The “Do’s” and “Don’t’s” of Chinese Confinement

THE DO’s and DON’T’s Of Chinese Confinement

It all starts with one key principle in Traditional Chinese Medicine:  Re-balance the Yin and Yang in the body.

The energy in the body post birth is normally in an increased yin (cooling) state due to the loss of blood and fluids during childbirth.  This means there is more yin in the body than normal and the yang (warming) needs to be strengthened (or replenished).

This is the basis of the traditional DO’s and DON’T’s of Chinese Confinement.  Keep in mind that historically, without technology, heating, or the luxuries we have today, some of these traditions held very true.  However, my guidance is for you to take the principles and tweak it so it fits your lifestyle, your environment, and whatever your resources allow.  For example, DO NOT WASH YOUR HAIR is one that you will hear very often.  The wet hair induces dampness into the body and as it air dries, it becomes cold, which also increases yin into the body through the head.  However, modern technology allows for heated spaces and hair dryers.  So if you do wash your hair, be sure to do so in a heated room and then blow dry your hair on medium to high heat until it is fully dried.

Don’t be exposed to windy or cool conditions

 

 

Yang itself is the warming and dry element of the two and is difficult to replenish if the external environment doesn’t allow it.  In fact, it may be the opposite in that more Yin is going into the body if it’s too cool, too damp, or too wet in and around the healing body.

This is why you’ll see pregnant women wearing wooly hats in the summer in Hong Kong.  At all costs, eliminate any opportunity where any parts of your exposed body are to cool, cold, or wet conditions.  Here are some examples:

  • If you’re breastfeeding and have your shoulders exposed, use a towel, shawl, or wrap to cover them
  • If you must have air conditioning on, turn the vents towards the ceiling or walls and have the cooler air circulate on the outside edges
  • Wear thicker socks or slippers if you’ve got tiled or colder floors.  The feet are one source where yang can easily leave the body.
  • Exercise in moderation, paying attention to sweat rate and exposure of sweaty skin to the cold air.  I find gentle yoga or light stretching where you aren’t sweating buckets is good (but pay attention to which muscle you’re stretching, will explain further down).
  • This goes on to support the DO NOT WASH YOUR HAIR or DO NOT TAKE BATHS (with normal water) traditions, however, you still can if you’re able to keep the room warm and dry off immediately, including drying your hair thoroughly after you wash it.

 

Don’t overexert the body

 

This has more to do with the use of energy in the body and how it’s being resourced.  The priority of your energy should be on allowing the body to fully heal during confinement.  This is where confinement gets its terminology.  Traditionally, it’s basically the woman lying in bed, pretty immobile for a whole month.  This is highly impractical and unlikely in modern times, but some of the concept of energy preservation still apply.

This includes:

  • DO NOT LIFT HEAVY THINGS.  The exertion applies very similarly to when you’re pregnant in that you don’t want any muscle strain to the uterus at all.  As these parts of the post partum body are healing, use the same principles.
  • IF YOU MUST, EXERCISE LIGHTLY AND IN MODERATION.  If you must exercise, although some TCM’s and Pui Yuets (Chinese Confinement Ladies) will frown upon this, do it in a way that’s minimal exertion.  Light stretching of legs and arms, but avoid the core area (unless you’re doing it wrapped) because that’s where the tradition of wrapping helps pull the stomach and core muscles back into place.
  • DO NOT DO HOUSEHOLD CHORES.  I wish!  Haha… however, this is the traditional way of managing confinement.  You usually had your mother, mother-in-law, or a Pui Yuet who can support you, but that’s a far ask in modern times.  It’s definitely easier in countries where hired help is more economical, but that’s where some planning will help you manage.  Pre-bought and prepared meals ahead of confinement will save you many trips to the grocery store and the prep work.  Source healthy food delivery or food preparation vendors.  Enlist the help of neighbours, family, or friends, including other children.  Recognize and accept trade offs.

 

As my second post partum began, we let go of my helper in Hong Kong.  In my head, I had my mom fly over and I was a strong empowered woman, so I could do it!  Right?  I was so wrong!

