When Avani Dachepalli had her first child four years ago, she had her mum and sisters to guide her through the cultural dos and don’ts of post-natal or ‘confinement’ period which usually lasts 30 days. “We come from quite a traditional South Indian family and I relied on my mum’s advice on what to eat, how to recover and take care of myself and the baby.”
One of the core principles of post-natal recovery in Asian cultures is to consume warming food which could differ by country (ginger, garlic, turmeric, fenugreek, bone broth, herbal soup) and avoid cooling food (cucumber, watermelon, pineapple, raw salad, ice cream). The belief is that the mum would have lost a lot of blood during the delivery period which causes the body’s temperature to drop. Therefore, there is a need to eat warm, cooked food to help the body recover and regain its balance. This is like people seeking hearty stews on a winter night and fruit smoothies on a summer afternoon.
One of the core principles of post-natal recovery in Asian cultures is to consume warming food which could differ by country (ginger, garlic, turmeric, fenugreek, bone broth, herbal soup) and avoid cooling food (cucumber, watermelon, pineapple, raw salad, ice cream).
It may not be easy for all new mums to adapt to a new food plan which is why Dachepalli considers herself lucky to have family support. “I find that there is some logic to this food plan. For example, turmeric is good because it has anti-inflammatory properties. I avoided chickpeas because it caused gas and bloating, which could cause colic for the baby since I was breastfeeding. This meant I could not eat pakoras for a while because it is coated with chickpea flour.”
As a vegetarian, she is also conscious about supplementing her diet with lentils and nuts to have protein in her diet. However, she rebelled against drinking milk. “I never liked milk, so even when my mum insisted I consume it to help with lactation, I refused!”
Vanessa Yong is a Malaysian-Chinese mother who did not have in-person family support when she had her son two years ago. Therefore, she picked and chose elements of the confinement period she wanted to follow. “The strict version is to not shower or leave the house for 30 days to avoid the cold or wind chill.” This advice was probably relevant at a time when people neither had indoor plumbing or water heaters. “I had my son in Australian summer,” Yong says. “There was no way I could not shower.”
What she did adhere to, was eating warming food and avoiding cooling food. “This meant putting sesame oil and ginger in most stir-fry dishes. It’s not dramatically different from my usual meals which is good because neither my husband nor I were willing to cook separate dishes.”
In addition to this, Yong bought herbal drinks from post-natal food providers and is grateful that these are readily available in Australia. The drinks mainly contain goji berries and red dates with honey as a sweetener to boost immunity and help digestion.
When Yong shared these post-natal cultural practices with her Australian friends and new mums, she found that people were intrigued but not intrusive. “There’s a general, ‘you do you’ attitude. However, among Australian-Asians mums we share notes because there is some overlap in our beliefs. As a food technologist, I can see the logic in eating some food to aid recovery and avoiding some food.”
In Indonesian post-natal practice, women wrap their torso and hips with a cloth to aid recover. This is similar to wearing a compression bandage on an injured body part to reduce swelling.
Just like Yong and Dachepalli, Indonesian-born Araya O’Neill also subscribed to similar post-natal principles after she had her baby in late 2020. In Indonesian post-natal practice, women wrap their torso and hips with a cloth to aid recover. This is similar to wearing a compression bandage on an injured body part to reduce swelling. O’Neill could not find the traditional cloth, so she used leggings. “In the first week, I could not bear to have any fabric on my incision scars but in the second week, I used the leggings and felt like my body parts was moving back in place after being stretched."
O’Neill still does not like the term confinement. “Confinement sounds really unpleasant. I prefer to think of it as replenishing or energising my body after it went through a lot. So, I ate healthy food and avoided junk food which was quite hard sometimes because I felt like rewarding myself with soft serve ice cream and KFC.”
This was not always easy. Even the hospital served her ice cream (a cooling food) just after she had her baby. “I didn’t eat it. I went home and ate a lot of soups and food with ginger.”
On day 31, she finally had her ice cream. “Still haven’t eaten KFC though,” she laughs.