What is confinement?
It’s pretty close to what it sounds like. For one full month, the mother and her baby is confined to the house so that the mother can properly rest and heal during the most crucial period of recovery. The Chinese call it Zuo yue zi which means “To sit a month.” Being confined indoors for a month is one of many rules and guidelines the mother must follow in order to properly practice confinement. In addition to following strict guidelines, the mother must also follow a very strict diet. “Confinement meals” are prepared during this month and postpartum mothers must only eat what is given and nothing else. This age old tradition/custom dates back to year 960 and is still very commonly practiced in Asia.
Does confinement apply to only the mother? What about the baby?
The baby is to be confined to the house as well. No leaving the house under any circumstances other than for necessary hospital visits. This is to ensure the baby does not come into contact with germs and illnesses while their immune system is still weak. Babies are also to be clothed from neck to toe just like the mother. And I mean literally, to your toes. Mother and baby must always have their feet covered either in socks or a onesie for the baby that has footsies. It is believed that cold energy or air should not touch the feet as it will chill the rest of the body and induce poor blood circulation. While the baby doesn’t have a strict diet or any guidelines to follow, the baby does benefit directly from confinement as the specific diet administered to the new mother is supposed to help produce an abundant amount of healthy milk for the baby. The baby also gets a lot of proper attention and care during confinement from not only the mother but also from the person administering confinement.
Who administers confinement?
A pui yuet (a companion of the month) is the person selected to administer confinement. She is usually an expert in traditional postnatal practices, from what the new mother should and shouldn’t do, to preparing all the proper meals for the mother, to taking care of the baby, and any chores that have to do with the baby and the mother, such as laundry. Pui Yuet is also known as confinement lady or confinement nanny.
Where can I find a Pui Yuet (A companion of the month) aka confinement lady or confinement nanny?
So I have some good news and bad news.
The good news is that to be a Pui Yuet, means simply having had experience with confinement or knowledge of what it entails. Since all mothers go through confinement, they automatically can be qualified to practice it when their own daughter or daughter in law become new mothers. With the help of relatives they can help prepare special meals, give guidelines, and help out with household chores and baby duties so that the new mother can rest and heal. Of course not all mothers or mother in laws feel knowledgeable enough to take on this role. It’s a huge responsibility so if your relatives are not confident in their skills or understanding of this tradition, then it’s best to hire a professional Pui Yuet. This is obviously a much more costly option, but in my opinion worth every penny.
If you were to find your own Pui Yuet for hire, then you should ask for recommendations and referrals. Usually referrals are the best way to find a qualified confinement nanny whom people you trust have vouched for. It’s a very personal and important month for the mother, you want to make sure you find someone you can trust and knows what they are doing. If you don’t know people who have had confinement nannies or can recommend any to you, then the second route would be to find agencies that match clients with confinement nannies.
If I’m looking to hire a Pui Yuet and want to practice confinement, what should I expect from her? What are the duties and responsibilities of a Pui Yuet/ Confinement Nanny?
Prepare all meals for the mother (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, teas, soups, and tonics)
Help take care of the newborn, from changing diapers, bathing the baby, to putting the baby to bed, to bottle feeding the baby when the mother is not breastfeeding, so she can sleep or pump. Especially handy during the night feedings.
Wash laundry for baby and the new mother. Also clean all baby related items, from bottles, to toys, to anything that the baby touches or uses.
Prepare special ginger-infused bathing water for the new mother (mother is not to touch or use tap water for bathing)
Monitor the new mother and the baby for an entire month to ensure mother is healing properly, sleeping enough, fed enough, and that the baby is growing up healthy and strong. That means, they keep track and record the baby feedings, bowel movements and also records the mother’s nursing times and breast milk quantity after each pump. She tracks the progress so that the mother does not have to stress over it herself.
Develop a routine for the baby and prepare the new parents to be on the right path to success when the nanny leaves. Provides comfort and assistance to the mother the whole time so she is not overwhelmed by anything while teaching and showing the mother how to do everything.
If you hire a professional confinement nanny, they usually can double as your lactation nurse as well. They can assist, teach and help the new mother with latching, clogged ducts, and pumping.
In order to fulfill all their responsibilities, confinement nannies must be live-ins.
How are Doulas and Regular Nannies different from Confinement Nannies?
Some doulas do assist postpartum mothers with baby responsibilities, lactation guidance, light housework, and possibly cooking. This is something that is not necessarily expected out of a doula versus confinement nannies are expected to do all the responsibilities listed above. Another major difference is confinement nannies prepare special confinement meals, something doulas do not do.
Regular nannies can also fulfill many of the responsibilities listed above, however, most nannies are not live-ins unless you are looking for a live in. And while some nannies will do some cooking, they are usually not expected to cook every single meal for the mom while following strict guidelines for what is used to heal the mother through food, teas, and tonics. In my opinion, a confinement nanny does a lot more than a regular nanny or doula. They become your “best friend” for a month and are your biggest support system. Just remember that the best ones are usually booked out far in advance. They also charge much steeper rates than most so be mindful of that when selecting one.