I was trying to do it all.  I was trying to be the great mom to my first daughter, the helpful daughter to my mom, the great wife to my husband, and the super housewife, but every time I see a Chinese doctor now, they always ask me to have a third baby so I can go through confinement again and do it properly and fix all the wrongs in my body!  It’s that crazy?

My lessons learned is that there have to be trade offs.  So what if you have a messy house?  So what if you’re wearing the same clothes for 4 days straight?  Protect your body.  It’s only 30 days.

Lisa

Do consume warm and drying (yang-nourishing) food and drinks

 

e of the most important part of confinement is the food and drinks you consume during this important period of your healing.  The key principle here is that anything (from a TCM perspective) nourishing the yang, mainly characterized by warming ingredients. 

Warming ingredients include:

  • GINGER, GINGER, GINGER.  The best type is to start with raw ginger and then find uses for its peel and the root itself.  You can find this in many (if not all) confinement recipes.
  • SESAME SEEDS.  Black is best, but white are also OK.  Sesame seeds are warming and can nourish yang nicely.  I’d suggest buying a bucket of these and sprinkle over white rice, dishes, stews, and even into your soups.
  • SESAME OIL.  Similar to above, this is best used in stews and dishes and all of your cooking.
  • BLACK VINEGAR.  Perfect for confinement and found commonly in the Pig’s Feet Vinegar Soup.  This is a great condiment to have as part of your confinement garnishes.  One favourite dish I like is the stewed pork ribs in black vinegar with sugar.
  • This also means avoiding foods that are deep fried, hard to digest, raw, considered toxic (goose, beef) or cooling (seafood, watermelon, ice cream, bubble tea)

For a selection soups for confinement, check out our CONFINEMENT SOUPS.

You can also explore our selection of CONFINEMENT FOODS.  Here we explore all the CAN and CANNOT eat ingredients.

  • Maintaining a dry environment is also important.  This is because the principle includes dispelling both cold and moisture from the body to replenish the yang and avoid retention.  Water itself is a cool element and associated as yin.

 

 

Do create a warming environment for the body

 

Beyond the DO NOT’s of sitting in front of the air conditioning or exposing parts of your body to the air, what you want to do is be conscious and intentional with creating a warm space and moments for your body.  In some instances, ginger is your friend here as well, which is weird, but stay with me!

This includes:

  • DO OVERUSE GINGER.  Here’s how you can get creative with ginger.  The peel (along with a mix of other Chinese herbs) can be dried and used to soak your feet (a great way to get yang into the body), wash your hair, and bathe in.  I would suggest using a soup bag to store all the dried ingredients so you can take it out easily and dispose of.  You can use the peels as large dried pieces into a foot soak at least once a day.  I did this before bedtimes and it helped me sleep so well!
  • DO KEEP EXTREMETIES AND HEAD COVERED.  This means, hands, feet, head, back of neck, shoulders, elbows crease, back of knees, back of ears, and ankles are sufficiently covered and not exposed to cold or air.  You’ll notice that all these body parts have pressure points when it comes to TCM and acupuncture.  There is no such thing as overdressing.  Actually, my Chinese doctor says, there is no such thing as over-nourishing during confinement!
  • DO COOK OR HEAT UP EVERYTHING THING FIRST.  This means food or drinks, too.  This is part of the warming environment, which is just as important in terms of what you put into your body.  DO NOT EAT RAW FOOD.  This is part of principle in staying with warm and cooked foods and drinks.  And I know sometimes you get so thirsty when breastfeeding, especially if you’re in an Asian country (where it’s humid and hot), so I ended up making a dried herbal tea of longans and red dates and let it cool to room temperature.  That’s how cool as I’ll drink.  Nothing with ice.  Nothing colder than body temperature ideally.

 

TCM FACT

Children are naturally energetic and full of yang.  They are constantly moving, running, on the go, and vibrant.  As we age, we lose that ability to hold that yang in and our energy decreases and as we become older, we become more yin and actually prefer to slow down.  This is very natural.

Knowing this, in general, it means that younger mothers can hold more yang and replenish it easier than older mothers.  It is encouraged to replenish yang as you age (regardless of whether it’s post partum or not).  This will also help reduce hot flashes (during menopause) and con conserve their Qi in later parts of their lives.

