Perhaps we could learn some helpful recovery tips from our neighbours in Asia regarding what to do after the baby. In many communities there, new mothers get time to relax and recuperate, get help with the baby and even have a recovery diet. This week’s blog explores the practice known as “confinement” and the role it plays in recovery from childbirth.
Interestingly, in researching this article we found many references to exercising after pregnancy, but almost none for resting and recovery. That says a lot in itself.
At the beginning of Medieval times, confinement was the terminology which pertained to the last month(s) of pregnancy in which a woman spent the final duration of her pregnancy in bed. Popular among the upper-class and royal families, the practice of confinement was a measure taken to reduce the risk of premature delivery. Today, confinement is synonymous with bed-rest. So, far from being a form of incarceration, overall, it sounds pretty good!
After the Birth of a Baby
Confinement practices are now postnatal practices aimed at helping a new mum recover from the rigors of pregnancy and birth. Mother and baby are said to be in “confinement” because they are effectively “quarantined” at home. Traditionally, they do not receive visitors apart from close family members until the confinement period is over.
Confinement used to be fashionable in Europe, but it has long been out of fashion. But we might have thrown the baby out with bathwater, so to speak.
Ethnic Chinese, Malay and Indian communities all have their respective confinement practices. The common thread amongst the practices of the different communities is to support the new mum and help her recover from childbirth as well as regain her physical and emotional strength.
Post Pregnancy Recovery
For a Malaysian Chinese mum, the confinement period lasts for a whole month from baby’s birth. Malay women usually observe a period of 42 to 44 days. For a Malaysian Indian mum, the confinement period varies between 30 and 40 days.
Some mothers choose to extend their confinement period in certain situations to receive more help and care. For example, you might not have family living close by, or you are taking longer than expected to recover from a caesarean section.
In every community, the confinement period is a time for the new mother to rest and avoid any physical work. During this time, sex is not allowed as the woman is not considered fully healed.
Help for New Mothers
In Asian societies, traditionally, your mother or mother-in-law will take care of you during the confinement period. In Australia you may prefer her to be your mother or your sister!! But the point is that it’s a good idea to have a sympathetic female on hand to help you. I’ll bet your mother had one!
Many Chinese mothers who can afford it also hire a confinement nanny or confinement lady, also known as a pui yuet (Cantonese for “companion for a month”), who will see to the mother’s needs as well as the baby’s.
Similarly, new mothers in the Malay community can also hire a special helper.
Many mums today find confinement practices too old-fashioned and some do seem a little unusual to us, but as in many traditional approaches there is a basis of good practice.
Chinese confinement restrictions include:
No washing your hair for the entire confinement period. Some mothers get around this rule by using dry shampoo. A bit tough for us!
Avoiding exposure to “cool” elements such as cold water. Low temperatures from an air-conditioner or fan must be avoided too. May stop you getting a chill.
Bathing only with specially prepared warm water that is infused with herbs. Ohhh that sounds more like it.
These prohibitions are said to help ensure that the body retains as much heat as possible. It is believed this will help avoid health problems such as rheumatism, arthritis, headaches and body pains later in life.
Some Malay women may:
Hire a traditional masseuse to massage the abdomen and bind the tummy with a long cloth
Use hot stones on the abdomen to ‘cleanse’ the womb
Some Indian women may:
Bathe only with a herbal infusion.
Have a daily massage with special oil blends, such as mustard seed oil.
Sounds more like a 5 star spa treatment, doesn’t it.
Organic National Foods
New mothers will be put on a special diet during the confinement period. The aim of the diet is to boost the immune system and strength. Organic and whole foods are great for this because they don’t contain pesticides, herbicides and hormones, which you especially don’t want if you’re breastfeeding! Plenty of water, fresh fruit and vegetables are the go. Pay attention to your folate levels (sunflower seeds, dark leafy greens, bean sprouts) and choline (eggs, beef, milk).
The main thing to take out of all this is that in many communities in the East, the body still gets time to recover. In the west we seem to ignore the stress of birth on the mother’s system and it’s all up and go in a few days. Why not adopt some of the practices that appeal to you and incorporate them in your recovery process. Interestingly, you may just bounce back more quickly by taking things more slowly!
Getting pregnant is harder than most people think and many factors influence conception including age, health, and weight to name just a few.
If you are under 25 years old, you have a one in four or five chance of becoming pregnant. This means that it “normally” takes four to five months for conception to occur if you and your partner are in optimum health and are actively trying.
