Expert Advice From Bump to Baby

Experts Advice: Truths Behind Common Confinement Myths and Beliefs

I recalled that there were several times during my first pregnancy, friends would forewarn that I would be feeling miserable during the confinement period. There are so many confinement myths that surround women after childbirth – so what is right and what is wrong?

Thus, I had better enjoy having baby in me while I could, before looking to survive that postpartum period.

Being pregnant and carrying a baby (or two, or more!) in your belly can be quite an experience. The aches and pains, to hormonal and physical changes can wreck havoc to a pregnant woman’s mind.

But, what exactly is so terrifying about confinement, or is that just a scary tale?

Well, after hearing stories and experiencing it myself, I soon realised that it all boiled down to a matter of making decisions (the same as every other parenting theory and advice others tell you about having a baby, no?), although the fear of skipping certain “must-do’s” would linger around.

Asian mums, including Malays and Indians, usually undergo a confinement period which may take from 28 days to 44 days.

As a Chinese, as well as being kiasee mindful of my health, I made sure to follow some of them. Thankfully, my mum ain’t one of those super strict traditional lady (she’s super modern, btw!), and she left it to my own devices (as well as Hub’s and the confinement lady’s advice); save for certain beliefs such as drinking red dates and longan tea and taking herbs to build my body.

For the most part, I understood why some of my friends had one of the worst times of their lives. They had strict traditional rules to comply with. Sticking to some of them simply added onto the postpartum headaches everyday. Plus, given the new state of mind and emotional upheaval a new mother faced, add that to the agony of going through certain confinement rules in our weather – all these contributed to their misery, or some say torture.

Breastfeeding and lactation issues might already add to the headaches and body aches for new mummies. So, how can we make this time to recuperate a more comfortable one?

confinement myths and practices
Just had a baby? Will you be following strict confinement practices? Let’s debunk some popular myths! Credit:

Busting top confinement myths – let’s hear it from a Gynecologist and a TCM Physician!

Recently, several pregnant mummies shared with me some burning questions about confinement practices that they’ve been wanting to understand more of. What exactly are the do’s and dont’s? Would skipping certain beliefs be detrimental to our health?

The Hooting Post had the honour to have Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Physician Lim Sor San from Time Enterprise TCM, and Gynaecologist, Dr Eunice Chua from TLC Gynaecology Practice, to help put things into perspective in our modern context. Will they be debunking those confinement myths and beliefs? Or saying ‘Yes!’ all the way?

Read on to find out!

1. Is it compulsory to eat vinegar and drink Yomeishu?

Physician Lim (PL): Generally after childbirth, apart from resting, 60% of our recovery comes from food and nutrition. Having vinegar and Yomeishu are ways to help regain health.

For Yomeishu, it is a tonic that helps to improve energy “Qi”, general wellness, blood circulation and appetite. As for vinegar, depending on which type, they are generally good to neutralise body pH levels, protecting against diseases and also added to some food to enhance the food functional benefits.

After childbirth, pig trotters black vinegar are one of the most common dishes mums eat. With the combination of vinegar, brown sugar, vinegar, the dish helps promote blood circulation and also expel “wind” from our body. Not only so, pig trotters is also rich in collagen and protein, which is necessary for our body, skin and muscles. Pig trotters also enhance the production of breastmilk.

Dr. Chua (DC): It is not compulsory to do so, but more of your preferred diet.

2. Can we wash our hair and shower? Is there any difference bathing using our normal shower gel/shampoo vs. using confinement herbs? Are they necessary?

PL: It is important to maintain hygiene especially when our immune system is low after childbirth and while we are breastfeeding.

Using the help of herbs, bathing will not only keep ourselves clean but also (depending on the herbs selection) helps to promote blood circulation, expel dampness and wind in our body.

DC: Yes, using normal water, shampoo or soap is fine. Always towel dry to make sure that you do not catch a chill.

3. Can we skip drinking longan and red date tea and just rely on water?

PL: While our body is recovering from the post-partum stage and gearing up for breastfeeding, we need more water than usual. Water is lost during perspiration, breastfeeding and urination. At times, when mothers are not taking enough water, they may end up with constipation problems, sore throat or some may even fall sick.

Red dates are known to be rich in iron and vitamins. Dried longan are also rich in vitamins, and in TCM context, longans are good for our kidneys, and they promote calmness. With the combination of both red dates, longan and some other herbs, it helps improve blood regeneration process and also to boost up well-being of health.

confinement myths and practices
Red date and longan tea is commonly taken during confinement to help the body restore and replenish vitamins and nutrients. Credit:

DC: It is okay to drink longan and red dates but equally important to drink water, to ensure sufficient intake of fluids to cope with the demands of a new mother.

4. When should we start drinking those soup with alcohol? e.g. 1 bowl ginger juice with 1 bowl alcohol chicken soup.

PL: Alcohol, wine, tonic wine are formulated drinks that are intended to promote health. In Chinese confinement, we take alcohol and tonic wine to promote blood circulation, promote recovery, reduce fatigue, and improve appetite. However, depending on the alcohol level, some may need to be boiled/steamed before consumption.