I’ve started consuming a cup of dried longans and red dates tea midday since I turned 40!  I may need it even more now that I’m in Canada and definitely feeling the cold.

 

FOLLOW OUR Confinement STORIES

A selection of confinement Chinese Soups

What is confinement and confinement stories

Baby 5 & 6 Confinement story

Some confinement foods for your tummy!

The DO's and DON'T's of confinement

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Basic Pork Congee

Basic Pork Congee

Basic Pork Congee

Soup Name: Basic Pork Congee (or aka Skinny Pork Congee)

Traditional Chinese Name:  瘦肉粥 (shòu ròu zhōu)

Congee is one of the many comfort foods available within the Chinese cuisine. Nothing is simpler than pork congee and using this recipe as a base, you can actually go pretty far when loading it up with additions or adding different flavours. I use this especially when the children are sick and it’s a great first foods on top of baby cereal and smashed up vegetables.

What’s involved?

Prep time: 5 mins

Cook time: 25 mins

Total time: 30 mins

Serves: 8 bowls

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound of lean, fresh pork, largely cubed
  • 6 pieces of dried scallops
  • 2 cups of long-grain rice
  • 2 L of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • Whatever toppings you want

The ingredients for the soup are: Dried scallops, skinny boneless pork cuts, long-grained rice, salt and water.  To start, I usually start with really lean cuts of pork from the butcher and then cut them into large chunks that don’t shrivel up too small in the congee, but are small enough that the flavours come out. You can blanch the pork if you want, but being this thin of a cut, I usually don’t.  I will however, salt the pork with about half a teaspoon of salt.

Begin to boil your water with cleaned rice. You can throw in the dried soaked scallops at this time, but the meat usually goes into the water when it boils.

Once the water boils, add in the fresh pork and let it boil on high for about 5 minutes and then reduce to a medium boil for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure the bottom doesn’t stick and making sure it doesn’t boil over. At this time, I will transport the pot into my thermal cooker to let it bake some more. I also tend to add more water than normal because I like my congee watery!

 

The Kiddie Version

For the child with the stomach flu, this is what she got. Plain congee with some Japanese rice flavouring. She lapped it up, 3 bowls in a row. This is also why the extra water helps – get more liquid into her system.

Here’s my upgraded, “souped up”, adult version of the congee. It’s really a fabulous comfort food in that you can add anything like:

 

  • salted peanuts
  • pickled vegetables (like radishes, cucumbers)
  • kimchi
  • salted fish (Chinese-styled)
  • preserved black bean fish (Chinese-styled)
  • preserved and spicy tofu (foo-yu)
  • pork floss
  • egg
  • green onions or parsley
  • and the list goes on and on if you get creative enough

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Sweet and Sour Pork with Ginger (for Confinement)

Sweet and Sour Pork with Ginger (for Confinement)

Sweet and Sour Pork with Ginger (for Confinement)

Soup Name:

Sweet and Sour Pork with Ginger (for Chinese Confinement)

Traditional Chinese Name:

糖醋排骨 (táng cù páigǔ)

For cooking videos, visit us on YouTube. 

This is another one of those great recipes that are handed down through generations. I got this from an Auntie who is an amazing cook and simplified this recipe so that it’s so simple and yet, tastes so good! You can use a variety of rib cuts – I’ve made it with the traditional Chinese spare ribs cut (pictured here), but also made it using baby back ribs, too. When I make this, I use the measurements as a base, but adjust it as it cooks. I know some people prefer it sweeter or more sour or more salty, so definitely sample your cooking as you go!

For this recipe, I will use a fatter cut of meat. This is because it stews for quite some time and you don’t want the pork to dry out and shrivel up into dried pork. Over time, the fat will come out and you can simply scoop it out before consumption.

I will also rinse the pork in warm water when I get them from the vendor (just in case). Then throw it into a stainless steel pot and follow this simple base for recipe. It’s basically 1-2-3 (tablespoons).

