Preparing for Confinement
Before the delivery of your new born, you should ask yourself the following questions about confinement.
1. Do I want to practice ritual-based confinement, or Chinese-Medicine-based confinement?
(If you do not know the difference between these two approaches, refer to [What is Confinement] page.)
We strongly recommend that you practice confinement using the Chinese Medicine approach. While a ritual-based confinement can reduce inter-personal conflict (you simply follow whatever ritual is expected of you), it has a higher risk of emotional complication. Furthermore, the rituals you follow may have little, no, or even negative therapeutic impact on your recovery.
If you prefer to follow the Chinese Medicine approach, be prepared for possible confrontation with older family members, particularly if your mother or mother-in-law had followed a strict confinement regime when she gave birth to her children. Be aware that while their intentions are probably good in nature (they want you and your new born to benefit from good health), their understanding of confinement may have been based on misapplied Chinese Medicine principles, or even on superstitions.
While some rituals are more benign in nature (eg. keeping ugly toys out of sight) and compliance will not cause significant harm, some other demands will be physically and emotionally discomforting (such as not showering during the confinement month). When faced with demands that are uncomfortable to you, it is important for you to be assertive and refuse to follow these rituals quite up-front. Research in South East Asia has indicated that young Asian mothers are often reluctant to be assertive because it will cause disharmony between family members. However, research also points out that this reluctance is a likely cause of more serious emotional complications for the young mother. Our advice is for you to be sensitive and thankful for the concern of older family members. But at the same time be assertive about what you believe to be beneficial to you and your little one. If you have, or plan to, consult a Chinese Medicine practitioner about your confinement, let your family members know that you are receiving Chinese Medicine advice, along with any other extensive services you receive. Your pro-activeness in seeking Chinese Medicine advice may help to settle their concerns on your well being over the confinement period.
2. What type of Chinese Medicine support will I have access to?
If you are living in a capital city in Australia, you should have easy access to registered Chinese Medicine practitioners in your local area. If you plan to access Chinese Medicine support, we recommend that you make a prenatal consultation at 32 weeks so the practitioner can build a picture of your constitution and inform you of Chinese Medicine options in the last stage of your pregnancy (eg. assist in turning babies in a breech position, assisting in the induction of full-term babies). If you live in Sydney, we can provide this service at the comfort of your home, please visit our [Services] page.
3. What type of food will I expect to be eating? Will I have the capacity to make them?
While we suggest new mothers to follow a confinement meal plan, we understand that without the help of family members or friends, it will be very difficult to prepare confinement meals. If following confinement meal plans will not be feasible, you should follow the basic principles of a balanced diet. This includes eating a good variety of fruits and vegetables, consuming the correct ratio of food from each category of the food pyramid, avoid food that is high in fat, and choose options that are lower in salt and artificial contents. From the Chinese medicine point of view, we recommend the inclusion of meat (preferably pork and chicken), reduce food that is difficult to digest (eg. steak, or too much brown rice), and avoid cold drinks and salads. If you plan to purchase precooked meals, explore your local eateries for food that suits these requirements and your budget prior to delivery. If you are planning to cook yourself, now is the time to test easy-to-cook or semi-prepared meal options from your local supermarkets. You can also consider precooking and freezing one month's worth of food before the expected due date. If you will not be able to follow a confinement meal plan, consider purchasing our 28 days course of Chinese herbal granules to help support your recovery.
4. Is my home 'Confinement-ready'?
As you reorganise your home in preparation for your new born, ask the following questions to see if your home is 'confinement-ready'.
- Will you be able to warm up the bathroom on a cold day? The aim is to minimise cold drafts. If you shiver when you step out of the shower, it's a sign that your
bathroom needs warming. To overcome this, you can:
- shower during the warmer time of the day, or
- use built-in ceiling heating lamps or portable bathroom heaters to warm up the bathroom. (Note that portable bathroom heaters can be dangerous if used inappropriately. If you plan to use one, read the instructions carefully and make sure the heater will not come in contact with water or excessive moisture. Keep the heater away from other objects, particularly curtains and towels. Do not put the heater where the cord will become a trip hazard.)
