Malay, Chinese & Indian Confinement Practices

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I’m a Chinese and I know a little about Chinese confinement practices but not aware of how the Malay & Indian practice them. I found an interesting article from The-Star online that talks about how the Malay, Chinese & Indian practice confinement care. Just thought I should share with you:

In Malaysia, the three major ethnic groups each have their own confinement practices, sharing some similar principles and elements.

How the Chinese do it

The Chinese refer to confinement as “zhuo yue”, which is literally translated into “sitting still for a month”.

“Your body’s hormones need time to recover. This recovery period is from 30-45 days,” says Pei Ling, founder of a post-natal care services and consultancy company.

The predominant belief is that if confinement is not carried out in the proper way, the woman’s uterus will not be able to contract and this will result in “drooping womb” or uterine prolapse.

One of the other main principles of confinement is preventing “wind” from entering the body, which is said to be the cause of joint problems in later years. Hence, the notoriously peculiar custom of not allowing the women to bathe or wash their hair.

Chinese confinement dietary recommendations are mostly aimed at warming the body, improving blood circulation, “expelling” toxins from the blood and promoting contraction of the uterus.

Women are encouraged to eat liver and kidney cooked in old ginger, sesame oil or rice wine. Herbal soups and tonics are also a main part of the diet, as they rejuvenate the body.

Herbs are an important component of confinement care in Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures, although there is little scientific basis to explain how or why the herbs work.

Herbs are an important component of confinement care in Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures, although there is little scientific basis to explain how or why the herbs work.


  • Cannot wash hair for 21 days or bathe for 12 days.
  • Cannot be directly exposed to wind (hot, for example, hairdryer; or cold, for example, air-conditioning).
  • Can only watch TV or read for 15 minutes at a time, so that the eyes are well-rested.
  • Cannot cry.
  • Cannot carry heavy objects (including the baby), over-exert self or walk up and down the stairs.
  • Cannot drink water for the first 20 days, only rice wine (with the alcohol “steamed” away).

How the Malays do it

In the Malay community, confinement or “dalam pantang” is considered an important period that allows the body to heal after pregnancy.

“In the old days, confinement had to be done for 44 days. Now, at least 20 days is considered sufficient,” says a Malay confinement nanny known to her customers as Auntie Yogi.

“We believe that when you give birth, your nerves open up. We want to shrink them, to prevent pain or illness,” she says.

Malay confinement practices revolve around several elements: the massage to improve blood circulation, hot stone (tuku), wrap (barut), herbal baths and medicinal tonics (air akar kayu).

The tuku is a hot stone or a ball-like metal object with a handle. After it has been heated, it is wrapped in a cloth and daun mengkudu (noni leaf), and gently rolled over parts of the body that are “linked” to the uterus, including the abdomen.

For most women, barut is the most crucial part of confinement. It is a wrap, made up of a mixture of herbs, wound tightly around the woman’s waist to help her regain her slim figure as soon as possible.

Like the Chinese, Malays believe strongly in keeping the body warm and preventing “wind” from entering. A regular practice is to consume herbal drinks, using certain herbs that are “heaty”, such as “halia bara”.

Older practices to keep the body warm include the “mendian” and “salai”, where the woman sits or lies above a fire.


  • Avoid knocking your toe, because it will affect your uterus (said to be connected to the feet).
  • Avoid squatting, because your uterus will descend.
  • Cannot eat anything “cold”, like melon, eggplant, spinach.
  • Cannot eat anything “windy”, like jack fruit.
  • Cannot drink cold water or eat oily foods, as they are bad for blood circulation and cause muscle aches and pains.
  • Cannot leave the bed, move about or leave the house.
  • Cannot read or watch TV as it strains the eyes.

How the Indians do it

Indian confinement amah Mrs Siva believes that proper confinement practices can help to prevent health problems in the years to come.

“If a woman does not do confinement, she will experience problems like back or knee pain … not immediately, but later in life,” she warns.

Indian confinement practices, like in other cultures, revolve around ensuring that the uterus shrinks back to its normal size and that the internal “wounds” heal properly.

Herbal baths, using different kinds of leaves, are taken to improve blood circulation and reduce fatigue.

“We also use omam, which is a kind of spice that is rubbed all over the body to purify and soften the skin, as well as ‘release pain’,” says Mrs Siva.

The dietary recommendations are mostly aimed at improving the production of breast milk. Green leafy vegetables, shark’s meat, garlic, black dhal pudding and boiled fenugreek seeds (halba) are among the foods believed to help produce a lot of good milk.

