The first question most people would ask before I delivered my child is “Who will help you with confinement?” and after the confinement they asked “How was your confinement?” Let me share with you my journey of confinement of 2 child birth with my parents.
To this modern day, there are many convenient confinement methods available for new mothers to choose from. From stay-at-home, hired a confinement lady at home, order take-away confinement food, stay at the confinement centre, there are many factors to consider about. For those whose parents or in-laws are available and able to travel to your place and help, the stay-at-home method is the most comfortable confinement one can experience. I stay at Labuan, but both of my parents live in Perak and my in-laws are in Kota Kinabalu. Hired a confinement lady? I doubted if I knew someone here. Confinement centre? No, there’s none available in Labuan yet. Get a helper? It’s expensive and it has some process to go through yet my mom doesn’t encourage me to have one. Order confinement meals? Not sure if it is a popular option compare to other cities like KL.
I missed my parents and definitely my mom’s cooking, as well as seeing the only option that I have, I booked flights for my parents to come before the arrival of my first and second child as they were willing to help me through the confinement. My dad has just retired before my delivery, it just make it in time for him to travel to my place helping mom out with their first grandson. He was in-charge of driving mom to the market to shop for the freshest veggies and meats, having breakfast or afternoon tea at kopitiam (it is too boring to just stay at home with me everyday!), sometimes he helped with the laundry, clean up the house, boil water for me to drink and to bath and many more. My mom did the 3 meals cooking; my in-law and hubby did the dishwashing.
Everyone in the house cooperated so well to make things in order so I can rest and recover with peace of mind. Confinement at home is the best method I have enjoyed so far, it is the most economic yet comfortable method I strongly recommend, if our parents were still fit and willing to help. Otherwise, you have to seek for referral for good confinement lady, helper or confinement centre. I also have a friend who helped his wife with the confinement alone when they were in the United States. The hubby prepared the dishes and did all the house chores by himself while the wife attended to the new-born. It is important for the new mother not to get stressed up throughout the recovery period feeling the helplessness or she will easily develop post-partum depression.
A few practices we need to follow according to the elderly’s advices that are surrounding the idea of not getting ‘wind’ entering our body and fell sick. The most common one is cannot bath and wash hair. I understood the practice of not washing hair is to prevent the moist of water from entering our scalp which leads to headache like what the old people said “masuk angin”. Traditionally before the hair dryer was invented and in the colder seasons for places like in China, the women have to avoid shower and wet their hair.
They need to wrap themselves tight to keep warm as post-partum women were generally weaker hence to prevent cold. And also because we are physically inactive that is how confinement (like being kept in warm room – no air-conditioner, no direct fan) makes us sweat. Even the food and soup added with gingers or kunyit are also to help to increase metabolite rate to sweat and remove toxic from the body. However there’s also a saying that we should not sweat too much during confinement as that will open the pores as we sweat and the wind will enter body easily. So sweat or not, you make judgement yourself.
When the practice passed down to our elder generation coming from China, we are still practicing these but at a hotter climate place in Malaysia, I just cannot accept that we are so hot, sweat a lot with oily hair but not allowed to bath. So here we take herbal bath to clean ourselves which is said can remove wind from the body. While bathing in the warm water, feeling the oily and itchy hair scalp, I secretly washed and dried it before discovered by my mom. It just made my following days so light and bright. Of course there are still some other confinement practices but I object very much on the washing hair-ban. Another taboo was that we were not allowed to touch tap water fearing the wind in the water (as it is unboil) will get into our body through fingers or feet. Apart from that, I am not allowed to bath later than 6pm. I believe, as long as we get ourselves dry, clean and comfortable throughout the confinement period with enough rest and nutritious food intake, that is the best confinement for new mother and infant.
Chinese community is very particular on confinement food. Before I gave birth I have no idea why people care so much about confinement to the extent that needed to find a confinement lady to help out. My mom, although she did not have any experience helping in confinement, she learnt a bit here and there about the essence of confinement from her friends. My mother gets all the herbs ready to prepare my 30 days confinement meals, such as dang-gui, red dates, black beans, dang-sen, herbs I don’t know the names but you can easily asked the shop attendants at any traditional Chinese medicine hall to pack these confinement herbs for you to boil and drink.
