Confinement food across various cultures - Chinese, Malay, and Indian

Confinement​​​ is a period for your body to recuperate and recover from childbirth. The idea of confinement is familiar to Asians but foreign to Westerners. In the past when infant and maternal mortality rates were high, it was a practice to keep both the baby and mother indoors during the period of confinement. This was meant to protect them from ill health.

By now, you may have be​en exposed to some of th​e practices or ideas from your parents. You may or may not agree with them but many of these originated from Asian culture and hence, possess no scientific basis at all. They r​ange from the prohibition of certain daily tasks to the restriction of certain foods – with the strong belief that these practices can provide the mother adequate rest and replenishment during this period.

Following are some of the dietary practices observed during confinement in the Chinese, Malay and Indian communities, according to KK Women's and Children's Hospital, a member of the SingHealth​ group:​​

  Chinese practices Malay practices Indian practices
​Confinement period30 days44 days40 days
Dietary requirements
  • ​​​​​​​​To purge out the "wind" in the body after delivery, promote "blood circulation", strengthen the joints and promote milk supply
  • ​​​To avoid "cooling" foods​​​

Traditionally, they use ​a lot of ginger, wine and sesame oil in their diet.

Common dishes include pigs' trotters cooked with ginger and vinegar, fish soup, chicken cooked in sesame oil and a traditional tonic brewed from 10 herbs.

Fish soup boiled with papaya is believed to be beneficial for milk production.

It is also recommended that plain water be avoided during this period to reduce the risk of water retention.

Instead, specially prepared drinks from a mixture of herbs and preserved dates are recommended. 

Durin​g co​nfi​nement, a ​woman follows a special diet in which heating foods are encouraged and cooling foods avoided to restore the balance upset by the birth of the baby.

Some Malay women who have just delivered often take​ a special drink called "jamu".

It is believed that the body's pores are op​ened during labour and "jamu"has properties that can keep the body warm.

Indians take garlic milk to prevent "wind".

Like the Chinese and Malays, "cooling" foods are avoided, especially tomatoes, cucumbers, coconut milk and mutton.

Only chicken and shark fish cooked with herbs are allowed.

Other seafood is not allowed.

Chilli is not allowed.

Consuming plenty of garlic cooked without oil is encouraged.

Cooking is done with gingly oil.

The oral intake of herbs is encouraged to keep the body warm.

There is a restriction on the intake of fluids/fruits/vegetables as well as cold drinks.

Read on to learn about the do's and don'ts of confinement after childbirth​.​​

See page 3 for myths and facts of confinement.

​Ref: O17​