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What is Confinement Food?
Confinement food refers to a series of dishes and soups specially planned for postpartum mothers, with two main purposes: helping them recover after childbirth and promoting breast milk production.
Many Asian communities around the world have the practice of serving confinement food to mothers right after they give birth, including Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian, Korean, and Japanese.
Although the concept of having confinement food is not present in Western culture, mothers are generally encouraged to have a well-balanced and nutritious diet during their postpartum stage to facilitate postpartum healing, too.
Asian confinement foods are often prepared using healthier cooking methods like steaming, braising, stewing and stir-frying and served warm to the mothers. Confinement food has a long history in many Asian cultures, and each culture tends to prepare them with certain ingredients that are traditionally believed to be beneficial to new mothers.
For instance, the elderly in the Chinese and Malay communities usually prepare confinement meals using various nourishing herbs for postpartum mothers, and the Indian community usually prepare confinement meals with plenty of garlic and ghee – a type of clarified butter – to help postpartum mothers with recovery.
What Is Chinese Confinement Food?
In Singapore, the custom of having confinement food is most widely practised by the Chinese community. Postpartum mothers are generally encouraged to have confinement food right after giving birth and practice the diet for at least a month, and some mothers also choose to have confinement food for 40 days or up to 100 days to ensure that they get a full and proper recovery.
A traditional Chinese confinement diet is usually planned with different recovery goals for each week. Typically, in the first week, each confinement meal will be prepared with the main focus of helping mothers clear any blood clots in the uterus and replenish blood.
Moving on to the following weeks, the confinement food menu will be planned accordingly to help mothers nourish the blood, replenish and balance “qi”, and promote breast milk production.
All these recovery goals are achieved using a series of traditional Chinese herbs combined with different meat and vegetables based on traditional Chinese medicine principles.
Common Ingredients Used in Chinese Confinement Food
Some Chinese herbs that are commonly used in confinement food include dang shen, gan cao, ginseng, dang gui, red dates, wolfberries and chuan xiong.
On the other hand, in terms of fresh ingredients, traditional Chinese confinement foods are most commonly prepared using pork, chicken, fish and pork innards.
Meanwhile, for vegetables and fruits, as postpartum mothers are weak and their body is believed to be in a “cold” state according to traditional Chinese medicine concept, mothers are advised to avoid certain vegetables that are “cold” in nature, including cucumber, bitter gourd and winter melon, whereas fruits are generally not encouraged, especially fruits with “cold” nature like pear, watermelon, and persimmon.
Chinese Confinement Diet Now and Then
Traditionally, the Chinese confinement diet and Chinese confinement practice as a whole come with various restrictions, where mothers are only allowed to have a limited selection of dishes that are prepared using large amounts of “heaty” ingredients like ginger, herbs and sesame oil to keep the body warm.
While the initial intention of these diet practices comes from a good place, some of them might not be based on scientific facts and may do more harm than good to the mother’s health when done excessively.
For instance, having the same food consecutively over a month may cause a lack of balance in a mother’s diet and aggravate postpartum symptoms like postpartum constipation. Not to mention, having the same food repeatedly may become boring and affect a mother’s appetite, resulting in lesser nutrient intake and, eventually, slower postpartum recovery and lower milk supply.
That said, over the years, Chinese confinement diet practices in Singapore and around the world have evolved to suit the needs and preferences of younger generations. Families, medical institutions, and confinement care service providers have incorporated modern medical science and nutrition knowledge into the confinement meal planning process to help mothers get balanced nutrition for proper recovery and breastfeeding, all while preserving tradition.
Most Popular Traditional Chinese Confinement Food
In terms of flavour, traditional Chinese confinement foods are usually on the savoury side, and they are often prepared using a wide variety of staple ingredients, including Chinese herbs, red dates, ginger, sesame oil, and rice wine.
Here are some of the most popular traditional Chinese confinement foods in Singapore – most are so delicious that even people who are not in confinement love having them, regardless of gender and age!
Pork Trotter Vinegar
Most people would agree that a traditional Chinese confinement diet experience wouldn’t be complete without having pork trotter vinegar. This popular confinement food can help mothers replenish “qi” and blood, expel “wind” and cold, help remove lochia, and promote blood circulation. Most importantly, it contains collagen that helps in strengthening joints and ligaments too.
