Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chinese Confinement Theories

How long have you gone without having a shower? Or washing your hair? I'll admit to a week without a proper shower during our first trip to Western China about 15 years ago. But today's post has nothing to do roughing it. Its still related to China though.

I'm planning on having this next baby in Brisbane and recently, Malaysians have been asking me "Who will help you with your confinement?"

There is a set of Chinese beliefs about the 40 days after a new mother delivers her baby. Those 40 days are called the Confinement Month because the new mother is confined to the home (and perhaps her room). These practices may sound ancient but many people still believe in it strongly and follow the rules.

Its all to do with helping the body recuperate after pregnancy and childbirth. During the days of confinement, there is often a confinement lady that is hired to care for the new mother and baby. These ladies are often expensive and their duties encompass everything to do with the care of baby and mom. This includes cooking all meals for the mother and in the very traditional sense, being the primary carer for the newborn. In Malaysia, there are also Confinement homes which are a little more affordable where new mothers will go and stay for the 40 days or so.

The theory is that pregnancy is a 'hot' state to be in and after delivery, the body is susceptible to 'cold' and must be kept warm. And if a new mother doesn't follow these rules, she'll 'pay for it when she's old'.

Here are some of the rules:

- Mothers must stay indoors the whole 40 days.

- No baths or showers for mum. I have heard that they can bathe in a special herbal bath if they want.

- Not allowed to wash their hair.

- Not allowed to brush their teeth (???)

- All the windows should be kept closed to prevent any breeze cooling the mum down.

- Head should be covered.

- Can't eat 'cold' foods. This doesn't just mean ice cream...there are many vegetables and fruits also deemed 'cold'.

- They should eat bucket loads of ginger. When I was living in Malaysia, I saw one mother-in-law prepare what looked like 5kgs of ginger for a new mother.

It all sounds crazy doesn't it? Many modern mothers today believe in the Confinement Month as taught by their mothers but I think most cheat on these rules. Especially the personal cleanliness ones! Perhaps in the old days, in China, all these practices were more logical because they had cold winters.

My mother never followed any of these practices because I was born in Australia and so she never passed any of these ideas on to me. She did come to stay with me when Aaron was first born and the only Chinese thing we practiced was cooking with lots of ginger and Chinese wine.

My mother is reaching the age where she would be 'paying for it' but she seems fine so far. I have no intention of 'confining' myself, especially since the baby will be born in the middle of summer. Lets hope I won't pay for it either!


Mike said...

It's amazing what's normal to some cultures. But what I really see there is a tricky way to get out of work for 40 days.

Amanda said...

LOL! Thats true.

My mother told me that in the old days, mothers would get out of all sorts of 'work' related to the baby too because they literally never left their beds for the entire time.

Bilbo said...

What Mike said! And you may want to go back and re-read my post about all the things Moms used to say that ain't necessarily so...