Chinese Tradition of Postpartum Confinement

Postpartum confinement (坐月子 "Zuò yuè zi" in Mandarin and literally means “Sitting the month”) refers to a period following childbirth for new mums' recovery. The traditional confinement in China usually lasts for one month (natural birth) or 42 days (caesarean). With a history of over 2,000 years, confinement has been an essential postnatal practice for new mothers in China. Confinement, a process of physical and mental healing and recovery, is the number one issue for new mums, and a good confinement is directly associated to the health and physical condition of new mothers after childbirth. What's more, the confinement can also indirectly affect the normal growth of the breast-fed babies. Many people may wonder if the confinement is really necessary. In fact, it is very necessary to practice the confinement after childbirth. Women who live and work as usual immediately after giving birth are more likely to suffer from gynecological diseases in middle age. Therefore, the postnatal confinement is necessary.

In fact, the confinement means a period of trouble for new mums, as they are seriously threatened by potential diseases, such as puerperal infection, mastitis, uterine prolapse and adnexitis. At the same time, postpartum women may become mentally vulnerable and suffer from postnatal depression due to physiological changes and increased pressure. Therefore, a joyful atmosphere at home, especially a helpful and considerate husband who can offer support both in life and emotion, is very important.

How to Practice a Scientific Confinement?

Maintain Proper Temperature

New mothers should dress as per the climate, temperature, and humidity in the living environment. The room should maintain a comfortable temperature of 25oC - 27oC and a humidity of 50% - 60%. Long sleeves, trousers and socks are suggested to avoid catching cold or making joints invaded by wind, cold and humidity.

Moderate Exercise and Rest

Moderate exercise and rest are very helpful to discharge lochia, recover the body and maintain a good figure. After delivery, new mums often feel weak and dizzy, and they need to stay in bed and avoid getting out of bed for more than half an hour. After several days of recovery, they can reduce the time of staying in bed and get out for one to two hours. However, the long time standing or sitting is not suggested as it can lead to backache and pain in legs, knees and ankles.

Keep Clean

New mothers should take shower and clean hair regularly to stay away from inflammation caused by bacterial infection. In ancient times with poor living environment and conditions and no appliances, new mums were subject to no shampooing or showering for one month. However, modern women are not limited by the above. New mothers can shampoo or shower with warm water at about 40oC, and dry the hair with a dry towel in time.

Maintain a Healthy Diet

The above three are applicable to every new mother but the diet varies with personal physique. Also, the diet and medication are associated with lochia discharge, breast-feeding, cold, headache, mouth ulcers, itchy skin, stomachache and other diseases. In general, the confinement foods are supposed to be warm and nourishing. The physician's advice based on personal physique is suggested to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.

Take Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are usually deemed as cold foods which have adverse effects on the stomach and intestine of new mothers. In fact, this is wrong. Fruits and vegetables, rich in vitamins and plant proteins, can be very helpful for postpartum recovery and lactation. Fruits recommended in the confinement period include kiwi, durian, apple, papaya, olive, grape, pineapple, banana, longan and hawthorn.

Supplement Nutrients

New mothers in the confinement period should continue to take milk powder for pregnant women, and scientifically supplement over 20 kinds of nutrients essential to the growth of babies, such as DHA, choline, calcium and iron, to ensure and improve the quality of breast milk.

Misconceptions about Postnatal Confinement

No Brushing

In China, the older generation keeps telling new mothers not to brush their teeth for one month after childbirth, otherwise they will "lose ten teeth for delivering a baby". This actually reminds new mothers to pay attention to the harm of ignoring dental hygiene. But some people just misinterpret it that new mothers can not brush teeth, which is one reason leading to the loss of teeth. Tradition believes that brushing teeth can cause toothache in new mums, which is contrary to the medical science. In fact, failure to remove tartar by brushing can increase the occurrence of oral diseases like decayed tooth and periodontitis, and cause toothache.

Taking More Soup

Many elders believe that drinking more soup can replenish water for new mothers and increase the secretion of milk rapidly. But unblocked lactiferous ducts are essential to the lactation, the unimpeded flow of milk secreted and the prevention of breast tenderness. For most of new mothers, the lactiferous ducts are not yet completely dredged, so it is too early to drink lactation-promoting soup. A proper amount of light soup, such as egg soup and fish soup (other than crucian carp soup) with a little salt, can be taken in summer with more sweating. 

No Drinking Water

Some Taiwan companies providing confinement services advocate that new mums should not drink water after childbirth because this can cause visceroptosis and other consequences. However, this is totally of no basis either in traditional Chinese or Western medicine theory. In fact, too much water is not suggested in the first two weeks after childbirth, as it can cause edema and affect the postpartum recovery.

Taking More Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is considered a warm food which can benefit Qi and help digestion in traditional Chinese medicine. Although this saying is true, the brown sugar is not an essential nutrient for new mothers. Since brown sugar can invigorate the circulation of blood, taking too much will aggravate the symptoms of colporrhagia.

No Salt

Due to the sweating and milk secretion, new mums are prone to loss of water and salt during the first few days of childbirth, which in turn affects the milk secretion. Therefore, a little salt is suggested in the diet as no salt at all can lead to water-electrolyte imbalance in the body. A light diet is recommended as the excessive salt intake can impose an extra load on kidney and cause edema.

No Airing or Going Out

In the past, ventilation was prohibited in the confinement period to prevent puerperal diseases. Catching cold during the confinement is harmful to the health and can cause puerperal diseases. Nowadays, living conditions have been improved, with better measures to keep warm. Opening windows for ventilation during the confinement to air the room is actually the best way for recovery. And it does not mean new mothers can not go out during the month: as long as enough measures are taken to keep warm, going out for fresh air is very helpful for the recovery of new mothers.