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Monday, March 09, 2009

Thoughts on Confinement #4: Foods

In my previous posts (part 1, 2, 3), I mentioned the fact that there are strict rules regarding what the new mother is allowed to eat or drink during her month of confinement. These rules are sometimes so specific and complicated, that families will often hire a confinement nanny who is also the chef of the month, or order meals from a specialised catering company. Some people really enjoy the confinement foods - but it can be tiresome for the mother after a while.

One of the big complaints about confinement is that mums are not allowed to drink plain water or soft drinks. Personally, I don't see a problem with this. Why replace fluids with that which has poor calorific or nutritional value? Even sick people in hospital receive salt or sugar water through a drip - pure distilled water is not recommended. It makes much more sense for fluid replacement to come in the form of nourishing soups and teas, especially during the early days of confinement, when the mother (especially those who had a longer fasting period due to prolonged labour) may still be too weak to eat and digest solid food.

Tea made with red dates appears to be the preferred postnatal drink of choice. Red dates are very sugary and loaded with iron, making it a very energising drink. It is unsurprising that these iron-rich red dates appear to be added to most confinement dishes.

In general, confinement foods tend to have a high content of iron, protein and calcium which are all essential for replenishing and rejuvenating the body during this time of recovery. Iron, which is required for the manufacture of red blood cells, is especially necessary during the postnatal period as mothers tend to bleed heavily during labour and in the days afterwards. Protein, of course, is necessary for rebuilding the body. Calcium replacement is also very important as the calcium used to grow the infant skeleton and in milk-production is actually leached from the bones of the mother.

Pork knuckles stewed in black rice vinegar is one very popular confinement dish. The knuckle or trotter portion is chosen for its lean, tender meat, proteinaceous gelatin and marrow-filled chunky bones. The acidic vinegar dissolves the calcium in the bones, making the stew a fantastic source of calcium - very important as dairy products such as milk and cheese are hardly ever used in Chinese cooking.

It is really very important for new mothers to eat well and make sure they are well hydrated - especially those who have chosen to breastfeed. Everything that is eaten by the mother is certainly transmuted into the breastmilk - even the taste of the breastmilk is affected - so it is useful to keep a food diary as well as observations on the changes (both physical and behavioural) in the newborn.


Blogger jadeite said...

I. LOVE. black vinegar pork trotters.


They have awesome, awesome ones at Lavender - it's called Cheng Mun Chee Kee.

7:55 pm  
OpenID weestories said...

I used to read your blog a long time ago when I kept a blog called Riceandsoup. I'm glad I found you again. This entry is very interesting, considering that most Western-trained doctors would pooh-pooh confinement food principles.

2:16 pm  
Blogger tscd said...

jadeite: I'm not really a fan of vast amounts of vinegar, so this was one of the dishes I actually gave a miss. I drank lots of black chicken soup instead.

weestories: Yay, welcome back! I have missed your blog too - glad to see that your little girl is doing well. I think that there are very valid reasons behind confinement foods (and other special traditional diets which are usually well-balanced). Food is food, after all.

But I am rather cautious when it comes to using the chinese medicines and herbal remedies, especially the 'ready-made' kind that comes already in powder or pill form. There's just not enough regulation.

10:33 am  

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