My mom also got me su-he wan (traditional supplement to relieve flatulence) and wild chicken wine. I heard the way she described the process of making the chicken drown in wine and jar filled with herbs made me chill – they said people drink it to remove wind from our body during confinement but to me this wine sounds not hygienic and I doubted if it will make me sick. Of course I didn’t take it, but food that are apparel and appetizing for me I’d definitely enjoy it to the max. The herbal soup that my mom made for me were just heaven, so nourishing and nutritious yet milk boosting! Having a healthy and nutritious diet throughout the recovering period is more important for new mothers. The Chinese herbs can be obtained cheaply as they are pack raw and in abundance amount. Similar items could be packed nicely by branded outlets but at a costlier price. It looks nice and convenient to drink. However, the same amount you may spend on the nice packaging I could use to buy more herbs and drink at a larger quantity.
Hormone and Stress
Some are fortunate with their mothers or mother in law to help with confinement, some hire confinement lady and some stay at the confinement centre. When settling down to a new motherhood phase, things changed not only from the physical presence of a newborn, our emotional and mental changed significantly from the moment we stepped into the delivery room until we brought a baby out, when the care and attention are all given to the newborn, we forgot to rest, or maybe, can hardly truly rest.
I can’t recall when was my last time to sleep through the night since I became a mother. When people said confinement period is the time for new mother to rest, you must really capture the moment to rest together with the newborn even though you don’t feel sleep in the daytime but you’ll surely complaint the need to wake up every 2 to 3 hours just to feed and pump out the milk from the engorged breasts.
The strange thing at night is no matter how tired you are, you will still alert to the cries of baby and get up to feed her. I rarely seen my husband could get up by himself even the baby cries were just next to him. It is always the mother’s duty to make sure the baby is fed, asleep safely in her bed. However, to my comfort and little one’s sense of security, I put my baby next to me so I can direct feed him without needing to get up, bend my back to carry him up for breastfeeding. Compare to my first born, my second child has lesser feed at nights, calmer and we have longer sleep. Recalling the firstborn, our nights have never been easy, frequent nights up, burped him, carried him and walked around to put him back to sleep was like a routine for both of us. Perhaps because of co-sleep our bond is stronger until he could sense my disappearance when I left him sleeping alone!
The problem is, we new mother could rarely have “enough” sleep just like everyone wishes. Confinement is the time when people come around to help us to take care of the newborn’s from changing nappies to bath him, while we are recovering from delivery and adapting to the new motherhood routine and change of lifestyle. Without my mother’s and in-law’s help, although my husband could take care of me and baby, but I am sure their presence have sooth a lot of tension that comes with me, so I can talk to them to release stress. As my mother is the closest person to me whom knew my temper so well, I never hide my emotion with her presence. For many advises she and in-law had asked me to follow and not to do, many times I just ignored and followed my habit routine. There were times we both lost our tempers when some of the confinement practices I was disagreed with, although I knew it was for my own goodness, me as a hormonal imbalance woman couldn’t keep myself sane but easily triggered by just little small things. Until now I still feel sorry for the words and action I have done if that have already hurt my mom and in-law. You know you are balanced when you are not emotionally triggered easily. A simple question like “do you have enough milk or not?” is really annoying, whether or not you ask out of care or simple want to tease the mother for not supplying enough milk, this question is a big no no to mother. If we were lack of milk, there’ll be no stack of milk storage in the fridge, baby won’t sleep soundly, peep and poop so frequently. So, observed before you asked any silly or stressor question.
Confinement is a big time for many new mothers to recover from childbirth. The elderly says, once we get sick or did not recover properly at this time it could get worse in the later time. Whether or not it is true, we will find out when we are at the age. Nonetheless, elderly have their wisdom and they passed their knowledge or experience to the next generation. We the younger one could learn from their wisdom too because what they did is all because they care and love for their children.
Thank you to my mother and mother-in-law for taking good care of me and my little ones during the post delivery period. Every childbirth is a new journey for young mother and their presence in indeed a blessing regardless how demanding or naïve their daughter can be throughout the entire process. We learnt and grown by directly experiencing the emotions though.
Written By Kimlee Choy
Mother of two, Health & Counselling Teacher, Founder of Sustainable Urban Living Association Malaysia / FunLabuan.