The Truth and Myth about Chinese Confinement
October 12th, 2010 66 Comments

The Truth and Myth about Chinese Confinement

Confinement Drink: Longan and Red Date Tea

Apologies that I have neglected my blogs and my dear readers, but it’s not without a good reason. As many of you have known, I recently gave birth to my son baby G, and have since been “sentenced” to a month-long Chinese birth confinement. As I am writing this post, I am eagerly counting down to the end of the confinement period, which is next Tuesday, Oct 19.

So, what is confinement, or 坐月?

According to the Chinese, a woman’s body is the weakest and most vulnerable to future ailments after childbirth, and thus a confinement period of at least 30-40 days will ensure great recovery and long term health. During confinement, the confining mother will have to observe, follow, and endure a series of taboos, traditional rituals, and consumed a strict confinement cuisine…

Confinement cuisine basically consists of heating ingredients: old ginger, sesame oil, wine, black vinegar, etc., which are used excessively in almost every confinement meal. Chinese herbs such as ginseng and dong qui (当归) are also vital tonics to help the body heal. Water is a no-no as it will cause water retention, hence hot drinks such as ginger & date tea and longan & date tea are prescribed. Wine such as DOM is indispensable even though there are debates that nursing mothers shouldn’t have wine as the wine passes to the milk.

Other than the above, certain dishes are must-have’s during the confinement period. The most common ones are ginger and black vinegar pig trotters (猪脚醋), sesame oil chicken (麻油鸡), pork liver and kidneys cooked with ginger and sesame oil, pig stomach soup, etc. The dishes also have to be consumed while hot/warm. Suffice it to say, confinement meals are not your regular day-to-day cooking, but a series of concoctions prepared the traditional way to nourish the body.

Chinese confinement also comes with a laundry list of taboos but the most unbearable of all to a confining mother is not being able to shower and wash the hair during the confinement period, which means an average of 30-40 days!!! In present day, it’s hard to fathom that such belief still exists but the contact of cold water is said to cause the penetration of “wind” (风) into the body, and will lead  to severe body ache and future ailment. (Just between you and me, let’s just say that I didn’t exactly follow this practice.)  The concept of “wind” also extends to not leaving the house during the confinement, no air-condition, no fan, no sleeveless top, etc. Precisely, the confining mother has to be wrapped up with layers of clothing, socks, and not to expose the body to the “wind.”

So, here you have it, a quick snapshot of what I am going through. I have to say that it’s an exceedingly challenging time for me as I am not 100% sold on the concept. I do believe that eating well is very important but when you are fed with sesame oil + ginger + wine every single day, it’s a completely different story. I miss my favorite seafood and sambal-laden dishes. I miss being normal, I guess, but I know in no time, I will be back to my regular lifestyle and eating my favorite food.


66 comments... read them below or add one

  1. Devin says:

    You know when My wife had our two kids, they go through a very similar diet. The only thing they can eat is chicken. Not the store bought one, but the one you slaughter live. So yes, I had to stock up on them in my freezer for my wife to eat. Herbs for the chicken soup are duck feet herb, lemon grass, and some other type of herb that looks like grass but gives the soup a nice flavor.

  2. Ingrid says:

    I’ve never heard of confinement after giving birth. I enjoyed reading your blog. Thanks!

  3. Razzleberry says:

    Wow. Hello and Congrats. I’m Cambodian and had my little tiger in April. We have very similar customs. The wine mixtures and tonics (though I think we used vodka), lots of layers of clothes to stay warm, and other traditions. It’s really interesting and I pretty much pretended to follow some parts too just to please my elders. I just wanted to say, love your recipes and pictures. They look so yummy and delicious.

  4. YL says:

    To follow strictly to the rules during confinement is only applicable to Southern China’s climate which is extremely humid & damp during Spring and cold during Winter. Since most of us overseas Chinese came from Guangdong & Fujian, that’s why our ancestors carried the rituals with them. I’m pretty sure not all of us need to follow it strictly because most parts of world are not as humid and damp as the climate in South China.

  5. Julia says:

    It’s been a while since I last visited your website. Congrats on your new born! Sorry abit late but better be late than never…what the name of your baby? what does baby G stand for? any chinese name? I clicked on the link above Baby G but returned page not found?

  6. Winnie says:

    Congratulations Bee! I haven’t checked this website for a while and am really glad to hear about your good news – better late than never rite? :)I am due in a few weeks and am feeling rather anxious about this confinement business. Having said that I have been on restricted diet due to gestational diabetes so very much looking forward to being able to eat all the yummy Malaysian food again with rice as I am not allowed to have very much rice at all with the diabetes.

    Please do post up some interesting and yummy confinement recipes when you can.

    Hope you are enjoying motherhood and congrats again!

  7. Bete Chen says:

    Bee, parabéns pelo seu bebê. Agora, com 3 meses de idade, ele deve estar uma gracinha.
    Também passei pelo confinamento na ocasião do nascimento de minha filha mais velha. Mas não sei fazer as comidas “quentes”, de confinamento. Sugiro que você faça um tópico com receitas de confinamento. Assim manteremos a tradição para futuras gerações.

  8. Visite o meu site. Está lindo.

  9. diane says:

    Congratulations re your new baby!

    I’m interested in your confinement rules and food…Thanks for sharing!

  10. Vicky says:

    Wow -I had never heard of anything like this! Fascinating (and yes I agree not showering for 30-40 does not sound appealing).

  11. Hope In A Blog says:

    you wont understand it now, but you will be thankful next time when you don’t have rheumatism at a later age!

  12. alison yap says:

    Me mum was my confiment lady..all she asked was what do u wann eat i cook 4 you..i was craving for fried chicken n other sinful food which she eventually cooked..even went shopping with her..hmmm..oh n i dkd wash me hair everyday..

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