During this period, a new mother must observe all confinement taboos and consume a special diet. Although each ethnic group has its own unique practices, their fundamental purpose is similar, which is to nurture the physical and emotional well-being of new mothers.
Unlike earlier generations, some new mothers prefer less restrictions and may even choose not to observe the traditional practices of the confinement period. However, there are mothers who still recognise the virtues of confinement, particularly the enforced rest and limited movement outdoors. Whichever you choose, do what is comfortable for you.
Chinese confinement restrictions include:
30 days of confinement, known as 坐月子
No washing your hair for the entire confinement period. Some mothers get around this rule by using dry shampoo.
Avoiding exposure to "cool" elements such as cold water. Low temperatures from an air-conditioner or fan must be avoided too.
Bathing only with specially prepared warm water that is infused with herbs.
Malay confinement restrictions include:
42 to 44 days of confinement, known as pantang
Hiring a traditional masseuse (bidan) to massage the abdomen and bind the tummy with a special postnatal corset (bengkung).
Using hot stones on the abdomen to 'cleanse' the womb (menaikkan rahim).
Indian confinement restrictions include:
30 to 40 days of confinement, known as Jaappa
Bathe only in warm water that has been boiled with neem leaves. It is believed the leaves are a natural antiseptic, and lukewarm water can soothe tired, aching muscles.
Have a daily massage with special oil blends, such as mustard seed oil.
During your confinement period, a special diet is prepared to boost your immune system and regain your strength.
Chinese confinement diet Your diet consists of dishes that will "warm" the body. These include ginger, sesame oil and a tonic soup for vitality. You are also not allowed to drink any water as it is consider “cooling”. Instead, red date tea is recommended to revitalise your health. The Chinese also believe that fish soups can help boost low milk supply.
"Cooling" foods such as cold drinks, cucumber, cabbage and pineapple should be avoided. Also, "windy" foods such as onions and jackfruit are off limits as they are believed to cause colic in your baby. Cooking confinement dishes can be laborious to prepare. Some mothers choose to cater from Chinese confinement food caterers.
Malay confinement diet Malay new mums are encouraged to eat fresh fish such as snakehead fish to promote healing internally. Like the Chinese, consumption of “heaty” food is also encouraged and cooling food is avoided to restore balance within the body.
A special medicinal drink called “jamu” is believed to keep the body warm when the body’s pores are opened during labour.
Indian confinement diet
Like the Chinese and Malay confinement diet, all “cooling” foods are to be avoided, especially tomatoes, coconut and mutton. However, Indian mums are only allowed to consume chicken and shark fish cooked with herbs. Certain gourd vegetables such as lauki, tori and betel leaves are supposed to help boost milk supply.
Because consuming plenty of garlic is encouraged, garlic milk is drunk during the course of confinement. Cooking can only be done with gingly oil. These foods are aimed at preventing “wind” from entering the body.
During the confinement period, visiting is restricted to allow new mums to recover from childbirth and prevent your baby from being exposed to, or coming down with, any infection. Once the month (or so) is up, a celebration is held by presenting gifts to the mother.
Chinese: Full Moon Celebration Both mother and child are presented to friends and relatives to commemorate the baby’s first month of life and subsequently, longevity into adulthood. Guests will bring gifts in the form of money, jewellery or gold and receive in return a confectionery box as well as some red eggs which represent luck, happiness, harmony, unity and new life.
Malay: Cukur Rambut (hair-shaving ceremony) The cukurrambut is considered a rite of passage for Malay babies. Close relatives and friends are invited to attend this celebration where a reading from the Quran is done to bless the new child. A lock of the baby’s hair is then snipped off by each elder or religious leader present and placed inside a bowl of water. The ceremony ends with the hair being buried in the ground.
Indian: Godh Bharai
Unlike Chinese and Malay families, a new Indian baby celebrates his first year of life with a purification ritual called Mudan (head tonsuring). This ritual is believed to rid the child of his past life’s negativity and bestows upon the child a long life, better future and protects him from the evil eye.