If you are between the ages of 35 and 40 you have a one in six to seven chance of becoming pregnant with the conception rate dropping with each year closer to age 40. Statistics are only an average in this case and everyone is different. And you can increase your fertility to some extent by the life style choices you make.
There’s no question that one of the ways to increase your fertility is to ensure you have a healthy body. A good way to do that is for you AND your partner to eat healthy food.
What is healthy food?
Think about what you eat. Eating the right things is perhaps the easiest way to help get your body in the best shape to conceive. That means eating real food. Wholesome certified organic food is a great choice because it does not contain harmful pesticides and other chemicals. Eat it raw where you can and freshly prepared. You’ll get the right sort of nutrition and you’ll detox yourself at the same time! And don’t forget the easiest trick of all for a healthy body: reduce the caffeine and the alcohol to (almost) zero if you can and drink plenty of fresh, pure water. It hydrates the skin, cleans the system and it makes you look younger. Here are some food tips to set you in the right direction:
What should I eat to get pregnant?
Nuts, seeds and pulses
Contain plant chemicals called phytoseroles, which are known to promote testosterone production. Nuts also contain magnesium, which balances levels of the hormone prolactin, which can compete with testosterone. Almonds are regarded as the most nutrient-containing nut, high in important reproductive system nutrients including zinc and L-arginine. Sunflower seeds are regarded as the most nutrient-containing seed.
Iron and protein
Regulate blood sugar levels and also contain amino acids and B vitamins vital to hormonal functions and fertility. Most plant sources such as legumes, nuts and seeds need to be combined to get the full range of nutrients, whereas animal protein is a complete protein. Before conceiving, you need to get your iron levels up, as iron status at the time of conception affects the development of the baby, the pregnancy and breastfeeding, and it’s important for healthy ovulation. Research shows that once pregnant it is very difficult to increase iron levels.
Are essential in maintaining cholesterol, the basic building material for the sex hormones responsible for ovulation and healthy sperm, which is why healthy fats in your diet can boost fertility. Good food fats include coconut oil, hemp, oil, eggs, cold pressed olive oil (unheated), flax oil, organic meat fats, organic cultured butter and fish oils. These fats also deliver fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Are a rich source of vitamin E, which is an essential nutrient for fertility. This powerful antioxidant supports healthy circulation to the reproductive system and helps to regulate ovulation and cervical mucous production. Avocados are also full of monounsaturated fats and contain folate, iron and beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A.
Contains an abundance of fertility-boosting nutrients. It is a good source of the mineral selenium, an antioxidant that supports conception. Selenium is thought to protect the embryo from damage, preventing chromosome breakages that could play a role in early miscarriage. Garlic is also a source of vitamin B6.
Is a great source of folate, a B-vitamin essential to a healthy pregnancy. This vitamin has been proven to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Broccoli alone won’t provide enough folate, so you will need a supplement (women are advised to take 400mcg of folic avid for at least four months prior to pregnancy). Broccoli is also a good source of vitamin C, which is needed for egg maturation and ovulation.
Eggs are a good source of choline that supports brain development in the young embryo and in the young child. Remember that the brain starts development in the few days and weeks of life and in Australia it is estimated that most women do not have enough choline in their diets.
All of these foods are available as organic produce. Help yourself to them, feel better, help improve your fertility and most important, best of luck.
So, why is organic food healthy? It’s not so much the argument about nutritional content, it’s the clear fact that it doesn’t contain pesticides and other chemicals particularly harmful to the development of babies and young children. If you’d like to know more about Bellamy’s Organic and the certified organic baby foods we make, click on this link.
Giving your baby a pure start to life really begins nine months before birth.
It’s not so surprising really, given all that rapid and miraculous cell growth and division is fuelled by you. So what to eat when pregnant is a key issue because that truly is the real baby food!
On the other side of the coin, there are some things that are definitely not good. Alcohol, nicotine and other “recreational chemicals” need to be avoided, preferably before you conceive. Enough said on that score.
There is no “magic food” to consume. As usual the answer is simple and logical. The best things to eat when you’re pregnant are simply wholesome fresh foods. Plenty of fruits and vegetables, obviously, but choose a balanced diet from each of the five food groups. Although you’re eating for two, remember its quality not quantity that you’re after. Let Mindful Eating be a guiding principle. Just think about what’s going in your mouth and eat what you should, not what you could, and make water you’re preferred drink.
The interesting thing about this approach is that you’re likely to feel a whole lot better, be healthier and possibly even shed some unwanted fat, even though that’s not the objective. And remember it’s not good to be dieting during pregnancy without the agreement and oversight of your doctor.
