Auntie Xiu Mei came to work in Singapore as an in-house confinement lady more than 20 years ago, helping many Singaporean mothers with their month-long confinement.
For 28 days, she would be tasked with the responsibilities of cooking nutritious food for the mother and taking care of the newborn.
A peek into the traditional Chinese confinement processes for mothers after childbirth.
With special attention being paid on the type of food eaten during confinement, Auntie Xiu Mei helps to prepare meals that aid in the new mother’s recovery.
Throughout the 28 days, Auntie Xiu Mei is in the kitchen by 6.30am to prepare the ingredients needed for the day.
Some common dishes and drinks include red date tea, pork trotter in vinegar and black herbal chicken.
A large part of traditional Chinese confinement practices is focused on consuming food that reduces “wind” in the mother’s body.
Ginger is one such ingredient that is said to prevent mothers in confinement from cooling down too much. Mothers also often consume food cooked with alchohol when in confinement, as when taken in moderation, is said to help blood circulation.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, women lose a great deal of “wind” (气) and blood during childbirth, causing the mother to be in a “cold phase”. Thus, Chinese confinement practices are targeted to help mothers rest and recover the balance they lost through childbirth.
This is also the logic behind some Chinese traditions that advise mothers in confinement to wear long sleeves indoors, turn off air-conditioners or fans and impose strict showering restrictions.
Today, while many mothers in confinement do not believe in following these extreme confinement myths word for word, most still practice some form of it in moderation.
This is baby Odelia, the youngest of Melach ‘s three children.
This is the third time Melach has been through a month-long post-natal confinement.
She believes in traditional confinement practices as she felt that they have cured her of some of her chronic aches, especially in cold weather.
Auntie Xiu Mei is also Melach’s extra pair of hands.
After Melach breastfeeds the baby, Auntie Xiu Mei would pat the baby’s back to help her burp, as young infants might choke if they burped while lying down.
Baby Odelia is fed every three hours, which means both the mother and Auntie Xiu Mei would wake up every three hours in the night to feed and care for the baby, giving them little rest.
Although the job is not easy since confinement ladies get little rest at night, Auntie Xiu Mei enjoys doing what she does.
Her grandchildren have all grown up, giving her time and reason to work as a confinement lady in Singapore.
“Besides, babies are cute,” she added cheerfully.
Auntie Xiu Mei changes the baby’s diapers after the baby soils her diapers.
“Mei mei ah, be good, don’t cry,” She coaxed gently in mandarin, after changing her diapers.
“Babies shouldn’t be carried just because they cry. This trains them to sleep alone, without the warmth of their mother.”
Many of these tips and advice were passed down from generations of mothers and friends who have been through motherhood themselves.
As an in-house confinement lady, it is not always easy to get along with the mother and her family members as mothers-in-law and mothers in confinement often have their own methods and styles of confinement practices.
Hence, it is important for confinement ladies to be flexible and open to different styles and practices of different families in order to maintain a good relationship with the family she works for.
After her month-long caregiver duties, Auntie Xiu Mei would either stay in Singapore to accompany her daughter who works in the country, or return to Malaysia for a break.
Although the month-long work is tiring, Auntie Xiu Mei doesn’t mind.
“It’s okay, I work hard for one month, then I get to rest again.”