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Breaking Confinement Rules

From the first day the news of my pregnancy was made public, I was constantly reminded of the various confinement rules I would have to adhere to upon giving birth. The logic behind these century-old ranged from acceptable to outright bewildering.


Stick to your confinement Stick to your confinement

From the first day the news of my pregnancy was made public, I was constantly reminded of the various confinement rules I would have to adhere to upon giving birth.

The logic behind these century-old confinement rules ranged from acceptable to outright bewildering. It just made no sense to me why I should not wash my hair for one whole month after the birth of my child.

Fortunately for me, my husband and I attended antenatal classes at Thomson Medical Centre and were corrected on most of these historical practices by my class instructor – the reputable Mrs Wong Boh Boi.

Although it has been almost two years since I sat in that class, I still can recall her incredulous expression when she shared with us that “it is nonsense that you cannot shower or wash your hair after birth”. Mrs Wong emphasised that it was basic personal hygiene that we should pay more attention to – especially if mothers were to breastfeed – and also to prevent infection of any stitches we would have had due to delivery.

Down the Rabbit Hole

After I had delivered my boy via emergency C-section, I took Mrs Wong’s professional advice to heart and ignored all the superstitious warnings of rheumatism and migraines. I showered regularly in warm water and washed my hair, but to play safe, my husband would close all the windows and doors to ensure I didn’t catch any “wind”. He also insisted I dry up and get dressed quickly in something warm instead of inspecting my new figure naked.

In my situation, it helped because we did not hire a confinement nanny or lived with any of our parents, so there were no elders around to constantly question my rebellious behaviour. My father, however, did nag me each time he visited us and brought Chinese rice wine for me to wipe my body with in replacement for showering. Of course I took no heed and continued to shower. It made no sense to me to rub alcohol on my body when my newborn would be suckling off an alcohol-covered breast every few hours. Also, I could not imagine rubbing alcohol anywhere near my fresh cesarean wound! That bottle of wine still sits in my kitchen today, with the original seal intact.

As for the various special dietary needs of a new mum, I only managed to stick to two weeks’ of confinement food – provided by a confinement caterer – before I gave up and cancelled my order for the rest of the month. I also have to admit that I had burgers and fries from the nearby 24-hours fast food chain, pig’s organ soup, ice-cream, roti prata, breakfast cereal with ice cold milk, chocolates, sushi, potato chips and other foods that would have sent most other confinement mothers into a panicked frenzy.

Instead of the usual longan and red date tea that most new Chinese mothers would have to consume, I downed at least three litres of water daily (half of it being iced water) and I also had the some sodas and fruit juices. I was feeling parched from my new duties of breastfeeding and – having given birth during the hottest mid-year period – had a constant thirst that was screaming to be quenched. The red date tea did nothing but made me more thirsty, and I was beginning to wonder if my milk would start tasting like red dates and longans very soon.

In one ear, out the next

The Malay lady masseuse I hired cautioned me that all that water would cause water retention and mid-section bloating. She shushed me when I tried to explain and pointed out my dry lips to her, but she did share with me that back in her childbearing years, most mothers had believed that formula milk was more beneficial and few actually breastfed their babies. She had never breastfed, but she understood that nursing was thirsty work indeed.

Before she left my home, she reiterated that it “would be best” if I drank no water and purely survived on red date tea. I did what most mothers in my position would do: Nod, and then ignore the comment.

During my postpartum check-up with my gynecologist, she questioned me on whether I had been keeping in line with the traditional confinement practices. I told her the truth without any hesitation and, in my amusement, she shared with me, “Neither did I when I had my children.” Being a doctor and a mother of two, I believe if she has had no repercussions from her confinement misbehaviour, I would be similarly safe from any of those midwives’ tales. She also told me that if I experienced any backaches, it would be due to the back strain during pregnancy and the new task of holding my newborn constantly.

She emphasised that it would not be a side-effect of the epidural I had during my cesarean operation or because I had not been following confinement rules. I must admit that having my doctor tell me all these really made me feel I made the right choice by doing what I did.

I am also glad to share that despite my “disobedience”, I have not experienced any aches and pains, and I would like to remind mothers-to-be that as long as common sense and moderation is applied during the confinement period, you and your new baby would be safe and sound.

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