“Sheng Hua” Soup
“Sheng Hua” soup is a Chinese confinement herbal soup that is served to postpartum mothers in the first week after giving birth to help them remove blood stasis, encourage the discharge of lochia, improve uterine contraction and recovery, and help prevent uterine hematoma. It is one of the most widely consumed traditional tonics during postpartum.
Sesame Oil Chicken
This fragrant and homely dish is perhaps the most popular chicken dish among all Chinese confinement foods. It is traditionally believed to help postpartum mothers replenish blood and keep the body warm.
Green Papaya Fish Soup
Many breastfeeding mothers swear by the effectiveness of the green papaya fish soup in helping them to increase their breast milk supply. Green papaya is a lactogenic ingredient that many mothers find very useful in promoting lactation.
Red Dates Tea
Red dates tea is a staple hot drink during confinement; its three main ingredients are dried red dates, longan, and wolfberries. This drink is traditionally believed to be beneficial for mothers in helping them restore vitality, promote postpartum recovery, and keep the body warm.
Is Confinement Food Necessary?
As part of the younger generations who are familiar with diet practices from different cultures, it is normal for you to wonder if you really need confinement food after giving birth. You might be thinking, “As long as I eat a healthy diet after giving birth, I will be fine. There’s no need for confinement food.”
Well, to a certain extent, you’re not wrong, but the tricky part here is how to make sure your diet is not only healthy but also fulfils all your increased nutrient requirements to heal your postpartum wounds and breastfeed.
For instance, C-section mothers should be on a high-protein diet to help speed up wound recovery. Also, it is recommended for breastfeeding mothers to have a slightly higher calorie intake to keep their bodies well-nourished throughout the whole breastfeeding journey. Furthermore, it is also important for breastfeeding mothers to have a diet that is rich in calcium to make sure their calcium level is restored as they continuously produce breast milk for their babies.
Hence, to fully recover your body from months of pregnancy and the strenuous process of childbirth and to help maintain your well-being throughout your breastfeeding journey, you need something more than just a general healthy diet plan.
This is where confinement food comes in. The Chinese confinement diet that many modern mothers in Singapore practise is more interesting and appetising than most people think. There are even many confinement catering services in Singapore that serve a wide variety of nutritious and delicious confinement food.
How Important Is It to Have Confinement Food During Postpartum?
Having confinement food during postpartum is not purely a tradition. It plays an important role in improving a mother’s health after giving birth, along with supporting the development of her newborn through promoting lactation.
By having confinement food with balanced nutrients and getting plenty of rest, you’re making it easier for your body to recover physically and mentally from childbirth, along with promoting breast milk production and milk flow to benefit your developing newborn.
What Are the Benefits of Confinement Food?
Whether it’s based on traditional Chinese medicine principles or modern medical science, confinement foods that are prepared with fresh, healthy and well-balanced ingredients have plenty of benefits to offer.
Firstly, in terms of traditional Chinese principles, confinement food helps you to replenish and promote a smoother flow of “qi” and blood, dissolve blood clots, and promote breast milk supply.
On the other hand, in terms of modern medical science, the wide variety of ingredients used in confinement meals offers various essential nutrients to benefit you. For example, pork and pork innards that are commonly used in many Chinese confinement dishes are actually high in iron to promote collagen formation and supply oxygen throughout your body to promote wound healing. Also, the meat and poultry used in many classic confinement foods are generally high in protein to speed up wound healing and support the immune system.
When to Plan For Confinement Food?
While you have the freedom to plan for your confinement food at any stage of your pregnancy, a great time to start is during your second trimester or the early stage of your third trimester. Why so?
Well, this period is usually when most pregnant mothers are in the most comfortable stage of their pregnancy, where their pregnancy symptoms are generally milder and more manageable, allowing more time and flexibility to research, survey, plan and even do food-tasting for their confinement meals.
Here are some of the key aspects you can consider while planning for your confinement food:
- Are you planning to cook your own confinement food or get professional help? If you’re planning to prepare them on your own, check if you are equipped with the right kitchen tools and utensils, and you might also want to make enough storage space in the shelves and fridge to keep the ingredients easily accessible.
- Do you have family members and friends who are experienced with confinement food? If yes, it might be a good idea to ask whether they can help prepare your daily confinement meals or simply get their suggestions during your meal planning process!