1 tablespoon of soy sauce
2 tablespoons of sugar (any type)
3 tablespoons of white vinegar

And then you proportion it out appropriately. So for the amount picture above, which is around 1 pound of spare ribs, I multiplied by 3, so I got 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 6 tablespoons of sugar, and 9 tablespoons of white vinegar. If you want, you can add a quarter cup of water for good measure. For confinement, my recommendation is to load up on ginger. This can be ginger slices, ginger cubes, the whole ginger, grated ginger, ginger juice – however spicy you can take it, do it. Optional ingredients also include whole garlic, black or white pepper and even star anise.

What’s involved?

Prep time: 10 mins

Cook time: 30+ mins (checking every 10 mins based on softness of meat and viscosity of the sauce)

Total time: 40+ mins

Serves: 1 large bowl

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of fresh spare ribs or pork ribs
  • 1 x 3 = 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 x 3 = 6 tablespoons of sugar
  • 3 x 3 = 9 tablespoons of white vinegar
  • 1-inch root of fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup of water

Instructions

  1. Rinse your spare ribs or pork ribs in warm water (to clean)
  2. Put all the ingredients into a stainless steel pot (or clay pot)
  3. Boil on high heat for 10 minutes
  4. Reduce to a low simmer for another hour, checking every 10 minutes on taste and whether it is drying out too much. If so, add another quarter cup of water.
  5. Remove oil and serve

FOLLOW OUR Confinement STORIES

A selection of confinement Chinese Soups

What is confinement and confinement stories

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Some confinement foods for your tummy!

The DO's and DON'T's of confinement

EXPLORE MORE

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Soup Name: Sugar Cane and Imperatae Drink Traditional Chinese Name: 竹蔗茅根 (zhú zhè máogēn)   For videos, visit us on YouTube. A traditional Chinese drink which helps cool the body and reduce heatiness. It’s natural sweetness is perfect for hot summer days and this...

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Chicken Wintermelon Soup for Summer!

Soup Name:  Chicken Wintermelon Soup for Summer! Traditional Chinese Name:   冬瓜雞湯 (dōng guā jī tāng)  For more videos, visit us on YouTube.Here is a variation on the wintermelon soup using chicken as the protein instead of pork.  It's slightly cooling, helping to...

Fragrant Pork and Cabbage Quick Boil Chinese Soup

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Turkey Chinese Congee (Porridge)

Soup Name: Turkey Chinese Congee Traditional Chinese Name: 火雞粥 (huǒ jī zhōu) Introduction: What to do with a 19 pound turkey for a family of 6? Well, after carving it, you have more meat leftover than carcass and I’ve taken half of the carcass for congee and the other...

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Ginger and Egg Fried Rice (for Chinese Confinement)

Ginger and Egg Fried Rice (for Chinese Confinement)

This is a simple recipe part of our Confinement Series for new mothers. Designed to be heaty, healing and part of a balanced diet – actually anyone can eat this! My version uses ginger juice (as I personally find the ginger shreds too spicy for my mild taste buds), but it is recommended to use the grated ginger flesh if you’re in confinement. Load on the ginger and black or white pepper! Other variations of this include adding chicken or pork, garlic and some neutral, diced veggies like choy sum.

 

Dish Name: Ginger and Egg Fried Rice (for Chinese Confinement)

Traditional Chinese Name:  雞蛋姜炒飯 (jī dàn jiāng chǎo fàn)

 

Ginger and Egg Fried Rice (for Chinese Confinement)
Recipe Type: Main
Cuisine: Chinese
Author: LadyTong
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 1
Ingredients
  • 1 tsp cooking oil
  • 1 bowl of rice (leftover rice best for fried rice)
  • 25g of [url href=”http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/ginger-fresh/”]fresh ginger[/url], grated (produced 1 tablespoon of ginger juice)
  • 1 sprig of [url href=”http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/green-onions/”]fresh green onions[/url], diced
  • 1 egg
  • black or white pepper to taste
  • salt to taste
Instructions
  1. In a frying pan on medium heat, add oil and start frying the rice (re-heating it for 2 minutes)
  2. Add in fresh ginger juice or grated ginger
  3. Add in fresh green onions
  4. Fry together for 2 minutes
  5. In the middle of the pan, open a hole and crack the egg directly into it, stirring and mixing the egg until relatively cooked
  6. Stir it altogether and add pepper and salt to taste
  7. Serve and enjoy!
Notes
[b]Any benefits?[/b][br][br]This recipe contains all the greats needed to get you through confinement (Sesame oil, ginger, black or white pepper ).[br]Ginger is excellent for warming the body and expelling wind (both important things to achieve during Chinese confinement).[br]It is a nutritious and delicious course.[br]This recipe is super easy to make. I would recommend making a bowl / jar of pre-grated ginger so you can whip this up in less than 10 minutes.[br][br][b]Any precautions?[/b][br][br]This is a heaty dish and not recommended for people who can’t too heaty foods or are currently overheated.