Make sure too, that the foods you’re eating contain enough of the key nutrients for pregnancy. Most of us get these through a balanced diet, but you might want to check out choline, usually grouped with the B-complex vitamins. Choline isn’t technically a B vitamin, but it is often included in the B-vitamin family because it does work closely with other B vitamins, especially folic acid Vitamin B9) and cobalamin (Vitamin B12), to process fat and keep the heart and brain healthy. We’ve blogged on choline recently.Pregnancy is a time when the body’s demand for choline is highest. Choline is particularly used to support the fetus’s developing nervous system. I mention it again because studies show intake is low and feedback to our previous blog shows that women don’t know this particular “vitamin”, despite it being an essential nutrient. You can get it through eggs, by the way.
Obviously, as an organic baby food company we like to keep abreast of the latest findings on organic food. The University of Barcelona has just released a study that shows that organic tomatoes contain more polyphenolic compounds than conventionally produced tomatoes.
Phenolic compounds are organic molecules found in many vegetables and have proven human health benefits. Polyphenols are natural antioxidants and are considered to be of great nutritional interest because their consumption is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular and degenerative diseases. Most interesting is the researchers view of why this might be. Organic farming doesn’t use nitrogenous fertilizers; as a result, plants respond by activating their own defense mechanisms, increasing the levels of all antioxidants. It seems that conventionally fertilised plants “don’t have to try so hard” and as a result their production of phenolic compounds is lower. Numerous scientific investigations show that the consumption of these antioxidants has a variety of health benefits. Researchers claim that more studies of clinical evidence are still needed to be able to state that organic products are truly better for our health than conventional ones.
Pregnancy is a wonderful time in any woman’s life. A bit of a roller coaster, yes, but it’s full of new feelings and new learning. Unlike many previous generations, first time mothers now have a clearer picture of what they need to know about nutrition when they’re “eating for two”. Eating for two these days is about quality, not quantity, and new research is turning up all sorts of interesting information on some of the critical nutrients first time mothers, indeed all mums, should ensure form part of their dietary intake.
The most important nutrients to support pregnancy can be summarised as follows:
Biotin • Choline
Folate • Iodine
Iron • Vitamin A
Let’s take a quick look at choline. Choline is clearly important but it appears most pregnant women don’t ingest the recommended daily dose.
Choline is a chemical similar to the B-vitamins, and is often lumped in with them, although it is not (yet) an “official” B-vitamin. Although its entire mechanism of action, particularly how it interacts with other nutrients, is not completely understood, it seems too often work in concert with folate and an amino acid called methionine. Although the human body can make some choline it is generally recognised that it is important to get dietary choline as well.
So what does choline do? It’s long been understood that choline helps in the development of the neural tube. In the developing baby, the neural tube is the embryo’s very early central nervous system that comprises the brain and spinal cord. This really is early development because by four and a half weeks portions of the brain are already forming!
Choline also has some other very important protective roles. It seems it helps in the prevention of miscarriage and stillbirth. It has been found that mothers in the bottom 25% for choline intake have a four times greater risks of having a child with neural tube defects compared with women in the highest 25% of intake.
Along with choline’s brain development function it can also impact on your child’s lifelong learning and memory capacity. But now we’re finding out it does even more.
Researchers at Cornell University, USA, found that increased choline intake during pregnancy could reduce stress levels in the child and lower the chances of it developing hypertension and diabetes later in life. Although adults may take choline, the amount of choline that one is exposed to while still in the womb has a stronger effect over time.
What can you do?
Australian dietary guidelines recommend a minimum intake of 440mg/day of choline. Many women just don’t get that much. Choline can be found in foods like eggs, beef liver and, you won’t be surprised, breast milk!
For comparison 1 large whole egg contains about 112mg, a nice 100g serving of pan-fried calf’s liver can deliver 418mg. 100gm of tofu will give about 28mg and a serve of cauliflower about twice that.
Of course, you can take a good supplement designed for pregnant women, but be careful here. The Bellamy’s team did a little checking and there is at least one very well known brand out there selling a pregnancy supplement that does not contain any choline! In fact, the only prenatal supplement we could find that contains choline is Zycia Natal Nutrients, available from pharmacies.
Use Mindful Eating here, too, and don’t take too much. You only need what’s required. More won’t help.
If you’d like to know more about Bellamy’s Organic and the certified organic baby foods we make, click on this link.
The Cornell paper on reducing stress levels can be found at: