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.

 

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Basic Chinese Chicken Soup Stock (Soup Base)

Basic Chinese Chicken Soup Stock (Soup Base)

Basic Chinese Chicken Soup Stock (Soup Base)

Soup Name

Basic Chinese Chicken Soup Stock (Soup Base)

Traditional Chinese Name:  

清雞湯 (qīng jī tāng)

 

This is the base Chinese Chicken Soup stock that I make for any of my Chinese soups. It’s simple, straight-forward, and delicious on its own. It does take some preparation in that you need to blanch all the meats, soak the conpoys for at least 10 minutes, quarter the chicken, and then add everything together. And then patience, for a few hours to let it all simmer together. This is perfect for freezing for usage with soups later on, so I do suggest to make more! Perfect for the whole family and any condition.

The benefits:

  • Perfect for any soup base. You can simply add your favourite vegetables or even Chinese herbs.
  • This soup is perfect for cooler days as it’s slightly warming
  • Perfect for confinement, postpartum, and post period
  • Ideal for the whole family, including children
  • These ingredients are readily available in most Chinese supermarkets around the world, all you need is just a chicken!
  • Be sure to to consult your (Chinese) doctor first if you’re unsure of consumption or suitability
  • You can store this soup base in a plastic container (or jar with a wide mouth so it’s easier to use back later) for up to 6 months in the freezer

 

What’s involved?

Prep time: 30 mins

Cook time: 3 hours

Total time: 3 hours 30 mins

Serves: 8 bowls 

Ingredients

Cooking Instructions

  1. Optional step the night before is to salt the pork shanks and chicken overnight and wrap and store in the fridge to let it sit.  This will allow the flavors to marinate and soften the meat.
  2. Begin to boil a separate pot for blanching the meat
  3. Soak the dried conpoys in warm water for 10 minutes
  4. Prepare your chicken and cutting it into quarters (or any size you prefer)
  5. When your blanching water boils, add in the pork and chicken and boil on high heat for 5 minutes. Make sure the water is boiling and you should see residue, fat, grim, and even foam come to the surface.
  6. Begin to boil your soup water
  7. Once your soup water boils, remove the meat from the blanching pot and shake off any excess and slowly lower into your soup water
  8. Add in dried conpoys
  9. Boil on medium heat for 30 minutes
  10. Reduce heat to the lowest and cover and let it simmer like that for another 2-3 hours (or use a thermal pot). The soup should now be a rich, golden color after boiling for so long. Be sure to scoop out any oil, fat bits, or skin from the top with an oil scooper

For video on “7 Basic Chinese Soup Pantry Ingredients”, visit us on YouTube.

Chinese Chicken Herbal Soup

Chinese Chicken Herbal Soup

Chinese Chicken Herbal Soup

Soup Name

Chinese Chicken Herbal Soup

Traditional Chinese Name:  

清雞湯 (qīng jī tāng)

 

The Chinese have a whole repertoire of herbs which can be added to Chinese soups and is no exception.  Among these herbs, there are a variety of traditional herbs that go well with Chicken.  I’ve selected a few for the purpose of this soup ensuring a light combination of herbs for the whole family.  This is actually designed for my teenage daughter who has recently started her period.  So something light, but sufficient enough for her bodily needs.

What’s involved?

Prep time: 30 mins

Cook time: 2 hours

Total time: 2 hours 30 mins

Serves: 4-6 bowls

Ingredients

Cooking Instructions

  1. Begin to soak all the herbs in warm water (to clean them) for about 15 minutes and rinse
  2. You can begin to boil your soup pot water
  3. In a separate pot, blanch the quartered chicken ensuring that it is all boiling within the water for 7 minutes.  This process will both clean it and remove the initial fat.  You can keep the skin on if you’d like, but be sure to use an oil scooper to remove the top layer of fat.  Drain and set aside for soup use.
  4. Once your soup water boils, add the blanched chicken into the water and all the soaking herbal ingredients
  5. Bring to a medium boil for 30 minutes covered
  6. You can now either reduce boil to a low heat, but be sure it’s still simmering for another 1.5 hours covered, or transfer to a self cooking thermal pot for another 2 hours.
  7. Salt as needed, although to be honest, if there are dried seafood ingredients, less salt is needed.
  8. Serve and enjoy!

Soup Benefits:

  • This soup is perfect for cooler days as it’s slightly warming, so a great transition soup for Autumn
  • It’s also great for as a winter soup, particularly if you add Black Silkie Chicken
  • A majority of the herbal ingredients can be found in a Chinese Soup Basic Ingredients Pantry
  • Perfect for confinement, postpartum, and post period
  • Ideal for the whole family, including children
  • These ingredients are readily available in most Chinese supermarkets around the world, all you need is just a chicken!
  • Be sure to to consult your (Chinese) doctor first if you’re unsure of consumption or suitability

Red Dates Longan Chinese Herbal Tea

Red Dates Longan Chinese Herbal Tea

The easiest of #teas to make at home to help promote blood flow, strengthen the #heart, and promote sleep. This #Chinese #herbal tea is best drank before bedtime, after #dinner. I simply used 6 dried #longans, 2 dried red #dates, and a handful of dried #wolfberries. It is a slightly #warming tea and allows for good circulation of #qi. This #drink is ideal for people who do not get enough rest, are overworked, women who have recently given birth, and people who have deficiencies in qi and blood. Remove the seeds from the red dates (as they seeds are known to be heaty in a bad way), steep everything for 5 minutes in hot (boiling) water, and enjoy!