 

Fresh grated ginger, green onions and an egg – easy!

Soy Sauce Chicken Wings and Feet (for Chinese Confinement)

Dish Name: Soy Sauce Chicken Wings and Feet (for Chinese Confinement)

Traditional Chinese Name: 醬油雞腳 (jiàng yóu jī jiǎo)

Introduction:
This is a very common Canton (Chinese-styled) dish. The soy sauce base can be used with pork, chicken (various parts), duck (wings are best), pigeon and any other meats with bones as best. The trick to this dish is that it must be simmered for some time (or use a pressure cooker) to let both the sauce seep deep into the meat and enable the meet to be almost falling off the bone. Why this particular dish is called out for Chinese confinement is that the chicken feet provides a healthy amount of collagen – and adding warming ingredients such as ginger, star anise and cinnamon help keep the body warm and heated throughout this period. My mom actually used to keep the sauce after she made it in a glass jar in the fridge, to be used again the next time around. The more it’s used, the tastier it gets. You can simply skim off the accumulated fat once it’s cooled and add more soy sauce if it’s been reduced too far. A delicious, easy-to-make, easy-to-keep Chinese confinement dish for any postpartum mother.

 

What are the ingredients?

Good for 4-5 servings:

  • 20 fresh (or frozen) chicken feet, nails cut off
  • 10 fresh chicken wings
  • 3/4 cup of soy sauce
  • 4 cups of boiling (or hot) water
  • 3 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 pieces of star anise
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced and peeled
  • 1 scallion, diced (optional)
  • White pepper (optional and recommended for Chinese Confinement)

 

How do I prepare it?

  1. Cut off the nails of the chicken feet
  2. In a pot of boiling water, blanch the chicken feet and chicken wings for 3 minutes (to flush out the oil in the chicken feet)
  3. In a fresh pot, add all the ingredients together and let simmer for 45 minutes (or longer if you want it softer)
  4. Top with fresh scallions as needed
  5. Serve and enjoy!

Any benefits?

  • This is an easy-to-make Chinese dish recipe with minimal ingredients
  • It’s a heaty dish suited for Chinese confinement (or the whole family) – adjust the amount of ginger depending on the consumer
  • Chicken feet is packed with collagen and perfect for women and Chinese confinement
  • You can easily keep frozen chicken wings and chicken feet in the freezer (for rainy days when you’re trapped at home)

Any precautions?

  • Be sure to wash your hands after handling raw chicken (or meat)
  • Take caution not to add too much soy sauce (as the meat absorbs the saltiness quite easily)

Chinese Confinement: The Final Days (Day 13-30)

This is the final leg of the journey for Chinese Confinement #7.

If you’ve just started reading, you can find Chinese Confinement: The Early Days as pre-reading leading up into this post.

This page is about Chinese Confinement in the final days. From here on forward, it’s all about ensuring the body is pumped full of herbs, heat and healing ingredients that help the mother “seal” her body and make her “wholesome and strong” again. The soups and meals here are packed with serious herbal, healing and heaty additives and not to consumed by the faint of heart. It is completely and entirely customized for the confinement mommy (unless the recipes indicate that other people can drink it too), but it really is more heaty and healing than your average soup. Some recipes even require double-boiling to preserve the concentration of healing qualities.

According to my local herbalist, she says one can’t become over-heated during confinement, so just throw all the ammunition you have. This is really the final stretch and how you heal the body here, is said to dictate the health of your body until your next child, or for the rest of your life. Rather scary huh? That’s why the Chinese take confinement so seriously!

I will continue to add as I learn more here, but here’s a start.

 

Chinese Confinement drinks, teas & soups (for the final days):

Deer Antler Confinement Soup