Malay confinement is a traditional process that is done to preserve health and re-strengthen the new mother’s body after childbirth. The Malay community believes that a woman’s womb is the life force of her body and affects her overall health. Hence why a healthy and strong womb leads to a radiant woman.
During the Malay confinement care, new mother’s will follow a series of precautions to help get rid of the ‘wind’ from the body after delivery, increase milk supply, strengthen their body and also improve their blood circulation. It is believed that if the new mother’s that follow the traditional Malay confinement practices closely, will regain their pre-pregnancy body, health and energy levels.
The Malay confinement practices are based on the four elements of the universe: fire, earth, water and air. In order for the new mother to enjoy good health for both herself and the newborn, there needs to be a balanced amount of these elements in the body.
What are some do’s and don’ts during the Malay confinement period?
In the olden days, the childbirth would typically be in the mother’s home and will be conducted by a Malay midwife called a bidan with a mixture of spices on the mother’s body. However, with modern technology and practices, this isn’t done anymore to reduce complications and infection rates.
Typically, straight after childbirth, both mother and newborn will have a bath in warm water that is filled with herbs to keep warm. Although some Malay believe that the new mother should not have a bath 3 days after giving birth. If you are following this precaution, the new mother’s body would be wiped daily with warm water to improve blood flow. New mother’s are advised not to have a bath in the morning as this will cause ‘wind’ to enter the body and cause body aches and pains.
A herbal bath is usually done with Desmodium gangeticum (Daun Meringan) along with warm to hot water. A simple massage is also done on the mother’s body to ease up the strained muscles that were caused during childbirth.The new mother is required to be kept ‘warm’ constantly and can be done by lying or sitting near a heated source or applying a hot compress over the abdomen.
The hot compress also known as a bertungku is an iron stone with a handle that varies in weights that depend on the new mother’s body. Typically, a 2kg ‘tungku’ is used however, if the new mother is on the larger side, a heavier ‘tungku’ needs to be used for optimum impact. The ‘tungku’ is heated up then placed on a variety of herbal leaves like galangal (lengkuas) and Morinda Citrifolia (mengkudu) then wrapped in a cloth. Special techniques will be used with the hot compress by the midwife everyday.
Berdiang which is a heat treatment, is done by using a brick that is heated prior then wrapped in a cloth along with various herbs like lemongrass, ginger, piper betle leaf (sirih), sarmentosum leaves (kaduk) and Erythrina fusca lour leaves (dedap). The brick is then placed approximately two inches from the new mother’s body whilst she is either asleep or lying down. It is believed by the Malay community that doing this will remove toxic substances from the mother’s body through sweat.
During the Malay confinement care period, the new mother will constantly receive whole body massages done by the Bidan who will also typically be an experienced masseur. It is believed that after giving birth, the new mother will experience a slowness in her blood flow which causes body pain and numbness.
Another precautionary that is done during the new mother’s Malay confinement care period is doing body wraps also known as berbengkung or berbarut. It is done by spreading a herbal paste made from spices and herbs such as galangal, ginger, fennel and wood. After the paste has been smeared onto the new mother’s body, a long piece of cloth will be binded or tightly wrapped from the breast to the thighs covering the abdomen area. This is done to re-shape the mother’s body to its pre-pregnancy state.
Vaginal steaming known as tangas in Malay is one of the more traditional methods whereby a herbal mixture is used for steaming. The new mother will be sitting on a chair that usually has an opening to allow the vapour to flow up. This treatment is done to shrink the uterus back to its original position prior to giving birth. Not only will this treatment make the new mother’s feel more comfortable but also lighter. Tangas is usually done in the final phase of the Malay confinement care period.
Another Malay tradition that is important is the shaving of the newborn’s hair (cukur rambut). A ceremonial feast (kenduri) will be held after the birth of the baby for their introduction to the extended family. If your family is extremely traditional, the kenduri will typically be held on the 7th days after your child’s birth. However, some families nowadays choose to postpone the ceremony.
