| Sandy Tam

My Failed Attempt at Chinese Confinement

Photo by Kevin Fung Photography Drinking tea

I would like to make a confession.  I CHEATED!  Yup, I totally did.

I am Chinese and therefore, am encouraged to abide by the First Month of Confinement rules after giving birth, also known as "zuo yue" in Chinese.  If you haven't heard of such a thing, it entails the new mom being on a very strict diet, not leaving the house and not taking showers, just to name a few.  Well, I tried.  I successfully adopted 10% of it and the rest went out the window within the first couple of days.

Firstly, it is not realistic to be confined to my home.  This was a sure lose situation because the baby needs to see the doctor, I need to see the lactation consultant and I have a toddler who goes to school.  

Secondly, I have been on a chicken free diet for the past five years as instructed by my naturopath.  My mom doesn't seem to understand what food intolerance means.  She reassures me that the chicken she uses in these confinement dishes are free range, raised in Ontario, anti-biotic free, etc etc etc.  "Chicken is chicken!!!" is what I kept telling her.  Yet she continues to make it every day because according to the confinement book (yes, we have a book!), chicken is better than any other meat protein available.  And so I ate around the chicken as much as I could, drank the liquids and snuck the chicken to my husband.  

As for showers, does that even need discussion?  Ewww.  Of course not.  

The 10% that I did successfully abide to included no washing of dishes, no household chores, allowing food to be brought to me at the dinner table and drinking soup all day, which happens to be my favourite type of food in the entire universe.  No complaints on that front.

Chinese Confinement Soup

On a more serious note, I do believe there are legitimate health benefits to some of the confinement rules although not scientifically proven.

  • I do believe that a certain level of "cleansing" is required or what modern day people call detoxing after giving birth.  Hormonal levels are high during pregnancy, so it takes time for levels to return to normal after giving birth.  Eating a clean and healthy diet that regulates blood flow will help this process along greatly.

  • I do believe that certain foods are useful and effective at improving blood circulation, which is especially important when you've had stitches and your mobility is limited.  I've been a strong believer in Chinese medicine my entire life and the 'cooling' and 'heating' effects that certain foods have on our bodies is very interesting to me.  Sticking to foods that are 'hot' will certainly help with increasing blood flow.

  • I do believe that forbidding heavy lifting or household chores is important because the day after my confinement period ended, I washed all the toilets in my home and I nearly blacked out.  Case proven.

If you are considering doing the one month of confinement and you have better will-power than me, you may find this article on China Simplified helpful.  In the article, it talks about the specific health benefits and reasons behind some of the do's and don'ts.  I also enjoyed Marvellina's confinement recipes that you will find on her very picturesque food blog.  

Here are my favourites and not-so favourite recipes that I ate/drank anyways as instructed by my mom:

    I guess there is no way of telling whether these confinement rules really do hold any water but as my mother always says, better careful than sorry.  I think the best approach is to listen to your body and do what makes sense, both practically and emotionally.  Did I have a scoop of ice cream because I craved it?  Yes. Did I go out for walks without bundling up entirely?  Yes.  Did I wash dishes?  No but does washing fruit count?

    Giving birth is one of the most exhausting physical and emotional experiences for a woman.  I would have given anything to have a successful VBAC this time around but it didn't work out that way.  I was physically drained from labour and the caesarean but more importantly, I was still saddened by the fact that I didn't get to experience delivering my son the natural way.  On top of that, breastfeeding has once again presented its challenges, which I've talked about in great lengths here Against All Odds My Breastfeeding Journey when I had my daughter.  If you put all that into perspective, I feel having a scoop of ice cream is not the end of the world. 

    I believe in taking care of our body and our soul.  That means it is okay, in my opinion, to cheat here or there if it makes you happier.  Sleep.  Eat well.  Do what makes you happy.  Caring for yourself makes caring for a crying baby much more enjoyable and tolerable.  All the best to every new mom out there.  


     What To Cook Today food blog - Chinese Confinement Red Dates Tea    What To Cook Today food blog - Chinese Confinement Fish Green Papaya Soup    What To Cook Today food blog - Chinese Confinement Pork Vinegar Ginger Recipe

    Photos courtesy of What To Cook Today

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    About Sandy Tam

    Being a mom and a business owner, I have learned to embrace the chaos, to live spontaneously without expectations, to make choices that are beyond what others would call 'normal'. And along the way, I have been rewarded with many unexpected surprises and failures (yes, failures are rewards in disguise). I am a life learner and I like writing. And this is my blog where I can share both.