Other similar recipes include:

Red Dates Tea

Wood Ear & Red Dates Tea

Red Dates Hawthorn Tea

 

You can find the video of how to make this here:

 

 

Pork and Conch Herbal Soup

Pork and Conch Herbal Soup

Pork and Conch Herbal Soup

Pork and Conch Herbal Soup

 

This soup is ideal for colds, flus and cough. If you’ve got a sore or scratchy throat, achy body, tiredness and/or headache – this soup is for you!  From an Eastern perspective, the Chinese don’t recommend drinking chicken soup when you’re sick, which to me, sounds off, but you can’t argue thousands years of tradition through Chinese medicine.  My herbalist recommended this relatively “neutral” soup for me and is considered 滋陰 (zī yīn), which means treating yin deficiency by reinforcing body fluid and nourishing the blood.  If you look at the herb base, it’s pretty basic and ideal for most soups – the kicker is to add sea whelk (or conch or sea snail). You don’t need to add fresh sea snail (they can get pretty expensive if you buy them live from the wet mart), but definitely add pork. This soup ended up tasting delicious and sets a great base for adding vegetables of your choice – like corn, onions, or chayotes – all neutral vegetables.

Update on Jan 8: Boy, do my readers really keep me on my toes! Someone asked why the Chinese don’t recommend chicken soup when you’re sick, so I ran to see my herbalist this morning who gave me an answer like this. Basically, the idea is that chicken bones / carcasses itself are way fatter than pork and normally people will put veggies such as carrots with chicken soup – which is a big no no. Carrots are a cough inducing and don’t help colds or coughs very much. As for the chicken, well, I could borderline say that if you’re using chicken breast or skinny (fatless) chickens, it should be OK? I’m still researching this, but will share more when I find something more concrete.

Soup Name: Pork and Conch Herbal Soup

Traditional Chinese Name:  清豬骨海螺湯 (Qīng zhū gǔ hǎiluó tāng)

 

Pork and Conch Herbal Soup
Recipe Type: Chinese Soup
Cuisine: Chinese
Author: LadyTong
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 1 pound of [url href=”http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/pork-shank/”]fresh pork shank[/url]
  • 2 fresh [url href=”http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/sea-snail-fresh/”]sea snails[/url], shelled and halved
  • 5 pieces of dried [url href=”http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/sea-snail-fresh/”]sea snail[/url]
  • 15 [url href=”http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/longan-dried/”]dried longans[/url]
  • 3 [url href=”http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/large-dried-dates/”]dried large dates[/url]
  • 10 [url href=”http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/red-dates/”]dried red dates[/url]
  • 5 [url href=”http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/chinese-yam-dried/”]dried Chinese yam[/url]
  • 10g of [url href=”http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/yuzhu/”]dried yuzhu[/url]
  • 10g of [url href=”http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/wolfberries-dried/”]dried wolfberries[/url]
  • 3 L of water
  • salt (for taste)
Instructions
  1. In a separate pot, blanch both the sea snails and pork in a pot of boiling hot water for at least 5 minute (to remove impurities, fat and scum), remove and set aside
  2. Soak all the herbs in warm water for at least 10 minutes and rinse in warm water
  3. Boil your soup water
  4. When you soup water boils, add all the ingredients together
  5. Boil on high for 30 minute and then reduce boil to a medium boil for another 1.5 hours
  6. Serve and enjoy!

 

One of the more affordable seafood you can use for soups is dried sea snail. They come in thin, hard slices and add a sweet, sea-salt taste to the soup (similar to dried conpoys). Plus, these things are storage friendly and can be stored in your freezer or fridge for up to 6 months.

Dried Sea Snail

Dried Sea Snail

A typical neutral soup base for Chinese soups. The dried sea snails are interchangeable with dried conpoys.

Pork and Conch Herbal Soup

Pork and Conch Herbal Soup

Fresh sea snails are an ideal addition to soups. Although VERY EXPENSIVE (you have to eat the meat given how much they can cost), they add a deliciously sweet flavour to the soup. Get the ladies at the wet mart to break the shell for you and they’ll give it to you like this – ready for washing and blanching in boiling hot water.

Fresh Sea Snail

Fresh Sea Snail

YUMMY soup! I literally had 4 bowls myself and the children also loved it. A great soup for the whole family.

Pork and Conch Herbal Soup

Pork and Conch Herbal Soup

 

Red Dates Tea

Red Dates Tea

Soup Name: Red Dates Tea

Traditional Chinese Name:  红枣茶 (Hóng zǎo chá)

Introduction:
My herbalist suggested I drink a simple tea made of red dates during my period. It’s super easy to make, as the dates are already sitting in the fridge and you just add hot water. Some people will boil it with a few other ingredients, such as wolfberries and fresh ginger slices. This is also an ideal confinement drink if you’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth – replace this in place of coffee or tea to avoid the caffeine, but get the benefits of the blood replenishment.

 

Amount serves: 1 cup for 1 person (you!)

What Ingredients are required?

6 dried red dates, sliced

1 cup of boiling water

How do I prepare it?

  1. Slice your red dates thinly
  2. Add to a mug and add boiling water
  3. Steep for 2 minutes. It will get sweeter over time as the tea steeps further.

Any benefits?

  • Helps rejuvenate the body after a period and restore blood loss
  • Excellent for maintaining healthy blood pressure
  • Excellent source of Vitamin C

Any precautions?

  • Make sure you remove the seeds of dried red dates as the seeds are known to create “fire” in the body