Warning: You will probably think that no showering or washing your hair for 30 days is a bit gross!
I thought so too but once you realise the reason behind it, you'll understand why I did it.
It's one of the more challenging rituals of my 30-day confinement period after I gave birth to my beautiful son. It's a Chinese tradition for postnatal recovery. It's also called the 4th Trimester in many cultures around the world as the new mother takes on a new journey with her baby, healing physically, learning new skills as a mother and bonding with her child.
The idea of an enforced resting period may seem strange and possibly uncomfortable to the fast paced Western world when many mothers go back to work relatively soon but in Asia, mothers are expected not to lift a finger and to be waited on, making sure she rest and recovers so her body can make good supply of breast milk for the baby. This enforced resting period ensures hormones are naturally balanced, post-natal depression or baby blues is avoided and mothers can refill their energy tanks again.
I wondered if some of these rituals could be applied to women that have not actually delivered a baby but maybe spent many months launching a new business or worked on a big project. Even though it’s not a physical baby, metaphorically, a business or project can be viewed as their “baby” for that space of time. Or if they’ve been unwell for many months and feeling burnt out, needing time to recover and recharge their batteries.
The body has an amazing reserve but you want to rest before you burn out. By the time you experience weight gain, hormonal imbalance, fatigue, brain fog, gut issues, skin problems, there’s more damage to the system than you think and it’s probably accumulated for some time.
I know for myself, having given birth just one week of starting maternity leave (so I didn’t have much time to rest and prepare myself), having very broken sleep with the baby feeding every 2 hours and not having a live in confinement lady to support us, I recovered relatively quickly. Even with my tear, I was able to squat and cross my legs after 4 days. My figure is well on the way to being my pre-pregnancy state and I have enough energy reserve to carry out my role as a wife which I love (although my husband often tells me off for doing too much) and making sure I’m able to be there for my team if the business needs me. So even if I’m not doing the full traditional confinement, many of the rituals adopted have really helped me.
So what does the confinement period do for a woman?
During pregnancy, the woman’s immune system is lowered (so it doesn’t reject the baby) and organs increase in size to accommodate. During delivery, a lot of energy is used and the body opens up. Once the baby is delivered, the uterus is “empty” creating an expanded space which can easily “catch wind” leading to the woman falling ill and finding it difficult to restore her “chi” or “life force”. This is one of the reasons the Chinese believe why women get post-natal depression or why some women after giving birth never shake off the tired feeling.
Hence the reason why they recommend no showering or hair washing for 30 days to avoid the woman catching a cold. It’s amazing what witch-hazel and hot water can do to keep you clean plus corn starch becomes your hair’s best friend! Makes you wonder if we’re using too many products on our skin and hair unnecessarily. It’s the same reason why during this 30 days, the woman should never go bare foot even in her own home, wearing slippers or socks at all times. It’s also the same reason why the woman is housebound to avoid catching bugs from the outside world.
In Asia, there are specialised confinement ladies who often live in with the family and their job is solely to look after the mother so the mother can look after the baby. Cooking specific herbal soups, herbal teas, foods to remove “old stagnate” blood and to rebuild immunity and energy. They can also support mothers teaching them new skills e.g. nappy changing, bathing the baby and laying the baby to sleep. In some families, the mother or mother-in-law takes on this role.
Well I could not afford to fly in a confinement lady from Asia (which you can do), my mother is in Heaven and it would not be fair to ask my mother-in-law to live in with us when we have a small place in London and she still works, living an hour away. So I had to modify my confinement period a little with the help of my amazing husband who works from home.
In this blog, I share some of the rituals I did that could be applied when you’re preparing for a weekend of rest or before taking a much needed enforced resting period.
We all know the healing power of water. Time to increase your uptake and make sure you’re well hydrated.
I bought a 2L Camelbak (a water bladder you travel with in your backpack) which I hung by my bed so I can easily drink water without getting out bed.
