Confinement Across the Races

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Are confinement taboos the same across our four races? Katherine Tan explores.

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Confinement across the races

Are confinement taboos the same across our four races? Katherine Tan explores.


The Chinese tradition of Zuo Yuezi dictates that for one month from the birth of their children, mothers must stay inside and avoid bathing, washing their hair or brushing their teeth. They must cover their heads to prevent chills, keep the windows closed, avoid contact with wind (fung) and air-con and remain in bed for as long as possible. Ice water and cold drinks are also not consumed for 21 days after delivery because they are thought to have a bad effect on the metabolism, causing among other things, rheumatism, arthritis and incontinence. In addition, for up to six months after delivery, new mothers are advised not to carry heavy loads to avoid “dropping of the womb”. The right way to carry your baby is to sit, carry, then stand.

During this period, a confinement lady is normally employed for a month to live with the family and take care of the new mother and baby. Foods that are specifically prescribed for the period of confinement include shenghua soup (made with angelica root, roast ginger, licorice root, and other herbs), kidneys, heart, and liver of the pig, red date water, chicken and fish dishes with lots of ginger.


The Malays observe 44 days of confinement. Because of lochia, postpartum women are thought to be more suspect to the influence of evil spirits, so they are discouraged from leaving their homes and are forbidden to cook or clean. Traditionally, the new mum spends her confinement in her family home where she is attended by her mother and the masseuse. The masseuse will normally come to the house for three days to perform a massage to release stress and help the mother regain her figure.

During confinement, the masseuse may warm the new mother’s abdomen by applying a smooth, heated stone. This is specifically reputed to cleanse the womb to prevent illness, speed the shrinking of the uterus and therefore return a pre-pregnancy figure. Foods that are specifically prescribed for the period of confinement include chicken soup, beef soup, milo and jamu. Fruits such as guava, green bananas and pineapples are to be avoided because of their cooling effect. Seafood is also discouraged because it inhibits recovery of the wound. Chilli intake is also reduced to prevent constipation.

A week after the child’s birth, his hair will be shaved and a sacrifice of a sheep is performed. Muslims believe that this sacrifice shows gratitude to God. The meat is later cooked and distributed to family members, friends, neighbours as well as the poor and needy.


The Indians practice a 40 day confinement period, where they rest and recover in their parents houses. Traditionally, mothers are only allowed to take herbal baths and receive a special massage with warm mustard oil daily. Women are also advice to eat “hot” food, which are deemed to restore energy that the mother lost during the birth process. Hot foods commonly consumed include ghee, dried fish, brinjals, dhal, drumsticks, and greens.

In some very traditional South Indian families, they consider the first week after delivery a period of pollution, therefore, a ceremony may be held on the seventh day to remove the pollution.

For the North Indians, mom and child stay home for the first 21 days unless for medical check ups. On the 21st day, they visit the temple to drink the holy water so as to ward off evil spirits and protect the mom and baby from harm. In more traditional families, the confinement period lasts for 40 days.


While most Eurasians do not really practice a confinement period some do adhere to traditional postpartum practices related to the notion of regaining heat, much like the other Asian cultures. This includes food restrictions, taking hot baths, and enjoying hot drinks.

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