Experiences of labour and child birth can differ from mother to mother. Some experience almost no pain, while others more so. But ask any mother and you most probably will hear the same answer – giving birth is one of the most unforgettable experiences ever! However, bringing a child into the world is no easy feat. Apart from the many preparations needed before going into labour, mothers must also be as equally conscientious in ensuring that they recuperate well after labour. As such, they adhere to a period of post-partum recovery termed ‘confinement’. You may have perhaps heard a lot about the ‘dos and don’ts’ of confinement, so much so that it has become increasing hard to tell which method works and which does not. This article seeks to do just that – to separate myths from facts.
What is confinement?
Largely an Asian practice, the concept of confinement is to ensure that new mothers have the chance to rest and heal their bodies. Different cultures have their own confinement practices determining the length of the recovery period, which food and drink the new mother should avoid and other restrictions or allowances they believe can quicken recovery.
Throughout the confinement period, generally between 30 to 44 days, mothers are usually assisted by a ‘confinement lady’ or midwives, their mothers or other family members who cook, clean, help care for baby and perform other household chores the mother may not be able to do just yet. Some even give massages!
So now that we know what confinement is all about, let us take a look at some of the myths surrounding this practice.
Myth 1 : Do not bathe!
In certain cultures, especially among the Chinese, one of the major activities that new mothers should avoid is bathing and washing their hair. The reason behind this is that the mother’s body is very vulnerable to whatever effects the external elements may bring to the body right after giving birth. In line with this belief, dousing the body and head with water would lead to chills that increase the risk of developing arthritis and/or rheumatism as the mother ages.
However, there is no scientific evidence to support this belief. The possibility of developing arthritis and/or rheumatism does not increase with bathing after delivering a baby. On the contrary, keeping the body and head clean is encouraged for hygienic reasons. In Asian countries with high humidity levels such as Malaysia and Singapore, it is especially important to constantly rid the body of sweat, germs and bacteria, thus keeping infections and illnesses at bay. On top of that, keeping the body clean is even more important for mothers who breastfeed as there would be less chances of germs being passed on to baby.
Myth 2 : Eat plenty of foods can ‘heat’ the body up
Dietary restrictions are also common during confinement. Mothers are fed with all sorts of herbal tonics, broths and even alcohol to ‘warm’ the body up, as well as to provide more nutrition to compensate for the loss of blood during delivery.
While it is beneficial for the new mother to boost her nutritional intake especially just after giving birth, nevertheless, there is no evidence to show that these herbal concoctions do actually ‘warm up’ the body, or that the body needs ‘heating up’ in the first place. A well-balanced diet including plenty of fruits and vegetables are essential to promote a quicker recovery as it provides the mother with the necessary vitamins, minerals and fibre. Furthermore, mothers who breastfeed may want to consume as little alcohol as possible. Studies show that certain elements such as alcohol and caffeine can pass through the mother to the baby through breast milk. This may then slow down baby’s development.
Myth 3 : Water restriction
New mothers are also advised to minimise their intake of water, juices or other drinks as it is believed that consumption of liquids during the confinement period causes water retention.
On the contrary, drinking plenty of water is actually very beneficial. The body retains a lot of fluids during pregnancy and after childbirth, the kidneys work to expel this excess from the body. As such, drinking plenty of water during confinement actually helps the kidneys to do their job as well as to replace any loss of fluids for mothers who breastfeed.
Myth 4 : No leaving the house
For as long as the confinement period lasts, new mothers are not supposed to leave the house (and sometimes even the room) for fear of contracting illnesses from being exposed to pollutants outside the home. Because the body is weak after birth, it is believed that new mothers are more susceptible to this than she would have been previously.
Again, there is no proof that mothers would contract illnesses just by leaving the house within 30 days of giving birth. It is true that the body is weaker post-partum, but the chances of falling ill do not differ by being outdoors or indoors.
Confinement – a necessary practice?
With our lifestyles today and increased scientific understanding of how the body works, need new mothers still adhere to the age-old confinement traditions? While it is true that most practices are contrary to scientific evidence, nevertheless, there are some confinement restrictions that do benefit mothers and help them recover faster. The most important thing when undergoing confinement is to ensure that mothers do not put themselves or baby at risk, especially in terms of their personal hygiene and diets. In other words, it is imperative to separate myths from facts of confinement. If nothing else, this can be a period of rest and relaxation and an excellent opportunity to spend time to get to know and bond with baby.