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Myths About Confinement

  Source: "The New Art and Science of Pregnancy and Childbirth", written by A/Prof Tan Thiam Chye, Dr Tan Kim Teng, Dr Tan Heng Hao and A/Prof John Tee Chee Seng, all from KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.  

For most women, depression sets in the first few days after childbirth but this usually last only for a short time.

Myths and facts about the period of confinement for a woman after childbirth

Confinement myths

Confinement facts

“Now that my baby is
born, I will lapse into
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.


“I am not allowed to bathe or touch water for fear of 'wind' entering the body.”

“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 incidence of skin and wound infections. On a personal note, it certainly ensures that the people around you find you more bearable. 
“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
in the newborn if it is already present. 


“I cannot drink plain
water at all during

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. 


“I must not expose myself
and my baby to any wind drafts or 

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. 


“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.


“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.


“I cannot pray before an
altar or enter a place of

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.


“I heard that the Malay
traditional practices are
effective for regaining

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
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 have 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.


“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.


“I cannot have sex for 40 days.”

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

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.


"The New Art and Science of Pregnancy and Childbirth", a pregnancy book written by A/Prof Tan Thiam Chye, Dr. Tan Kim Teng, Dr. Tan Heng Hao, A/Prof John Tee Chee Seng. KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.
* Available at all major book stores and Pharmacy in KKH.

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Article contributed by:

KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH)

Ref. X08

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