Breastfeeding mothers are suggested to have their alcohol boiled or steam so the alcohol will be evaporated and reduced. Alcohol can be taken 5 days after birth or at the comfort of the new mother.

DC: There’s no real necessity to drink soup with alcohol. It was important in the olden days to do so especially during cold weather conditions as they help to keep the body warm. Alcohol causes baby to be sleepy and may not want to feed. If breastfeeding mums are planning to consume alcohol, do breastfeed before drinking.

5. Why are we allowed to only use boiled water to brush our teeth, wash our face and hands? Is using tap water that’s slightly warm the same, or, is this just another one of those confinement myths?

PL: The idea of having cooked water is to have warm water instead of cold tap water. Tap water contains unseen bacteria which can easily attack our low immunity. Hence, it is always recommended that warm / hot water are used during the confinement period.

DC: There’s no actual need to use boiled water.

6. My mother-in-law asked her friend to make rice wine for me. Are those confinement myths about post-pregnancy nutrition? What benefits do rice wine have for new mums? Is it considered as alcohol too?

PL: Rice wine is considered an alcoholic drink too. Traditionally made from glutinous rice and yeast, rice wine promotes blood circulation, enhances well-being and immunity. They are often used to cook dishes.

DC: There’s no real benefit; more of personal diet preferences.

7. I was told to avoid ginger if I’m breastfeeding my baby for fear of jaundice, but confinement food has ginger. What should I do? And what else do I need to avoid if I’m breastfeeding?

PL: Ginger is well-known to be one of the best food sources in the world. From curing cold to preventing cancer, ginger also cures indigestion and ache due to wind and poor blood flow.

It doesn’t mean that by avoiding ginger, baby will be freed from jaundice. Jaundice develops due to an immature liver, which has a weaker ability to breakdown excessive bilirubin within the blood stream. However, when baby jaundice levels are extremely high, breastfeeding mother are recommended to take less ginger, less or no alcohol in food to reduce the load of baby’s immature liver.

confinement myths and practices
Many breastfeeding mums are told to avoid ginger in confinement food as it supposedly leads to jaundice in baby. Is ginger really a cause of jaundice? Credit:

DC: Ginger does not cause jaundice. Jaundice is due to breakdown of red blood cells & occurs in 80% of babies. Usual causes are physiological, G6PD deficiency & blood incompatibility. Jaundice is sometimes exacerbated by breastfeeding itself & not what the mom eats.

8. In order to regain my pre-pregnancy figure and lose weight, is it compulsory to undergo post-natal massage?

PL: As explained above, 60% of postnatal recovery depended on correct food intake. Correct food and herbs consumption can help to speed up womb shrinking, which generally takes 6-8 weeks. Not only so, correct food intake helps to reduce water retention and also promote better breastfeeding journey. The remaining 40% postnatal figure recovery can be reached with the help of postnatal massage, TuiNa Massage, Acupuncture treatment, light exercises and proper rest.

DC: Post-natal massage does not help to regain pre-pregnancy figure. Having a proper, healthy diet as well as exercise and breastfeeding can help achieve that.


A BIG “Thank you!” to Mummamia, Physician Lim Sor San and Dr Eunice Chua for these experts to share knowledge with our readers, making this article possible. These insightful information would certainly shed some light on those confinement myths and beliefs that many mums are confused over!

Did these experts help ease your thoughts and confusion about confinement practices and beliefs? Pregnant mums, hope these postpartum tips would come in handy when it’s your time to recuperate after delivering your baby!

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  1. since malays are originally residing at the equator (SEA), they bath everyday during confinement due to the weather. So I believe that bathing will not cause you to ‘masuk angin’ as what Chinese always are afraid of. I also feel bathing is important for me to gain the daily happy mood. My first baby i follow blindly not to bath, curi2 drink plain water and i really HATE it alot. I want to end the month asap, and started to warn ppl how terrible the 1st month will be. 2nd baby i went to a center, where I can decide what to do myself. So i bath everyday, wash my hair every other day with normal hot water, drank plenty of plain water and also red dates. the owner also cooked salmon once, and ordered pizza. so modern and happy. I love staying there, and when time is up, i was very sad that the pamper has ended so soon… 3rd baby, i will go to center again and finish my last confinement journey with happy memories. Listen to your body, Don’t force your body.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Sly!
      Yes, the part about not being able to bathe is really quite terrible especially in our crazy weather.
      Wow, the care at the centre sounds good – glad you had a better and more positive experience while recuperating!
      Agree with what you’ve said: Listen to your body. Don’t force you body.
      Happy mummy = happy baby too, and everyone else in the family during the confinement period :)

  2. Eunice Chua gave short answers without much explanation. can see she does not understand the scientific theories behind traditional confinement practices. most nurses are like that too. guess she did not read beyond her MBBS syllabus. if she did, she did not understand the complex medical science behind what she read. but it doesn’t matter because she can make a living solely fr the protocols of her own field of practice

    1. You’re kidding me. I’m a doctor myself, and I see no need to elaborate and use jargon needlessly to confuse people. These are simple yes/no questions, not “Can you explain the mechanism behind sickle cell anaemia?” These are just pithy points, coming from someone who like Dr. Chua, “does not understand the scientific theories” behind confinement myths.

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