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The Chinese Custom of Confinement

The more I learn about Chinese "confinement" customs, the more I wish I'd had a mother-and-baby honeymoon with each of my own babies... a time of rest and pampering while getting to know my baby.

Confinement is the Chinese custom of keeping mother and baby in seclusion for 30 days, feeding mother special dishes to help her body heal, and keeping her warm.

I was hoping that my mother- and sister-in-law would be able to share some of the wisdom behind the custom, but I learned that it was a mystery even to them. What follows is what I've been able to find on the internet, including some guidelines for confinement and recipes for the food.

Confinement Guidelines

Confinement is typically observed for thirty to forty days, and some recommend that mother rest for up to eight weeks to recover from childbirth.

High energy, high protein foods such as Sesame Chicken are recommended. Sesame oil (cooked into food) is said to heal the uterus and rid it of "dirty residue". Chicken provides easily-digested protein, and can also be replaced by fish or eggs, while the ginger and tonic wine in this dish help get rid of "wind" and promote blood circulation.

Nutritious soups eaten one hour before breastfeeding help in the production of milk. My mother-in-law used to make me fish soup for dinner and I would feel engorged the next morning--perfect for pumping and storing breast milk.

Red meat is discouraged as it causes constipation and excessive weight gain. Cabbage, bok choy, broccoli and green beans also discouraged as it creates "wind" in the stomach.

Some women drink no water during the confinement period, because it is believed to cause water retention. Other women drink only warm water, and anything cold (fluids or food) is not allowed because it might cause the mother to catch a cold.

For some, bathing is not permitted until the tenth day, and then every fifth day until the end of the confinement period. A traditional first bath is very hot water boiled with ginger and lemongrass, resembling tea. For others, a quick shower (no baths due to the possibility of infection) is allowed in warm or hot water.

Hair may not be washed until the last day of the confinement period, but there is a dry shampoo available that is rubbed into the scalp and hair to absorb oil.

A mother expends so much energy during childbirth that she is advised to rest as much as possible during confinement. She is discouraged from getting out of bed, lifting anything heavier than her baby, and climbing stairs. The Chinese believe that doing any of these things can cause the weakened uterus to "drop down", which is actually a very real condition called prolapse, although I'm not sure if any of these activities is documented as a possible cause.

Mother is also discouraged from reading, sewing, or doing anything that requires concentration, so that she can rest her eyes. Obviously, exercise with the purpose of slimming down is also discouraged during this time.

Support During Confinement

Confinement nurses and nannies can be hired for approximately NT$30,000 per month. A nurse might help you care for the newborn, cook for the family, prepare the special confinement diet, and also do some light housekeeping. She might also assist with breastfeeding and showing the new mother how to care for and bathe her baby. Some nurses can spend the entire thirty days with you so that you don't have to get out of bed in the middle of the night, while others might spend the day with you and leave after she's prepared dinner for the family.

Those who are unable or unwilling to pay for a confinement nurse might be fortunate to have a willing mother or mother-in-law to spend the month with her.

Other options include staying at a clinic where full-time staff care for mother and baby (anywhere from NT$40,000 to $50,000) or ordering the special confinement diet delivered to your home for about NT$1000 per day.

Do-it-yourself Confinement Recipes

Following are several pages of confinement recipes, courtesy of Sam at in Singapore. If you have recipes of your own that you'd like to share, please post to our Family Forum.

Classic Post-Natal Confinement Recipes
Post-Natal Confinement Chicken Dishes
Post-Natal Confinement Beef Dishes
Post-Natal Confinement Fish Dishes
Confinement Soups and Tonics

Disclaimer: These recipes are provided here for informational purposes only. Some confinement recipes may call for alcohol, so please use your own judgment if you decide to prepare any of the dishes described here.

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