Post-natal confinement practices vary from culture to culture. Although it is widely believed that Westerners are happy to bundle their 10-day-old baby up and take them to the mall or out to lunch with friends, the trend seems to be reversing – more and more new mums, including Western mums living in Singapore are turning to traditional Asian-style post-partum practices.
This entails the new mother observing a period (between 30 and 40 days) of being confined to the house to rest and following a certain set of practices. Confinement practices are getting popular in Singapore.
Traditionally, confinement usually involves a strict set of rules, but is it necessary to stick to all the rules?
Dr Quek Swee Chong, Senior Consultant and Head at the Pre-invasive & Screening Unit, Dept of Gynaecological Oncology at KK Women’s & Children’s Hospital gives his expert opinion on which confinement practices hold water.
Belief #1: New mums should not bathe and wash their hair for a month.
It is believed, based on the principle of “yin” and “yang”, the body loses a great amount of heat and pores are open after giving birth, so chill can enter the body through the open pores. During the first 12 days, new mums should use warm water or herbs to rub and clean the body; once in the morning and once at night.
Dr Quek says: “There should be no harm in taking a shower but I certainly would not recommend swimming or shared baths. “After delivery of the placenta, there is a big raw wound inside the uterus and this needs to be protected from infection.”
Belief #2: Sleeping with the air-conditioner or fan on is detrimental to the new mum.
Dr Quek says: “In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), generally, it is believed that the weakened body after delivery is ‘cold’ and needs to be restored to its normal state, hence new mums should only eat food that are so-called ‘heaty’.
There is indeed a big change in the physiology of the body during pregnancy, with the heart working harder to pump more blood around the body. These changes take several weeks to return to normal after delivery.”
“In TCM, this change translates into an imbalance between heat and cold. But if keeping fully clothed, unwashed and in a poorly ventilated house is causing distress, such a practice may do more harm than good.”
Belief #3: A new mum must minimise movement and stay in bed for a month.
While it is true that the first six weeks after delivery is when the body is restoring itself, it is not necessary for the new mum to stay in bed or restrict her movement.
Dr Quek says: “This practice is dangerous. New mums will be at increased risk of developing clots in the legs known as deep vein thrombosis. It is important to move around.”
Belief #4: During the confinement month, a new mum should refrain from carrying heavy things, including her newborn.
“There is some truth to this. In general the first six weeks after delivery is the time that the enlarged uterus is returning to its normal size.
“Also, increasing numbers of women have C-sections, so not carrying heavy loads is a good idea. This however, is not a reason to avoid carrying the baby, no matter how heavy the baby is. Carrying and cuddling the little one is crucial for mother-child bonding!”
Belief #5: New mums must spend the entire month indoors.
The imposed house arrest on new mums has its roots in the perceived harms of being exposed to the ubiquitous “wind” as well as superstitious tales of baby-snatchers, changeling and milk-thieves that prey on new mums and babies.
Mums and newborns are safer at home. Dr Quek says: “I do not agree with this. Being confined at home for a long period after delivery is detrimental and can lead to post-natal blues or worse yet, post-natal depression.”