Racial Harmony Day - How does confinement work amongst all Singapore’s ethnic groups?
With Racial Harmony Day coming up we thought it would be a good chance to look at how Singapore's groups vary in their approach to postpartum care...and how similar we really are.
It is most commonly thought confinement and a specific postpartum diet is typically a Chinese only practice...but that isn’t the case, especially amongst Singapore’s racial groups.
Yes, Chinese practice confinement, and MuMu Mummy’s herbs are mostly Chinese in origin, but Indians and Malays also practice confinement...and perhaps surprisingly, we’re a lot more in harmony than you may initially think when it comes to how we look after our bodies after childbirth...typically Singaporean, when it comes to confinement...we are truly “rojak”!
The Malay Confinement period is typically the longest amongst Singapore’s racial and ethnic groups lasting 44 days. However, it is becoming more common for women to practice their confinement for 20 days.
The Ministry of Health Singapore tells us that the aim of Malay confinement is to;
To purge "wind" from the body after delivery, promote "blood circulation", strengthen the joints, and promote milk supply. New mums are encouraged to avoid "cooling" foods.
During confinement, some new mums follow a special diet: "heating" foods are encouraged and "cooling" foods avoided to restore the balance upset by the birth.
Sound familiar Chinese & Indian ladies? Wind...blood circulation...heating foods...eh?
Jamu is a popular drink for Malay women during confinement as it is believed to be warming and helps to close open pores. You’ll also find hipster travellers in Bali drinking it as a new Superfood fad...but this new wave of popularity is well deserved as Jamu actually contains a number anti-inflammatory ingredients.
Another racial crossover is the confinement/postpartum massage with many Singaporean Chinese and Indian mummies choosing a traditional Malay masseuse who can help you regain your figure and improve blood circulation.
Another popular Malay practice is Berbengkong, which many women across races in Singapore chose and involves the binding of the tummy with a body wrap (called Barut). Tight binding is done by using a piece of long cloth covering the abdomen area starting from just beneath the breast to the thighs. This treatment aims to restore and deflate the woman's abdomen after child-birth and to regain the mother’s original body posture and shape.
Oh, and no sex!
Indian confinement is shorter at 40 days and like the Chinese, it is very food and diet orientated...and like both the Chinese and Malays, cooling foods are avoided such as cucumbers and coconut milk.
Consuming plenty of garlic cooked without oil is encouraged as well as consuming a garlic milk to help prevent “wind”. Other classic Indian spices are encouraged such as black pepper, cardamom, aniseed, turmeric...but chilli is not allowed.
A legendary milk booster, popular with mummies across the world is originally an Indian tradition...fenugreek seeds!
Again, just like our Malay sisters, massage is and binding is encouraged and to help tighten any flaccid muscles.
Indian mothers are also discouraged from leaving their homes during their confinement period. Bathing is encouraged after the mid-morning in the warmer parts of the day and special herbal blends are mixed with the bathing water. Hair washing is done on odd number days such as day 3, 5, 7...especially during the first couple of weeks.
Oh, and no sex!
Chinese mummies in Singapore have a very specific and long list of confinement practices, some which are adhered to more strictly than others, and with plenty of influence from Malay & Indian cultures.
Typically confinement is observed for 30 days and is highly dependant on a specific diet of TCM herbs in addition to ingredients such as ginger, wine and sesame oil. Traditional herbs are brewed daily and consumed over the month. Typical dishes include pigs' trotters cooked with ginger and vinegar, fish soup and chicken cooked in sesame oil. Check out MuMu Mummy's 30 Day Confinement Herbal Soup Package for an example.
Plain water is generally avoided (although it’s OK mummies, these days it is more accepted that some water is OK, hydration is important) Instead, specially prepared drinks from a mixture of herbs and preserved dates are recommended...such as MuMu Mummy’s JuJuBe Longan Sweet Tea and our Lactation Herbal Tea.
Now, Chinese confinement in it’s most traditional form has the most do’s and don’ts...and honestly, it is up to the mummy how strictly she wants to follow certain practices. A lot of these practices were formed in a different age, 100's of years ago where hygiene, access to particular foods and modern amenities such as hot water and electricity were not available.
The term confinement originates from one of the most foundational practices which is staying indoors and not leaving the house. However, in the modern world we live in, this is taken less literally.
Another practice which is less strictly followed is not washing the body or hair during the first month especially avoiding contact with cold water. However, we live in sweaty Singapore...it’s just impractical and unhygienic to not bathe for a whole month. Borrowing from their Malay and Indian sisters, many Chinese women chose to bathe using shower herbs, such as MuMu Mummy’s Herbal Shower and Bath.
Oh, and no sex!
Singapore is a really an amazing place to be a mummy and we can all learn so much from our
heritage cultures...we have more in common than you may initially think and together, we are uniquely Singaporean!
And let’s not forget all the other cultures we have in Singapore...Eurasian, European, American, Arabic, African, Indonesian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese...we have the whole world here and we can learn from everyone!
Oh, and did we mention?...no sex!
Sources for this article
Rojak image taken from https://www.flickr.com/photos/scaredykat/14572292664