Having married into a Malaysian family, I had no idea what was in store after I had my first child.
MIL (Mother in law) as I used to call her, was so excited about me having a child. Well D Day arrived and MIL came to see me at the hospital but I wasn’t where I was supposed to be – in bed……. I was off having a shower (a no no) and washing my hair (another no no). If that wasn’t enough to make her heart pound, there on a tray waiting for me was a banana split (a huge no no)!
I was told what I had done so far (half a day) was very bad for me health wise. I mean what can be so bad about washing your hair and eating a banana split? I was literally bombarded with what I should and shouldn’t be doing for 44 days after having my son. You’ll find here just some of the Malay, Chinese and Indian customs for confinement that I have been told by various friends of mine.
Did you know that taking a bath or shower, washing your hair and going out of your home during confinement is a no no in all 3 communities?
MALAY CONFINEMENT: 44 DAYS
Rule 1 – New mothers are only allowed to take a hot bath that has been infused with herbs.
Rule 2 – For the 44 days with the exception of visiting a doctor you are housebound. No going to the shops, no going out for a meal, no going out on a date with your husband, just NO, NO, NO.
Rule 3 – You’re expected to keep warm and that means covered from top to toe. And if your Mother or Mother in law follows true traditions, you could be asked to squat over a heated stone to warm you abdomen region or have a massage where warm stones are placed on your tummy.
Rule 4 – During this time a female masseuse will come to massage muscles you didn’t know you had to help you regain your figure. Then your stomach will be wrapped in 6 yards of cloth to regain your body shape. This practice is called berbengkong, and is believed to help in maintaining the body shape.
Rule 5 – Food wise, it is preferred that you do not eat any cold foods or have cold drinks, this is said to prevent water retention and a bulging tummy. Some Malay women who have just delivered often take a special drink called “jamu” as they believe it has properties that can keep the body warm. Chicken is not allowed, only fish like ikan haruan, and it has to be grilled with black pepper!
No soups are allowed, which is interesting as Chinese confinement promotes it. For them, drinking soups and red dates tea is said to promote breastmilk production!
CHINESE CONFINEMENT: 30 DAYS
Rule 1 – You must remain indoors for the entire 30 days.
Rule 2 – No strenuous activities are to be attempted during this time to avoid your muscles “weakening”. This can include walking, picking up heavy objects, exercising and moving about in general more than you have to. The very traditional include also reading, crying and becoming ill to not weaken the body further.
Rule 3 – No showering or bathing for the first 12 days, not even shampooing your hair. Keep your body fully covered to avoid “angin” (wind) entering.
Rule 4 – You must avoid all types of wind, natural or otherwise – air cons, fans and draughty areas in your home. This to so you won’t “kena angin”.
Rule 5 – You are not to eat raw or “cooling” foods. No fish, vegetables or cold drinks. Chicken and liver are high on the list of foods that you can eat. Traditionally, they use a lot of ginger, wine and sesame oil in their diet.
INDIAN CONFINEMENT: 40 DAYS
Rule 1 – Indian mothers must remain in their homes during their 40 days confinement period.
Rule 2 – Having a bath is discouraged but if you must, you can only bathe between 11 am to 2 pm. The warm water has to have special herbs added that includes turmeric. You can only wash your hair in the first 2 weeks on odd days – 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th and dried by blowing incense smoke to your hair.
Rule 3 – Daily massages are done with oil from your head to your toes and your stomach will be bound with 6 feet of cloth so that your figure will return to pre pregnancy shape.
Rule 4 – The very traditional customs include incense smoke being placed between your legs to dry and heal any wounds you may have.
Rule 5 – For the Indian mother’s diet, you are encouraged to take garlic milk to prevent “wind”. And like the Chinese and Malays, “cooling” foods are to be avoided, especially tomatoes, cucumbers, coconut milk and mutton. Chicken and shark fish cooked with herbs are allowed. Other seafood is not. Chilli is also a no no. Consuming plenty of garlic cooked without oil is encouraged.
As an Australian I found these customs very unusual as western cultures have none of the above ways. MIL tried to get me to follow the “rules” but eventually gave up when after having my second son, on arriving home from the hospital on the 4th day, I asked her to look after him while I went out shopping! Do I advocate these traditions? They of course do you no harm and I find them rather charming. Also for that period of time you get to be pampered and spoiled. Maybe western women are missing out on something special.
I admit I am no expert on the above as I didn’t follow even one of the customs. Do I think if I had followed these it would have made a difference? No. All I can say is that they are charming. None of the above will harm you and if it makes your Mother or Mother in law happy and you are quite prepared to go along with them, why not? Though not to be able to go out for over 30 days would have sent me nuts 🙂
Here’s a different perspective from mother of two, Zara Agnes C who went through both the Chinese and Malay confinement!
“Interracial marriage has given me the option to choose whether to go with Malay or Chinese confinement. My first confinement was following the Malay traditional confinement. I found the jamu too heaty for me and the confinement foods were mostly grilled and dry. I was also not allowed to eat any vegetables (they are considered “cold”) or drink soup (apparently to prevent water retention) which is something that I’m not used to!
What I enjoyed most is the way my body was physically taken care of by having an urut lady (masseuse) who prepared me warm herbal baths, gave good massages, hot stone massages and wrapping me up in the bengkung tightly to make sure I get back my pre-pregnancy body shape. Malay confinement to me, is much more on physical care instead of internal nutritional care.
Hence for my second confinement, I went for a Chinese and Malay confinement style. With some little knowledge I had experienced through my first confinement and a lot of research, I found Chinese confinement is very much about nutritional intake to heal the mother’s body. I love the soups and red dates tea that a confinement mother has to consume every day. So I made myself a Chinese confinement food menu and cooked for myself because it wasn’t easy to find a Chinese Muslim confinement lady. I wondered if they even exist! Next, I hired an urut lady to come massage me.
However, I did not follow through the Chinese custom of not washing hair and taking bath because I believe that cleanliness is very important, as we are always near our newborn and breastfeeding. Malay confinement allows hair washing and bath as long as the water is warm. I had also slept under the fan and in an air-conditioned room – no ‘masuk angin’ problem there.
I found that fusing both Chinese (nutritional care) and Malay (physical care) confinement style had given me a better and faster healing process and I felt so good about it! There is no doubt that I’ll be doing the same again for my third confinement.”
These are all very interesting customs and it would be interesting to hear what the modern woman has to say about this, and how far did you go for your confinement, if any? Comment below!