Chinese Confinement for new mums – Shaline Gnanalingham

Shaline Gnanalingam followed the Chinese tradition of having a “confinement period” after the birth of her baby Shahan by C-section.

Shaline lives in Hong Kong and  in the first 30 days of motherhood, she combined her Ready Steady Mums programme participation with traditional Chinese Confinement.

With an air of tranquility completely atypical for new mums in the UK, here is what Shaline told us about easing into motherhood during her confinement period.

Shaline: Chinese confinement Basics

Confinement is a time for new mothers to recover and heal. It lasts for 30 days during which time mother and baby are to be at home and on the 30th day, there is a celebration, called the Full Moon, sort of like a coming out party for the mother and baby where family and friends finally get to meet the baby.

Most people will hire a confinement nanny, called a Pui Yeet in Cantonese, who will look after mum and baby during these 30 days. Her role is to cook for the mother and also help care for the baby to enable mum to recover. My confinement nanny, Angela, slept in the nursery with my son and would bring him to me for night feeds and would pick him up when I was done, so I wouldn’t have to get out of bed even. This is especially great if you’ve had a c-section!

There are all sorts of rules but the basic principle is that women lose a lot of heat when they deliver and become very ‘cold’ after. To keep the balance, new mothers are restricted from anything that might make them cold – no ‘cooling’ foods like cucumber, watermelon, coconut or even water! Also you have to dress warmly – in long sleeves and long trousers and socks all the time, even in the summer. Water is seen as very cooling and therefore showers are restricted too.

Bathing

Traditionally, mothers were not allowed to bath at all in the 30 days. It was said that bathing would cause headaches and arthritis later in life. Modern confinement nannies allow some bathing but usually not for the first 7-14 days. I didn’t bathe for 12 days post delivery (gross I know!) and after that was allowed to bathe using water boiled in special herbs every 3-4 days. They really don’t like you to wash your hair as they feel the ‘cold’ and ‘wind’ enters easily through the scalp so I was only allowed to wash my hair every 7 days after the initial 12 days, using water boiled with ginger, lemongrass and onion. And I had use a hairdryer immediately to minimise the time spent with wet hair. The onion smell lingered on unfortunately, so while I was pleased my hair wasn’t greasy anymore, it smelled of onion which wasn’t too pleasant!

Food and drink

No water, even if it was boiling hot. Instead you’re asked to drink a tea made from red dates, longan (similar to lychee) and goji berry.

Meals consist of rice or noodles with pork, chicken or fish, a leafy green vegetable and soup. Food would be cooked with lots ginger, sesame oil, rice wine and other herbs. In addition to keeping the body warm, confinement food is meant to help mothers heal quicker, for example turmeric is used to help clear the bleeding, ginger is also used to reduce bloating and gas and green papaya is used to increase breastmilk production. Confinement food is inherently gluten and dairy free (except for maybe soya sauce which is easily substituted for gluten free tamari), which is great to reduce allergens to babies although I don’t think it was necessarily designed that way on purpose.

Other restrictions

Because I had a c-section, I wasn’t allowed egg for the first two weeks and was advised to avoid duck, goose, yam, mutton, crab and prawn even after the confinement month.

Confinement isn’t for everyone and there were times I was counting down the days (and especially looking forward to a shower and washing my hair!), but overall, I really appreciated having the time to just focus on bonding with my child and learning about becoming a mother. I also enjoyed the fact I was looked after in terms of meals and being able to rest more as I knew my baby was being cared for. Also, it was nice not having the pressure of having to leave the house or have visitors and being able to lounge all day in socks and comfy pyjamas. I feel it definitely helped with breastfeeding as well as baby and I learnt how to breastfeed at home without the pressures of feeding in public and we could get into a routine more easily as there were no outings to schedule.

The Ready Steady Mums exercises for brand new mums straight away came in handy since I wasn’t allowed to go out to exercise but I was able to start doing little bits at home. The stretching exercises were particularly useful after all those hours of breastfeeding and I liked that lots could be done while in bed!  It took me a while to recover from the C-section especially since I was totally unprepared for it mentally, so being able to take charge of my body slowly and safely with the Ready Steady Mums program was very empowering.

Downsides – there were times when I felt Shahan could not/would not want to be comforted by me and that was heartbreaking. These confinement nannies are so experienced and can really calm a crying baby in seconds and I think babies realise they have a choice and cry till they get passed to the nanny. The number of times I would try to comfort him for ages and he just would not stop crying, but the minute I passed him to Angela he would stop. I would get very upset and it would exacerbate the baby blues feelings but I was reassured by other friends that it was a phase and he would become attached to me soon enough, and he did. I decided to use the ‘rejection’ phase as an opportunity to rest and sleep which in the end made me calmer and probably allowed me to better comfort him later.

All in all, I enjoyed the confinement and would recommend some self imposed down time for all new mums even if you don’t follow the rules. It’s a great way to transition into motherhood and to focus on what’s important – your baby and yourself.

If you have had a different experience of motherhood where you live in the world please get in touch. We’d really like to share more stories about different cultural norms for new mums and different prenatal and postnatal care around the world.

Yoga all the way in early motherhood – Liz Kerry

Liz is one of those mums who makes your green with envy. Dream pregnancy, dream birth, dream baby. And she’s a big yoga fan. Coincidence?