Prior to the kenduri, a young coconut with its top and filling removed will be decorated with flowers then placed on a tray. Usually only relatives and close friends will attend this ceremony with the reading of Marhaban and Berzanji (songs in praise of Prophet Muhammad).
After the reading, the newborn will be carried either by their parents or relative, whilst another family will be standing alongside the newborn carrying the tray with the coconut. The attendees of the ceremony will then be invited individually to cut a small piece of the newborn’s hair and place it into the coconut. Once all the guests have approached the newborn, their head will then be shaven clean. It is said that the weight of the newborn’s hair will be the amount the family will donate to charity either in money or gold.
If your family is very traditional and prefers to follow Islamic birth traditions, a sacrificial ceremony of either sheep or goats will be done a few days after the child is born. This ceremony is known as a Tahnik and aqiqah. Tahnik is when a small amount of honey or blended dates are placed onto the newborn’s palate then followed by a small recital of a prayer.
Aqiqah involves the sacrifice of the chosen animal and depends on the gender of your newborn. If you have a boy, two animals (either a goat of sheep) will be sacrificed and one if you have a girl. This ritual is usually done either when the newborn is 7,14 or 21 days old. This ritual is usually done by the family to symbolise and give thanks for the blessing they have received with the newborn and its health.
How long does the Malay confinement care period last for?
The traditional Malay confinement care period would last approximately 44 days although, sometimes 60 or 100 days are followed by some as well. The longer and more special precautions of the confinement care are done by new mothers who have undergone C-section as they would need more time for recovery. During the Malay confinement care period, the new mothers would have baths in herbs similar to the Chinese ones to promote circulation in her body.
Where would the new mother do their confinement?
The same as other cultures, the new Malay mothers will often be cared for by their mother’s or mother-in-laws in their own home. Some would also hire a traditional midwife known as a Bidan to help follow the traditional precautions during the new mother’s confinement care period. As there are many precautions that need to be followed during this period, most mother’s opt to check themselves into a confinement centre if they are able to afford it. The new mothers will require a lot of caring if following the traditional Malay rules. Body massages, hot compress known as bertungku, heat treatments or ‘Berdiang’, herbal baths and also body wraps (Berbengkung/ Berbarut).
Special Malay confinement food diet and what ingredients are typically used?
Similarly to the Chinese confinement care, the Malay community also believes that ‘cold’ and ‘windy’ food items need to be avoided such as cucumber, coconut, kangkung, long beans, bamboo shoots, pineapple, crabs and so forth. These items are said to weaken the joints, causing arthritis into the new mother’s body.
Snakehead fish known as Ikan Haruan in Malay, will be incorporated into the new mother’s special diet often because it promotes healing in her body. Shellfish, prawns, cockles and certain types of fishes like mackerel (Ikan kembung) need to be avoided as the Malay community believe those food items will cause itchiness and allergies to the new mother’s body. A special drink called jamu will be given to the mother to consume as it is believed that the body’s pores open during childbirth and the drink has properties to keep the new mother’s body warm during this time. Tonic drinks from medicinal plants like akar kayu and makjun will be given to the new mother as well.
The ingredients that are commonly used during the Malay confinement care period consists of turmeric, Moringa leaves and ginger. Turmeric acts as an antibiotic that allows for a better circulatory system in the new mother’s body. With heaty elements in ginger, it is believed that it will boost the mother’s appetite after birth, strengthen her muscles, lessen the ‘wind’ circulating in the body and also cleanses the blood. After giving birth, the new mother’s body is extremely weak and will require more intake with her vitamins and proteins during this crucial period. Moringa leaves are rich in vitamin C, protein, iron, calcium, potassium and other minerals.
There are many precautionary measures that happen when following the Malay confinement traditions and new mother’s are advised to seek help if they would like to follow this way or hire a Bidan to assist. There are also specialised Malay confinement centres if they do opt for this way as well. New mother’s should do what they feel most comfortable with during this Malay confinement care period.