- Do you have any food allergies or health concerns that should be taken into consideration in the planning process? Consult your doctor or dietitian if you have any doubts about foods you should have and avoid during postpartum.
To summarise, whether you’re planning to prepare your own confinement food or get professional help, it’s best for you to complete your confinement food planning earlier so that you can be sure that you’ll have sufficient nutrients from Day 1 of postpartum and focus on showering your little one with all your love and attention!
How to Cook Confinement Food?
Preparing a confinement meal might sound challenging, but with the right information and plenty of practice, you can whip up a hearty bowl of confinement food successfully, too!
First thing first, you need to decide on the confinement dishes that you want to have and search for the recipes online. Some of the best confinement foods Singapore mothers love include braised pork trotter in black vinegar, sesame oil chicken, ginger fried rice, and green papaya fish soup.
After deciding on your recipes, list down the utensils and ingredients needed. If you’re not familiar with choosing Chinese herbs, there are plenty of pre-measured and pre-packed confinement herbal soup sachets in the market to make things easier for you!
Why Engage With a Confinement Food Caterer?
With the right confinement food caterer, you can enjoy all of the following perks (along with the convenience, of course!) during your confinement at home:
- Smoother recovery: A confinement food caterer that offers a menu filled with nourishing ingredients can help speed up your postpartum recovery.
- Skip meal prepping: Skip the hassle of figuring out what ingredients and herbs to buy when your caterer’s meals and herbal soups are professionally reviewed.
- Easier breastfeeding: A breastfeeding-friendly confinement food caterer will serve dishes that help you with lactation and make breastfeeding less stressful for you.
- More space in the fridge to store breast milk: No more stuffing your fridge with different confinement food ingredients and leftovers! You get more space to store and access breast milk easily!
- More quality time with your loved ones: You get to spend more quality time with your parents and husband as they no longer have to plan, buy and prepare confinement meals and clean up after each meal.
- More restful sleep: With a confinement meal delivery service, your rest time will not be interrupted by oily smoke and food-prepping sounds from the kitchen multiple times a day.
- Smoother transition to motherhood: Without the hassle of preparing your own confinement food, you can focus on bonding with your newborn and enjoy a smoother transition to motherhood!
How to Choose a Confinement Food Delivery Service?
With multiple confinement food delivery Singapore services available, how should you decide on which confinement food delivery service to book? Here are some of the important questions you should check with the caterer before booking:
- What types of healing ingredients are used?
On top of traditional Chinese herbs, what other ingredients is the confinement meal caterer using to help you heal postpartum wounds, replenish blood and keep you energised?
- Are the confinement meals breastfeeding-friendly?
Your newborn needs sufficient, nutritious breast milk supply to grow. Do the confinement meals include milk-boosting ingredients that can help promote your milk flow and keep it nutritious for your baby?
- Are the confinement meals well-balanced?
Will your daily meals include a balanced portion of vegetables, meat, and healthy grains? It’s even better if the caterer works with a professional dietitian to plan your confinement meal menu.
- Is the confinement food menu repetitive?
Is there a wide variety of dishes on the menu? If you prefer having more than just Chinese food, it’s a good idea to opt for a caterer that offers a mix of traditional and creative confinement cuisine.
- How will your confinement meals be served?
How will your meals be packaged? It’s best that the caterer serves your meals in thermal containers to keep them warm and fresh.
- Is the service flexible?
Need lunch but not dinner? Skipping meal delivery on weekends? Wish to opt out of certain ingredients in your meals? Ask what the service provider can do for you before you book.
Conclusion: Blending Tradition with Modern Wellness
In conclusion, the tradition of consuming confinement food reflects a rich cultural tapestry, prioritising postpartum recovery and the celebration of motherhood. While deeply rooted in age-old practices, the landscape of Chinese confinement food has evolved to embrace a more balanced and contemporary approach.
Modern mothers now benefit from a fusion of traditional wisdom and nutritional science, ensuring that confinement meals not only honour cultural heritage but also address the specific needs of postpartum recovery and breastfeeding. Whether through homemade preparations or the convenience of professional caterers, the essence of nourishing both body and tradition remains paramount.
As the journey into motherhood continues to adapt to the demands of the present, the enduring spirit of confinement food persists—a harmonious blend of heritage and health. May mothers find solace in this convergence, cherishing the timeless rituals that mark the beginning of a new chapter in their lives.