The delivery of the precious bundle of joy is almost always the highlight of any pregnancy; seeing the face of your labour of love (no pun intended) for the first time and all the pain just simply melts away. However, right after that is the moment that most mothers dread; the moment when you are dictated by culture (in Malaysia at least) to go on a post-delivery confinement ‘programme’ consisting of bland food, minimal contact with the fan or air-conditioner, minimal physical movement, being cooped-up in hot rooms which would give spas a run for their money and getting all wrapped up in all sorts of bandages and cloths. Some even go to the extent of relinquishing showers or baths for days at a time just because culture frowns upon it. The list is endless and should I have the time and funds to do so, a detailed research of the confinement practices of each cultural group in Malaysia would see me coming up with a book that would equal the thickness of an encyclopedia.
Now, I have no qualms about mums choosing to abide to all these practices. In fact, some of them may even bring out the best in the early motherhood experience. However, the one thing that is almost always prevalent till today is the urgent needs of mums who have just delivered to get back to their pre-pregnancy shape and weight, and this is almost always accomplished by going on dietary restrictions. Traditional midwives or ‘confinement ladies’ have their own ’10 Commandments’ that all new mothers should abide to. And the one rule that is always sitting pretty at the top of the list is food restrictions. Some simply go on a diet of watery rice porridge, with a sprinkling of fried anchovies and ginger; some do not even touch fruits or vegetables for fear of having ‘windy’ tummy; others simply down hot soups. Some even forego their pregnancy routines of taking the necessary and recommended supplements. Whatever the dietary practices during this period, it is suffice to say that it is simply not enough.
During delivery, the body may have lost a substantial amount of blood. Tissues need repairing and generally your energy and strength needs to be replenished. This could only be achieved by maintaining a proper diet during the confinement period. It is safe for any mothers (provided you are not allergic to it) to take the right kind of protein such as fish, chicken and meat, which is essential for repair works the body needs. Carbohydrates and essential fats are needed for supplying energy and other metabolic processes. Vitamins and minerals, found in most vegetables and fruits, are also crucial in supporting all these healing processes of the body. So basically, all the food that you were told to eat during your pregnancy, is STILL very much relevant during your confinement period. This also goes on to cover the supplements you took during your pregnancy. In fact, mums who continued with these supplements would recover faster and would enjoy motherhood better.
Naturally, new mums aspire to breast-feed their babies for a good period of time. However, it is also a common complaint (and heartache) among mums that their breast milk is insufficient in amount. Besides getting ample support (psychological & moral) from loved ones, another sure-fire way to have a good flow of breast milk is to ensure optimal diet during this period of time. This, coupled with good hydration, is essential in producing quality breast milk. Therefore, new mums should not restrict their water intake. There are some local post-delivery practices that restrict water intake for fear of promoting a bulging tummy. Unless there are any sound contraindications (as advised by your doctor), try to stay sufficiently hydrated by drinking the recommended amount of water, as this is beneficial to both mum and baby. After all, breastfeeding mums get into shape faster and this would be a good enough excuse and motivation for you to eat and drink right and breastfeed at the same time.
Another issue common among mums is the need to exercise. A normal vaginal delivery is very taxing and would leave you feeling exhausted, no doubt. However, as soon as you have the energy and recommendation by your doctor to do so, try to incorporate some regular exercises that work your core muscles. Stronger core muscles would work wonders for the body, and definitely would give a much more permanent effect than any corsets or body binders. This does not exclude mums who have gone through the C-section. As soon as your doctor gives you the green light, make time to work on your muscles and stamina, and bring back the body you’ve had before or you’ve dreamed of having.
There are many exercises recommended online for new mums, but I would suggest that you speak to your healthcare provider first before embarking on any activities as such. Most health practitioners will recommend starting exercise 6 weeks after delivery. This should begin with some light activities to get you accustomed to physical exercise. Gradually build up intensity and you will see that, combined with the right diet, you will be much leaner in time. However, the bottom line is that, exercise is crucial.
Many more issues may be debated on the confinement practices of the women of Malaysia. However, the issues of proper food and water intake as well as exercise are highlighted in order to promote awareness of what is right for any new mums. After all, there is no harm in making the right choice; only the pleasure of being able to enjoy your newborn to the fullest.
Dr. Ayu Akida is a Public Health specialist. Her area of interest is family health, especially women’s health and infectious diseases. Find out more about her at The Team (Columnist) page.
- Lovelady, C 2011, ‘Balancing exercise and food intake with lactation to promote post-partum weight loss’, The Proceedings Of The Nutrition Society, 70, 2, pp. 181-184, MEDLINE with Full Text, EBSCOhost, viewed 22 October 2013.
[This article belongs to The Malaysian Medical Gazette. Any republication (online or offline) without written permission from The Malaysian Medical Gazette is prohibited.]