-conditioning temperature above 24°C at all times.
- Maintain good personal hygiene
Many believe that mothers should not shower during confinement. This is a tradition of the past as women in history bathed in cold water collected from a well or rain. This puts them at risk of catching a cold or suffering from an infection or inflammation from contaminated water. Today, mothers can bathe safely in warm and clean water, so it is recommended that you maintain personal hygiene to keep your wounds clean.
During the confinement period, mothers may consider bathing in herb-infused water, which is beneficial for overall blood circulation, repelling dampness and “wind” in the body, and keeping you clean.
- Minimise exposure to electronic devices
From a TCM perspective, the prolonged use of your eyes impairs and depletes the Qi and blood in your body. We advise you to refrain from looking at your devices for long periods of time and take breaks in between to reduce eye strain and allow your eyes to rest.
If you’re breastfeeding, you are constantly losing nutrients through your breast milk. These nutrients, including those essential for vision health, are given to your baby, resulting in a deficiency of nutrients in your body to maintain your vision. Problems of vertigo, dry eyes, and blurred vision may follow.
- Wear a binder
A binder supports your muscles and assists the uterus in returning to its original size by providing gentle compression that safely holds muscles and ligaments in place. It is strongly advised that you wear a binder, but not too tightly, as this could cause tissue and muscle damage, restrict movement, and impair breathing.
- Get postpartum massages
After giving birth, acupressure points along your meridian channels can be stimulated with a postpartum massage to correct Yin and Yang imbalances. Depending on the massage, it can also help with uterine contraction, flatulence, improve overall immunity, and even increase breast milk supply. Not to mention that a massage can help your body relax and improve your mood.
- Engage in simple exercises
Exercising improves blood circulation, which boosts Qi and energy recuperation. Light and simple exercises, such as walking around the house, are beneficial to both your physical and mental health. High-intensity cardio or strength training, on the other hand, may cause an incision wound to tear or even affect your back and uterus.
2. Good Dietary Habits
In addition to nutritious Chinese confinement food, there are dietary guidelines that recovering mothers should follow to avoid jeopardising their own recovery.
- Avoid cold or chilled food
Cold foods can have an impact on your Qi and blood circulation, as well as your digestion and nutrient absorption. During your confinement, avoid foods like watermelon, coconut, pumpkin, tomatoes, radish, and ice cream.
- Avoid oily or greasy food
Foods such as butter, animal fats, deep-fried or barbecued food can interfere with digestion, nutrient absorption, and they can cause blocked milk ducts which will affect your breast milk flow.
- Avoid hot and spicy foods
Chilli, garlic, wasabi, and curry will irritate your stomach and spleen, slowing their recovery and affecting your digestion. They may even alter the taste of your breast milk, causing your baby to reject it. The same is true for foods with strong flavours. They could put additional strain on your digestive system.
- Avoid heavily salted or seasoned food
Additional salt intake and heavily seasoned food put stress on your kidneys, cause water retention and hinders your recuperation and weight loss process.
3. Confinement Essentials
In addition to proper nutrition from your confinement food and adequate rest, here are some essentials you need during your confinement period. These items can help you stay comfortable.
- Nursing Pads
When you have breast milk leaks, nursing pads can help you absorb them and keep your shirt from getting soaked. They can help save you a lot of mess while you’re out or sleeping.
- Breastfeeding Friendly Clothes
Such clothing usually has buttons or designs in the front that makes it easier for you to breastfeed.
- A Donut Ring Cushion
When your private parts are sore after delivery, it may be difficult for you to sit anywhere. A donut ring cushion keeps your private parts from rubbing against the surfaces you’re sitting on.
1.3.1. Understanding The Three Stages Of Confinement
Stage 1 | Uterus Recovery & Wound Healing
During childbirth, mothers experience significant blood loss, vaginal tears, and other wounds that can result in blood clots and pain. The uterus may even continue to bleed after delivery until it returns to normal size. As a result, during the first week of confinement, it is critical to focus on helping your wounds heal, promoting blood circulation, and reducing blood stasis as quickly as possible.
Stage 2 | Strengthen Digestive System & Tissue Repair
A woman’s body produces 50% more blood during pregnancy. Some of the blood may remain in the body after delivery, causing fluid buildup. It is critical for mothers to strengthen their gastrointestinal system during the second stage of confinement in order to flush out excess fluids and repair tissues.
Stage 3 | Strengthen Physique & Nourish Body
In order to resume their normal lives after confinement, mothers must focus on regaining vitality, improving immunity, and strengthening their bodies. Good nutrition from confinement food can help you recover faster, improve blood circulation, and keep your body warm.
1.4. How To Ensure A Comfortable Confinement?
Postpartum care can be unpleasant and stressful, especially with so many new things to learn about caring for your baby and yourself. It can become overwhelming when you’re physically hurting in multiple areas, feeling weak and tired, and yet you have so many things to take care of. To ensure a pleasant recovery experience, take advantage of all the services and assistance available from confinement companies, friends, and family.