I also made plenty of Red Date tea which is considered a superfood in Chinese Medicine. Containing 70-80x more Vitamin C than apples and grapes, it also contains Vitamin A, Bs, iron, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. It’s known to be a health and beauty tea, aimed at increasing immunity, balancing the body’s yin and yang, nourishing the liver, spleen and stomach. It also strengthens the blood so it’s good for boosting circulation and drunk at the end of the menstrual cycle.
It’s pretty easy to make.
20 pieces of dried Chinese red dates (crushed and seeded)
15 pieces of dried Chinese black dates (crushed and seeded)
2 pieces of dried Chinese honeyed dates
2L of water
Put everything in a slow cooker or pot and boil under low heat for 4 hours. Strain and drink it warm.
The first 7-10 days of the confinement period focuses on detoxing - drinking herbal teas and soups to rid of “old stagnate” blood from the now empty but large uterus.
You can modify this by focusing on alkalising your body and boosting your healthy gut flora with extra probiotics , avoiding fatty foods, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, gluten and red meat.
I had herbs sent over by my step-mother from Malaysia which I boiled detoxing soups every 2-3 days.
I also had extra supplements and superfoods to help detox and alkalise my body.
In the morning on an empty stomach, I take a spoonful of Fermented Herbal Blend by Body Ecology with a capsule of Probiotic from Innate Response (minimum 50 billion units). Then I mix a cup of water with Vitality SuperGreen and EcoBloom Prebiotic supplement power and have it with Ancient Earth Minerals and Ocean Plant Extract (all from Body Ecology) to alkalise from the night before and replace much needed minerals in my body.
Supplements can be purchased from www.red23.co.uk and www.invivoclinical.co.uk
Herbal Soups to strengthen and rebuild “chi”
The proper Chinese confinement period involves cooking 28 different soups - one for each day of the 30 day period. There are 28 different herbs in different combinations involved in making up these soups. You can see why you need a designated person to prepare all this for the mother.
The herbs are meant to detox at first, then to rebuild. I managed to cook some of them with the herbs from Malaysia and my mother-in-law who visited us once a week also made me some of these herbal soups.
A modified version of one of the soups uses only 6 ingredients including 1/3 of a bottle of Gin. This is a simple one to make:
A whole organic chicken (skin removed)
1/3 of a large bottle of Gordon’s Gin
6 sticks of dried Fong Dong (or radix codonopris)
6 pieces of Angelic root
A chunk of ginger
10-15 pieces of dried longans
Put the chicken in a big pot together with all the ingredients and fill it with about 2L of filtered water (or enough to cover half of the chicken). Cover the pot, bring to boil and simmer at the lowest heat for an hour.
The alcohol from the Gin would have evaporated off but will leave a lovely sweet taste to the chicken.
If you can organise a therapist to come to your home to do some bodywork e.g. massage, acupuncture or sound therapy …. do it! It’s amazing how much tension we have in our bodies that needs to be released and what better way to do it in the comfort of your own home so you don’t have to compete with rush hour or traffic when you go into town to have it done.
During my 30 days confinement, I found an Indonesian lady who did the traditional Balinese Selendang body wrap using herbs, lime and a tight corset wrap worn for 4 hours after a focused massage on the abdomen to help contract the uterus and slim the body down.
Rest, Rest and plenty of Rest
Sleep the whole day if your body needs to. It’s time to limit visitors, social media, emails and work related appointments. Cancel everything that’s not urgent and won’t die or explode without you.
Good time to ask and graciously receive support - can someone else cook healthy foods for you, do the cleaning, washing, grocery shopping etc? Everything you can delegate - do it! All these activities require energy and you need that precious energy to be directed in the recovery of your health, healing your body, balancing your hormones and feeling rejuvenated.
So there’s just 5 of the rituals which you can use or modify during your rest period.
One last parting advice - do not feel guilty when you’re taking this enforced rest period as guilt is a very draining emotion and definitely will not do you any favours. Remember, rest and recover before your body screams for your attention.
Hope you found this blog useful.
Do let me know in the comment section below what rituals you have to recharge your batteries?
Until next time, happy resting, recovering and recharging.