​​Myths and facts about the period of confineme​nt for a woman after childbirth.

​The following are 12 confinement myths and facts, debunked by A/Prof Tan Thiam Chye​, Senior Consultant, ​Dr Tan Kim ​Teng​​​, Senior Consultant, ​​Dr Tan Heng Hao​​​, Deputy Chairman and ​A/Prof John Tee Chee Seng​​, Senior Consultant​​, all from KK Women's and Children's Hospital, a member of the SingHealth​ group​​.

Confinement myths Confinement facts
1. "Now that my baby is born, I will lapse into depression."

It is true that most women experience a sad/depressed mood,
beginning some days after the birth of the baby and continuing
for varying lengths of time.

These symptoms are termed the "baby or postnatal blues" and are believed to be associated with hormonal changes following the birth of a baby. Fortunately, this mood is of a relatively short-term duration (about two weeks) and most women recover from it.

Depression is diagnosed only when these symptoms persist in a small proportion of women. It may be accompanied by suicidal or infanticide intent. Prompt psychiatric attention is imperative in
such instances.

2. “I am not allowed to bathe or touch water for fear of 'wi​​​nd' entering the body.”

3. "I can only wash my hair with water in which ginger has been boiled."

There is no basis to these beliefs. In fact, bathing regularly ensures good personal hygiene and comfort. It reduces the inc​idence of skin and wound infections. On a personal note, it certainly ensures that the people around you find you more bearable.
4. “I must consume plenty
of wine, sesame oil and
traditional herbs to drive
out the ‘wind’.

Again, there is no medical reasoning behind this recommendation. In moderation, there is no harm in consuming these substances.

However, when taken in excessive amounts, they may affect you and your baby adversely. Furthermore, there are various substances present in the herbs that we are not fully aware of.

Alcohol and other organic substances might go into your breast milk, and when breastfeeding, these might be transferred to your baby. These substances may affect the liver and worsen jaundice in the newborn if it is already present.

5. "I cannot drink plain water at all during confinement."Adequate fluid consumption is advised especially if the mother is breastfeeding. The kidneys will produce more urine in the first few weeks after the baby is born to remove the excess fluid that has accumulated during the course of the pregnancy.​
6. "I must not expose myself
and my baby to any wind drafts or air-conditioning.”
For personal comfort, there is definitely no harm in switching on the air-conditioner or fan, as long as it makes you and your baby comfortable. It may even help prevent heat rash from developing in our hot and humid climate.
7. "I must eat liver and meats only."

The confinement period is a time when physical changes that
occurred in the last nine months will revert to the original state. It is also a period when the nutritional demands on you are high, owing to the recent blood loss from the delivery and the demands of breastfeeding.

The belief here is that the mother has been “cooled” by the delivery, and there is a need to eat “heating” foods such as meat. Many “confinement foods” have been devised to ensure that these nutritional demands and beliefs are met.

Whatever your beliefs are, it is important to have a well balanced diet rather than specific food types to replenish the body’s stores. This is especially so during breastfeeding. If necessary, as in the case of vegetarians or vegans, iron or vitamin supplements may be taken to satisfy these nutritional demands.

8. "I have been told not to read or cry."The traditional belief is that this causes eye problems later in life, which has no scientific basis.
9. "I cannot pray before an altar or enter a place of worship."Many believe that the post-partum discharge (lochia) is unclean and therefore, this practice prevents any spiritual contamination. Again, there is no scientific basis to it.
10. "I heard that the Malay
traditional practices are
effective for regaining
health.”

There are six components to the traditional Malay practices of postnatal care. These are:

1. Tuku – daily massage over the abdomen with a ball-like metal
object
2. Mengurut badan – massaging by an experienced masseuse
3. Barut – tight wrap around the woman’s waist
4. Salai – lying on a warmed wooden apparatus
5. Air akar kayu – tonic drinks made from medicinal plants
6. Pantang makan dan minum – to prohibit oneself from eating or drinking certain food items

The main idea of these practices is that specific massaging/heat/selective dieting helps promote blood circulation and recovery. The Barut helps a woman regain her figure.

Dieting to the Malays, like the Chinese, ensures the avoidance of “cooling foods” and the intake of “heating foods”.

Although these practices have never been proven scientifically, it is possible that certain benefits can be derived from them. However, all these should be done in moderation to prevent burns and injuries during these massages and therapies.

After a Caesarean section, these practices h​ave to be delayed for a month to prevent the disruption of a healing wound.

As mentioned previously, it is still essential to have a well-balanced diet to ensure adequate nutrition during this recovery period.

11. "Bathing should not be an issue."This is prevalent in Malay culture and is contrary to the Chinese practice. The water is warmed and herbs are added for a “heating effect”. As mentioned before, this is good for personal hygiene and is encouraged.
12. "I cannot have sex for 40 days."

This is against the religious teachings of certain cultures, e.g. the Malays.

From a medical perspective, it allows for the lochia to be over and the episiotomy wound to be completely healed and this may reduce the incidence of infections.

See page 1 for confinement practices in the Chinese, Malay and Indian communities​.

See page 2 for confinement​ ​do's and dont's​.

Ref: O17​