- Will your main resting area have a stable and comfortable temperature throughout the day? A comfortable environment can be achieved through a combination of direct
sunlight, block-out curtains, air-conditioners, fans and heaters. Ideally, you will be able to maintain your main resting area roughly between 20-26°C without any sudden fluctuations.
- Air-conditioners. Test if you can point the air flow away from you and your baby's rest area (eg. your bed).
- Fans. Test if you can create a comfortable breeze by directing air flow around the room instead of pointing the air flow directly to you and your baby.
- If the weather is nice and warm outside, it is a great idea to let the natural breeze into the house. (Refer to blog entry for the myth about close all windows.)
- Are there other high risk areas around the house? You have probably removed high risk items during your pregnancy, but it is wise to do one more audit before you
enter confinement. Ask questions like:
- Are there any trip or slip hazards?
- Does your floor mats have non-slip backings?
- Would moving a piece of furniture make it easier for you to navigate around the house?
5. How much time will I spend outdoors?
There are documented negative health impacts on mothers with no access to direct sunlight in the periods following child birth, so it is important that you and your new born plan to have some exposure to direct sunlight. This is most easily achieved by being outdoors (you will enjoy the fresh air too). However, we do not recommend this when it is uncomfortable to do so (eg. too hot or too cold), or when it is windy.
If there is a small breeze, cover up areas that are vulnerable to wind (in Chinese Medicine's point of view, they are the lower back, and the back of your neck).
Spending a bit of time outdoor will definitely benefit the health of yourself and your baby, so during your pregnancy, look for an outdoor area that is calm and peaceful. This can be a private backyard, or a nearby park with lots of open space. We should note that a busy market or a shopping centre is not the most appropriate place to be during your confinement period.
6. Who can/cannot visit me?
We believe this should be a personal choice and should be driven by your personal preference. The purpose of visitations during this period is to enhance your wellbeing, not to meet family obligations, or satisfy other people's curiosity. Occasional visits by supportive loved ones can have a very positive impact on your emotions, they may also be able to provide some practical assistance that makes a big difference to your day (eg. picking up some essential items from the supermarket on their way). However, excessive visits, especially visits purely made for the sake of seeing the baby can drain your energy and limit your opportunities for rest. For this reason, it may be wise to refuse all visitations during the confinement month; and only invite a few friends and family who can provide you assistance and companionship that will help you. It is true that you and especially your baby are more susceptible to infections during this time, so your guests should practice basic hygiene while visiting. This includes washing their hands with soap before handling the infant and before preparing food for your consumption. If your visitor is sick or showing symptoms of illnesses such as coughing, a runny nose or sneezing, they should postpone their visits to at least until the symptoms disappears.
7. What practical support will I have access to?
This is more of a generic question than a confinement question; however, it is one of the most critical issues for every mother-to-be and must be asked in conjunction with other confinement decisions. Be prepared for the on-going demands and chaotic sleep and feeding patterns during this period. Do you have access to extra assistance in times of need (eg. will the father be able to take time off work, especially if he runs his own small business?), do you have transport to access medical specialists if needed?
8. What emotional support will I have access to?
Changes in society and immigration have detached many of us from close family members. It is normal for many mothers to have limited or no access to their own mother in this time of need. Your lack of good quality rest may also affect your emotions and patience in ways you have not experienced.
The key is to be aware of the possibility of fluctuations in your emotions, but also to know where you access emotional support after you have given birth. For example, you may want to setup ways to video call (eg. Skype) your parents who can't be nearby (test call them a few times leading up to delivery so both of you are familiar with how it works).
Post-natal depression is common and can happen to any mothers. Australia has a lot of resources to help mothers with post-natal depression. You and your husband should become familiar with the signs of post-natal depression so you can seek professional help early.
9. What role will the father play?
This is not our area of expertise, but we include this question here in case you have not discussed this with your husband. Support from your husband over the confinement period will immeasurably contribute to your well being. However, you need to be realistic about the level of practical and emotional support that he can provide. If he is rarely successful at relieving your emotional stress, he is unlikely to become an expert overnight. If he has never been a great cook, it is unrealistic for him to prepare 5-stars cuisine after his work day. We believe it is worthwhile to discuss in detail how your husband can be involved in the care of you and the baby a few weeks before delivery. This will give him time to be prepared and up-skill if necessary, and to help you build realistic expectations on support from your most loved one.