- Get plenty of rest
There are many things to do, but your top priority during confinement is to care for yourself. Other responsibilities, such as running errands or doing housework, can be postponed until you feel better. Make sure to get plenty of rest, sleep 7 to 8 hours per night, and avoid overexertion.
- Get help & support
During this time, you can always turn to your friends and family for assistance. Even if they have no experience with confinement or caring for a baby, they can assist you in purchasing groceries, replenishing household supplies, and even cleaning the house.
Aside from your friends and family, there are many confinement companies, such as confinement food delivery or nannies, that provide very useful services that can relieve some of your burdens. There are people you can hire to help you with whatever you need, whether it’s cleaning the house, preparing your confinement meals, or caring for your baby. You should not feel guilty for not being able to do everything yourself because you are supposed to be resting.
- Embrace your body
It is natural for you to balloon in size after undergoing numerous bodily changes and gaining a significant amount of weight. It will take some time for you to regain your healthy weight, but you should be patient and embrace your new body in the meantime. It is a body that has gone through pain and suffering in order to bring the family a healthy new life.
- Support groups
Postnatal depression is a serious problem that many new mothers face even months after giving birth. The guilt of not being able to properly care for your child, or the fear of not doing a good job, can have a negative impact on your emotions. It is critical to recognise your emotions and figure out how to deal with them.
Finding support groups is an excellent way to begin caring for your mental health. There are many support groups on social media that mothers can join to find other mothers going through the same thing, as well as to learn more about their stories and how they overcame postnatal depression.
Alternatively, your best support will always be your husband and family. Having your loved ones help you, keep you in good spirits and assure you of your efforts can do wonders for your mental health. If you find yourself struggling to be content with how you’re doing, open up your heart and speak to a loved one about it. Chances are, they’ll be more than happy to be in your safe space and to reassure you.
- Start preparing early
You can begin preparing for your confinement and recovery in advance, just as you did with baby products before delivery. Having all of the herbs and supplies you need, as well as arranging for care and assistance prior to delivery, can put your mind at ease.
1.5. Debunking Confinement Myths
#1: Don’t shower
It is believed that coming into contact with cold water will cause “wind” to enter your body, eventually leading to chronic diseases. The truth is that good personal hygiene is essential, and mothers must bathe and keep clean, particularly the area between the genitals and anus, to prevent infection and promote wound healing.
#2: Don’t drink water
Drinking water during confinement is thought to increase water retention and allow “wind” into the body. However, mothers must stay hydrated in order for their bodies to function. Breastfeeding mothers, in particular, should drink at least one glass of water after each breastfeeding session.
#3: Drink rice wine and other alcoholic drinks
Chinese confinement food cooked with alcohol, such as rice wine, are thought to improve blood circulation and warm the body. The truth is, it is not necessary for the recovery of mothers who have recently given birth. In fact, excessive alcohol consumption can be harmful to your baby, especially if you are breastfeeding. It has the potential to impede growth and development.
#4: Don’t use fans or air-conditioners
Heat and discomfort can make you irritable and lower your quality of life. It is acceptable to use fans and air conditioning to keep you cool and comfortable. However, avoid being directly exposed to the cold wind as this may increase your chances of catching a cold.
#5: Don’t read or cry
The eyes are thought to be linked to the liver, which has been weakened by childbirth. When your eyes are strained, your liver suffers more damage. However, this has not been scientifically proven, and there is no evidence that reading or crying can directly cause liver damage.
#6: Do not walk or move about
Walking or moving around is thought to exacerbate muscle weakness. It is recommended, however, that mothers walk around once they feel comfortable, as this can help reduce the risk of blood clots.
CHINESE CONFINEMENT FOOD
2.1. Nutrients You Need
Moms who have recently given birth require proper nutrition to aid in their healing and recovery. Breastfeeding mothers’ diets also have a direct impact on their baby’s health and growth.
Iron is necessary for your baby’s development and thyroid function if you are breastfeeding. Iron is found in red meat, liver, clams, and green leafy vegetables.
- Vitamin B12
Mothers with a vitamin B12 deficiency may be prone to anaemia. B12 is also essential for the development of red blood cells, energy production and DNA formation. Babies with B12 deficiency are also at risk of developmental delays and poor brain growth. Sources of vitamin B12 include tuna, clams, beef, salmon, liver, fortified dairy products and cereals.
- Omega-3 DHA
This aids in improving mental focus, lowering inflammation, and lowering the risk of postpartum depression. Salmon, sardines, fortified eggs, and dairy products are all good sources of Omega-3 DHA. A high DHA concentration in your breast milk also aids in the development of your child’s brain and vision.
This is an essential nutrient for infant memory and brain development. Eggs and liver are good sources of choline.
- Vitamin D
This vitamin supports the immune system, brain and nervous system, lowering the risk of developing postpartum depression and anxiety. You can get vitamin D from salmon, tuna, liver, orange juice, and egg yolks.
After delivery, folate is essential for cell renewal and heart health. If you are breastfeeding, folate helps in healthy brain development. Folate is not the same as folic acid, and research has shown that many women are unable to process folic acid.
