Confinement rules for new mothers


I was 26 when I found out I was pregnant. From the minute I announced my pregnancy, my mother and relatives were quick to fuss over me and slap me with an extensive list of pregnancy dos and don’ts.

No sashimi, no cold salads, no caffeine, no cheese, no onsens/hot tubs, no bleaching of hair, no sleeping on your back, no under-cooked eggs…

I carefully and dutifully navigated the rules for the next few months, but the worst was yet to come. If you haven’t heard about the rigours of the “fourth trimester”, here’s a crash course:


The 10 commandments of postpartum confinement


To put things into perspective for the uninitiated, here are some but not all of the confinement rules most lao jiao confinement nannies swear by: 

  1. Don’t wash your hair for as long as possible
  2. Bathe in only boiled water with special herbs
  3. To avoid baring your shoulders and exposing yourself to the direct draft of fans and air-conditioning units lest “wind” goes in
  4. No carrying heavy items
  5. No drinking of cold drinks
  6. Eat lots of ginger, sesame and drink red date longan tea in place of water 
  7. No eating raw food
  8. No alcohol or caffeine
  9. No spicy food
  10. Avoid taking your baby out of the house or they’ll get sick

Seeking advice from a motherhood forum


The list was daunting, but what made things even scarier was asking my mother and mother-in-law for advice and not getting any constructive help.

My mother birthed 3 children but couldn’t for the life of her even remember following the rules of her confinement period – memory loss, as I would soon come to find, is another unfortunate long-term side effect of childbirth.

My mother-in-law, on the other hand, had a legit excuse. She’s Caucasian, so she never bought into the whole thing. I then turned to Google in my quest for postpartum information and found a plethora of tried-and-tested knowledge from actual mothers about the whole confinement shebang.

Around 80% of mothers on these forums had confinement nannies to help them along, but there were a few independent modern mothers who had roughed out the confinement period all on their own, broken the rules and emerged unscathed.

In a bid to save money, I was determined to tackle the 30-day confinement on my own with the help of my family. My aunt had come over to give my family a couple of lessons on making sesame oil- and ginger-laden dishes that would aid my recovery.

And with meals mostly covered, all that was left were some chores and taking care of the baby. It sounded easy, almost.


Breaking the rules – multiple showers, sleeveless clothes, leaving the house with baby


Confinement RulesJust a random photo of me suffering 10 hours into my 17-hour induced labour
Image credit: @elliesheananigans

I broke the first 2 rules the minute I arrived home – Day 3 Post Partum (PP). My 17-hour labour was a total nightmare and I felt like I DESERVED a long hot shower to wash away the trauma and pain of being induced without epidural. And while I toyed with the idea of bathing in herbs, reading the instructions off the internet already turned me off.

Confinement Rules SIngaporeInstructions: Steep herbal sachet in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, add some white wine. Use twice a day.
Image credit: Mum in the Making

The bath herbs I found on Qoo10 cost $24/packet of 10. And if I had to give myself a herbal bath/wipedown twice a day, I’d essentially have to pay $4.80 to keep myself sanitary daily. Was it worth it? My brain said no.

Confinement Rules SingaporeExamples of the sleeveless tops and shorts I would wear daily during my confinement
Image credit: @elliesheananigans

I went on to have 2-3 normal showers daily throughout the rest of my confinement period without a care for the consequences. Some days, the weather coupled with the “heaty” confinement meals made me sweat profusely and I resorted to taking cool showers and dressing in tank tops and shorts to keep my sanity.

All the while, my mother warned me of the consequences of things like the early onset of arthritis, backaches and even premature ageing but I still fearlessly slept with the air-conditioning on at night.

Confinement Rules SingaporeGallivanting at 2 weeks PP
Image credit: @elliesheananigans

I even carried loads of laundry up and down multiple flights of stairs and took my baby out to a nearby cafe after two weeks because I was plain bored. Caucasians were throwing caution to the wind and hitting the beach with their 7-day-old newborns, why couldn’t I?!


The silent repercussions of not following confinement rules


Soon, I reached the confinement period finish line. I had won. I was one of those valiant mothers who broke the rules and emerged champion. To hell with that impossible list of old wives’ tales. Rest was for the weak! I was more than fine.

But my celebration was short-lived, it wasn’t long before I started to notice chronic aching in my back and my joints. To make matters worse, every time I entered an air-conditioned room, I didn’t just feel cold, my bones would feel the chill. When I shared the news with my mother, she only had one thing to say: “Masuk angin (enter wind) already. I told you so.

Did I have my daily showers and tank tops during confinement to blame? Possibly so. 18 months in, even though the backaches come and go, the cold intolerance is still something I battle with on a daily basis. My shoulders, in particular, are so sensitive to cold that they actually ache when I’m in an air-conditioned space for long periods of time. Safe to say, I don’t even leave the house without a jacket anymore.

A routine visit to a TCM doctor for acupuncture might eventually rid me of this inconvenience, but if I were given the chance to do my confinement period over, I probably would have taken more caution.

I guess if there’s a moral to be learnt from this story, it’s this: As Millennials, we have it in our genetic makeup to challenge normative practices and rebel, but if some of these old wives’ tales are still being practised by thousands across generations, there must be some truth to them after all.

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