The Indians also have their own form of massage and herbal wraps, which are believed to help the mother regain her figure. A unique aspect of post-natal care, which is not part of the mother’s confinement, but included in the services of some confinement amahs, is the baby massage. It is believed that using olive oil for the massage will improve the colour and texture of the baby’s skin.

Another practice is to bathe the newborn baby in cooked rice water (kanji) to strengthen the baby’s bones and improve his/her health.


  • Cannot eat seafood if the mother is breastfeeding, as it will cause vomiting and rashes in the baby.
  • Cannot eat “windy” vegetables and fruits, like cabbage, eggplant or grapes.
  • Cannot drink water.

Source: The Star Online


What is Confinement Practices?

In the old days, the month immediately after delivery is considered a time of great danger, of illness and potential death to both mother and baby. This is because during the postpartum period the mother’s physiological classification changes to a period of strongest Yin when her body is at the weakest.

What is the Confinement Month?

The confinement month is an Asian practice whereby new moms are confined to the home for a period of one month after the delivery of their babies. In the Chinese culture that after giving birth, the mum must stay at home, eat certain types of food cooked with the perennial ginger, sesame oil and a good dose of rice wine or DOM and rest as much as possible so that the body can recover from the trauma of delivering a baby.

During this 1 month confinement period, a confinement lady (also called a “pui-yuet”) is normally employed for a month to live with the family to look after the new mother and baby. Pui-yuets are usually middle-aged women who have a great deal of knowledge on postnatal matters through her own experiences.

I just read an article about confinement practices called ‘Doing the month’: Ancient tradition meets modern motherhood – by Anne Williams, and would like to share with you:

Where did confinement come from, and how do mothers safely honour a tradition whose basis was formed long before modern medicine?

Zuo Yuezi
The Chinese tradition of Zuo Yuezi (Cho Yuet in Cantonese) dictates that for 40 days from the birth of their children, mothers must stay inside and avoid bathing, washing their hair or brushing their teeth. They must cover their heads to prevent chills, keep the windows closed, and remain in bed for as long as possible.

Zuo Yuezi – which loosely translates into doing the month – also requires mothers to avoid all forms of stress, including crying, shouting and talking for an entire cycle of the moon.

While ‘doing the month,’ mothers can’t eat ‘cold’ foods such as cool drinks, ice cream, fruits or vegetables. Instead, they must load up on ‘hot’ foods like boiled eggs and chicken and fish soup. Along with the tradition is a famous Chinese postpartum ‘decoction’ known as Shenghua Tang – an herbal cleansing and purifying remedy.

Origins in Chinese Medicine
Medical writings about Zuo Yuezi can be traced to the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911). According to Yi-Li Wu, associate professor of history at Albion College in Michigan, early Chinese medical writings described conditions such as eclampsia, maternal tetanus and other postpartum diseases that are still deadly today if left untreated. Essentially, ‘doing the month’ was a primitive form of quarantine to prevent postpartum complications.

If you analyze Zuo Yuezi in an early medical context, many of the practices made sense. The avoidance of bathing and teeth-brushing was a way to prevent water-borne illness; staying indoors helped women and babies avoid exposure to communicable diseases, and covering the head protected new mothers from catching a ‘chill.’

Food-wise, the proteins and iron found in eggs, meat and fish provided mothers with strength and muscle repair. Rest and heavy consumption of hot soup helped prevent dehydration, kept moms warm and was believed to promote the production of breast milk. Most importantly, the legendary herbal decoction of Shenghua Tang was thought to purify the female body and help slow vaginal bleeding.

The Power of Superstition
‘Doing the month’ wasn’t only a product of Chinese medicine. Without scientific explanations for the phenomena of the times, many ancient cultures developed devout beliefs in the supernatural.

For example, some of the fear of leaving home in the first month after birth had to do with evil spirits seeking to steal babies. More common was the belief that spirits and pregnant women were out to steal breast milk. Out of these superstitions came the avoidance of expectant mothers and strangers during Zuo Yuezi.

Baby snatchers were the reason that the Chinese did not give first-born children their official names until ‘doing the month’ was over. Instead, a newborn was given a little name or nickname to trick the evil spirits. Many parents continued to use the nickname throughout their children’s lives.

Zuo Yuezi Today
Whether or not you believe in Chinese medicine or superstitions surrounding ‘doing the month,’ there is no doubt that belief plays a significant role in one’s feeling of health and well-being.

Are you doing the month? Please share your knowledge/experiences. Do you hire a confinement lady to take care of you & your baby? I hope you are lucky to find a good confinement lady. If you do know a good confinement lady, please recommend here as it would be a disaster if hired a bad confinement nanny.