Essential for the prevention of long-term bone loss and osteoporosis, calcium is important for both the mother and baby. A mother loses 3 to 5 % of bone density during the early stages of breastfeeding and this should be replenished by getting enough calcium.
2.2. What To Eat
Include salmon, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, eggs, fish oil, and flaxseed oil in your confinement meals to improve your brain function and help your child’s nervous system develop.
Consume more iron-rich foods such as lean beef, liver, sunflower seeds, beans, clams, and oysters for healthier red blood cells and higher energy levels. Vegetarian mothers can consume more green leafy vegetables for iron.
Broccoli and spinach are high in vitamin A, calcium, antioxidants, and fibre, all of which are beneficial to the eyes, skin, bones, digestive system, and overall immune health. Two or more servings of fruit per day, such as brightly coloured fruits like grapes and blueberries, which are high in antioxidants, and oranges, which are high in vitamin C, are recommended.
Low-fat dairy products also provide you with B vitamins, vitamin D and protein.
We also recommend including herbs in your confinement meals.
- For breast milk supply: Tong Cao (通草), Huang Qi (黄芪), Dang Gui (当归), Dang Shen (党参), Mai Dong (麦冬) and Jie Geng (桔梗)
- To strengthen the spleen and stomach: Fu Ling (茯苓), Huai Shan (淮山), Bai Shu (白术), Dang Shen (党参), Lian Zi (莲子) and Gan Cao (甘草)
- To nourish the liver and boost kidney functions: Kidney Tonic Soup (补腰汤), Blood Nourishing Soup (养血汤), Niu Xi (牛膝), Shu Di Huang (熟地黄), Du Zhong (杜仲) and Sang Ji Sheng (桑寄生).
- To boost Qi and blood circulation: Dang Gui (当归), Shu Di Huang (熟地黄), He Shou Wu (何首乌)
While TCM herbs are great for nourishment, there are certain herbs that nursing mothers should avoid. They contain high levels of alkaloids, which are harmful to an infant’s nervous system.
- Huang Lian (黄连)
- Huang Bo (黄柏)
- Dahuang (大黄)
- Fan Xie Ye (蕃泻叶)
- Ku Shen Gen (苦参根)
- Wu Zhu Yu (吴茱萸)
- Lu Hui (芦荟)
For an easier confinement period, sign up for a confinement food package to have all your meals taken care of.
Also Read: 7 Foods to Avoid During Confinement
2.4. Recommended Recipes
#1. Dang Gui Nourishing Soup
This is intended to be consumed during your first week of confinement. It aids in replenishing blood, blood stasis removal, and speeding up recovery. Dang Gui has the ability to strengthen the blood, nourish female reproductive organs, regulate menstruation, relieve period pains, and recover from low energy or chronic fatigue symptoms.
Ingredients You’ll Need:
- 10g Dang Gui
- 10g Tao Ren
- 15g Shu Di Huang
- 10g Chuan Xiong
- 10g Red Dates
- 10g Hong Hua
- 250g Pork Ribs
1. Soak all the herbs in 1000ml water for 30 minutes.
2. Blanch the pork ribs in boiling water and add them into the pot of herbs.
3. Bring the pot of herbs and pork ribs to boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours.
4. Add salt or light soy sauce to taste.
#2. Chicken Herbal Soup
This soup is good for blood circulation and the strengthening of meridians, usually consumed during the second week of your postnatal confinement.
Ingredients You’ll Need:
- 20g Ji Xue Teng
- 9g Dan Shen
- 5g Qin Jiao
- 3g Gui Zhi
- 2 pieces Candied Dates
- 300g Black Chicken
- 3 slices Ginger
1. Wash the chicken and place it in a pot.
2. Add 1 litre of water and bring it to a boil.
3. Remove scum from the surface of the water and add the herbs.
4. Simmer over chicken until tender.
5. Add salt or light soy sauce to taste.
#3. Sesame Wine Chicken
This is a warming dish eaten during confinement to warm a woman’s body.
Ingredients You’ll Need:
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 35g Ginger, sliced thinly
- 450g Chicken, cut to small pieces
- 125ml Rice Wine
- 75ml Water
- ½ tbsp Light Soy Sauce
- ½ tbsp wolfberries, soaked in water until ready to use
1. Heat sesame oil in a wok. Add the ginger and stir-fry until fragrant.
2. Add chicken into the wok and stir-fry until they are cooked on the surface
3. Add the rice wine, water and soy sauce. Then, cover with a lid and simmer for 15 minutes. Refill the wok with more water if necessary.
4. Add wolfberries during the last 2 minutes of cooking.
There are numerous things to keep in mind during your confinement, and the food that you consume is critical to your recovery. As it will be tough for you to manage all aspects of your recovery yourself, it is best to enlist the help of people who are more familiar with Chinese confinement, such as your mother and mother-in-law. In addition, you can order your confinement meals from a confinement catering company in Singapore.
NouRiche was established to help mothers recover comfortably and well-nourished. Through the combination of traditional Chinese medicine and our chef’s expertise, we are able to design confinement meals that are both nutritious and delicious. Order your meals with us today.