In the weeks following the birth of a new baby, life is usually hectic. Not only are you feeding, bathing and caring for your little one; chances are you’re also hosting visitors and trying to keep your home clean. But what if there was another way?
The practice of postnatal confinement is observed by millions of women in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and parts of Europe and typically involves new mums spending about 30 days resting at home after the birth. Housework is delegated to a close family member or professional confinement nanny who cooks, cleans and helps the new mum care for bub, and visitors are usually kept to a minimum.
Women from non-confinement cultures are often put off by traditional practices that forbid hair washing, eating salad and going outdoors, but advances in technology and education mean many women are exploring modern adaptations of confinement that are relevant to all new mums dreading the newborn haze — and even allow you to pop out for coffee.
Housework is delegated to a close family member or professional confinement nanny who cooks, cleans and helps the new mum care for bub, and visitors are usually kept to a minimum.
The modern way
Semil Chia planned to hire a professional confinement nanny as is the custom in her country of birth, Malaysia but due to the lack of available nannies and high cost she decided to go it alone.
After the birth of her son, Chia’s husband took control of the housework and cooked nutritious meals using Chinese herbs to help speed her recovery.
“He stayed for the month with me — he cooked the food and did the washing and everything,” she says. “I had time to focus on the baby and sometimes he looked after the baby while I slept. I had time to adjust to life as a new mum.”
Owing to the traditional concept of avoiding cold air, water and food, Chia didn’t wash her hair for the first 12 days of her four-week confinement, ate plenty of hot soup and dressed warmly. But there was much about her confinement that wasn’t so traditional.
“I took a bath every day and I went out twice,” she says. “I went out for the first check-up for my son after one week and at about three weeks I was too bored at home so my husband took me to a cafe.”
Chinese-born Jessica Wu also practiced a modern form of confinement, even though her aunt travelled from China to care for the new mum. “My husband is Australian so I got exposure to what's happening here, and my mother-in-law is a midwife so we got a different perspective,” Wu says.
“I didn't follow the traditional diet where you have to eat a lot of chicken and other foods, but I did have a very balanced diet of vegetables and protein.”
Both women agree that dedicated time to recover from birth, bond with baby and adapt to the demands of parenthood are the key benefits of confinement. “It's a process that helps the mother, the baby and the father to adjust to one of the biggest changes to family life,” adds Wu.
“I had time to focus on the baby and sometimes he looked after the baby while I slept. I had time to adjust to life as a new mum.”
Do it yourself confinement
For women keen to try what ‘DIY confinement’, Chinese medicine practitioner Anni Chien recommends they sample the essential elements of rest, protection from sudden temperature changes, nourishing food and support from family, friends and health professionals.
“Confinement should be customised to fit each mother’s unique needs,” says Chien, who also runs Confinement Care, an organisation specialising in herbal medicine and acupuncture for new mums.
“The big trend is for new mothers to make some form of modification to better fit in with what they regard as most important to them.”
What’s more, Chien says there’s no reason to give up bathing or your usual healthy diet.
“Modern technologies and our current living environment gives us a lot more flexibility on how we can practice confinement. For example, modern bathrooms can give us warmth even in the middle of winter, so mothers have a lot of freedom relating to keeping their hygiene. Technologies in the kitchen also help us cook faster and to store food safely for longer, making it possible to prepare meals even before the baby is born.”
And as with all things parenting, Chien says it’s best to ignore unsolicited advice and do what’s best for you.
“Confinement is much more about recovery and bonding than following lists of dos and don’ts.”
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