Having gone through confinement, what are my thoughts on it? What did I love most about it? And can it be applied to modern day moms?
Before confinement, I was a bit skeptical of all the benefits my mom and relatives were raving about. All my elders tried to convince me that proper confinement will reset a woman’s body so that she will come out of the whole ordeal, a stronger and healthier woman than before pregnancy.
Do I feel stronger and healthier than before? It’s honestly hard to compare my health from before pregnancy to now especially since I was very strong and healthy before pregnancy. So I would say, I still remain a bit skeptical on the improved health benefits from confinement. Although I would say, most people who saw me after confinement all commented on how energized I looked compared to most new moms who look sleep deprived and tired. The fact that I was able to sleep quite a bit probably made me feel back to my old self faster than most new moms who did not have confinement.
There are however, many other benefits of confinement my relatives glossed over that I think should be emphasized. In fact there are a few wonderful things about confinement that all new mothers should try to practice or gain from.
During the first month, the mother does not do any work. I mean, what new mother wouldn’t be on board with this idea? To think that the mom gets to rest as much as she can after carrying and growing a human being for 9 months in her belly sounds like a darn good idea to me. I walked into my home from the hospital with food ready on the table. I sat down to eat a real meal; clean and simple, healthy and light, but nourishing at the same time. While I enjoyed my first meal at home, the confinement nanny took the baby and handled everything. All new moms could use a helping hand right?! Why can’t we make this a tradition for all new moms?!
2. The importance of allowing the mother to relax. The first month can be very overwhelming, especially for first time parents. It can be hard for the new mom to enjoy when she is trying to breastfeed, lull the baby to sleep, change diapers, track feedings, do laundry...all while lacking more sleep than ever. If the mom can relax, she can actually enjoy this very special time she has with the infant. Happy mom = happy baby. I can’t stress enough the amount of positive energy and mental health I took away from my confinement experience. I truly believe this type of experience can potentially help prevent Postpartum Depression in some mothers. New moms go through a lot during birth and the first week upon returning home. Your body has gone through a lot and you’re learning how to connect with your baby. The Pui Yuet (confinement nanny aka companion for a month) made this time less lonely for me. I felt like I had a teammate who was guiding and cheering me on the whole time while making sure I felt as comfortable and relaxed as possible throughout. I connected with my confinement nanny a lot during the first three months I felt like she was my family. I can’t even imagine going through this whole process without her and not having a breakdown. Thanks to her, the process was a breeze and I enjoyed every minute of it. How many new moms can say that? Even my husband credited my sanity and his to our confinement nanny.
3. Be mindful of your diet. While traditional confinement meals are very strict and may be hard to follow, there are some really great philosophies behind these meals that we can learn from and apply to with modern day new moms. For example, the first two weeks, meals are incredibly healthy but filling. I had lean protein prepared with minimal oil, salt and seasoning. I also had tons of vegetables that were prepared with no oil and salt and whole grains were given in small quantities. My body felt really good during this time period, I felt energized, strong, and comfortable every day, something you don’t hear from postnatal moms in the beginning. And it makes total sense. If moms eat junk or unbalanced meals during this period, their already sluggish body will feel even more tired. You’ll be running on fumes. I also got super lucky in that my confinement nanny was an incredible cook. I had some really fantastic confinement meals that month which I even crave to this day. Modern day moms can at the very least follow some of the basic theories for eating. Whole grains, lean proteins, steamed vegetables, minimal salt and oil, tons of fluids and soups. Below are some snippets of the meals my confinement nanny prepared for me. Every meal had variety, from the type of vegetable she would throw in or the type of fish she would steam.
4. Ginger water for bathing - Ok so this is sounds a bit crazy. No tap water, only ginger infused water. All I can say is, after each bath, my skin felt incredibly smooth, my body felt energized, and my face was glowing. The hot ginger water left a tingly sensation on my skin that made me feel great from head to toe, as if someone just gave me a great scrub down. It felt like I walked out of a spa. Of course this isn’t really something I see many people trying to do at home. Brewing ginger water for every bath is tedious work. My adaptation for this would be to soak your feet in ginger infused water or even give yourself a ginger infused facial by simply heating a towel with ginger infused water and laying it over your face. You’ll feel like a million bucks. The aroma of the ginger is invigorating. On some days, my ginger water had lemongrass infused in it as well. If you can’t brew this yourself or have someone do it for you, light some candles, take a long shower, give yourself a little “me time”- You’ll need it :) and more importantly, you DESERVE IT!
In conclusion, my experience with confinement has led to me to believe this age old tradition is something that every new mom should read about and possibly incorporate into their first postnatal month. There’s plenty of books out there on how to prepare the parents for the baby, but there really isn’t enough focus put on the well-being of the mother. So much focus is put on the baby, that we forget the most important part of the equation, the provider aka mother. The primary caregiver needs to be comfortable, happy and healthy and that means we should do everything we can to make sure new moms have a great postnatal experience the second they step out of that hospital. There is much to learn from this age old tradition and I’m blessed to have gone through it. I hope this Asian Tradition continues to be passed down generations and perhaps even be passed across borders and touch Western culture.