So anyway, like 43% of us, Liz’s top barrier to exercise as a new mum is *TIME*

Here is her story…

Liz: My pregnancy went pretty smoothly, I was lucky not to suffer from morning sickness.  My only problem was constant tiredness, which made it difficult to continue exercising.  I did, however, manage to do prenatal yoga – my baby was a week overdue so I was practising every day trying to persuade him to come out!  I was so lucky to have a dream labour and birth.  It was about a four hour labour ending with a water birth, so Alex had a little swim before he floated up to the surface to meet us!

I think the hardest thing about getting back into exercise as a new mum is time.  Not only do you have this new little baby to look after, but you’re also trying to recover from the pregnancy and birth. After nine months, your body doesn’t really feel like yours anymore and certainly looks a lot different!  The best thing about my Ready Steady Mums programme is that I started off slowly with really gentle exercises that I could do when I was lying in bed, sitting on the couch and even while feeding my baby.  Then once I was feeling up to it the progressive exercises gradually strengthened me. It really helps you increase your confidence.

I found it difficult to fit in being active at first, but I’ve made it a habit now that when Alex goes down for a nap I either do the 5-minute mummy tummy workout or a few exercises from one of the other sessions before I do anything else.  You need to make yourself a priority, as it’s so easy to lose yourself in your mummy role and forget your own needs.

My original goal was to get back into my pre-pregnancy clothes, as I love fashion.  I’m just about there now so my new goal is to be fitter than I was before I became pregnant and to run a 10k race.  I’ve done yoga for over 10 years so I was also keen to be strong enough to start my usual practice again, which I’m pleased to say that I now am!

Another great thing about being a fit mum is that I will be able to encourage Alex to lead an active life, I think that’s very important.  We already go for long walks together and to Mum & Baby yoga classes and I’m looking forward to taking him hill walking as a family soon.

Starting fit and staying fit – Mum Emma Savage

Emma Savage joined a Ready Steady Mums Socialicse group and followed all our programmes with her first son. Now Emma is expecting her second, and she’s committed to doing it all again!

Here is Emma’s story.

Emma: I sailed through my first pregnancy – I was a regular at the gym and was doing weight classes and spinning up until I was over 7 months pregnant and my bump was touching the handlebars! I was also swimming and walking miles up to the day I had him.

I was pretty relaxed going into labour which initially progressed really well (I was using the Hypnobirthing method in the birthing pool), but William was apparently too big to push out naturally so I ended up being dragged down to the delivery suite and after waiting about 3 hours for a theatre (being told not to push when all I wanted to do was push!!) William finally came into the world with the help of a large pair of Forceps and lots of muscle power!  Unfortunately I suffered a third degree tear in the process.

After that I had a big exercise challenge. My fitness goal – I wanted to get back into shape and into a slinky bridesmaids dress and bikini for my brother’s wedding in Italy when William was 9 months old!

I was just wondering how to get started when I met Katy and she told me about Ready Steady Mums. I started meeting up with her and a group of local mums for walking and then exercise sessions by the river and in the park when William was about 6 weeks old.  This was great fun – I met some lovely new mums who have become firm friends and I got back into exercising again.

My new pregnancy is going well, and I am due next week (watch this space…). However I am definitely noticing the difference in not being as fit as in my first pregnancy – with running my own business and having a toddler in tow, I don’t seem to get the time to go to the gym and exercise as often now (and it’s always easy to make an excuse not too).  As a result of this I definitely seem to have more aches and pains, and get noticeably more out of breath climbing the stairs this time around!

I love the fact that Ready Steady Mums has brought out a pregnancy DVD – even though I don’t get time to go to the gym as much now I do try to do this DVD at home during William’s nap time. It is great that it is broken down into different sessions so you can either do them individually or all at once if you are feeling up to it.

Now I can’t wait to have our new baby so I can really focus on getting fit again and getting back to normal!  I am sure that Ready Steady Mums will be key in helping me achieve this goal once again!!

Awww Emma you’re such an amazing ambassador for Ready Steady Mums. Thank you! Now tell us….

Q: What was the hardest thing about getting back into shape as a new mum?

Getting started again!  Once I started I instantly felt better – I had more energy, started eating healthier and the weight just started falling off – getting active with friends gave me the motivation I needed.

Q: What are the practical barriers to getting in shape as a mum?

It is always easy to put off exercising when you are a mum – especially after a bad nights sleep/grumpy baby etc!

Q: What’s your favourite thing about Socialcise with Ready Steady Mums?

It’s fantastic to meet up with a local group of mums every week and meet new people. I feel confident as my on-line trainer advises me on the level of exercise I can do. Everyone is at different levels so you never feel pressurised to do more than you should, but at the same time it is really motivational.  And it is great being able to exercise in a baby friendly environment without worrying about childcare/crèches etc.  And we normally go for a coffee afterwards which is nice too!

Q: What’s the best thing about being back in fabulous shape?

I think it helps you to feel normal again, confident and healthy.  It helps you realise you are not just a mum – you are important too!

Q: What do your nearest and dearest do to support you?

My husband is very supportive of my exercise programme – he can see that I am definitely happier when I have an exercise plan.

Q: What advice would you give other new mums about getting active in pregnancy and beyond?

Set up a walking group – that will give you all the motivation you need to get back in shape – and you will meet lots of new mums!

 

No sleep, but still getting some exercise – Kelli Bodalhansen

Kelli is a mum of 2. She was the mum-to-be with a gorgeous maternity wardrobe, setting the standard in fashion, and now she’s at it again – number 2 is due soon.

Kelli’s words soon after Henry arrived were “I don’t exactly have an easy baby”. Bit of an understatement, her friends say 😉

Kelli’s high-flying career in law prepared her perfectly for her darling baby Henry to decide he hated sleeping. Here’s her story:

Kelli: After a rather long and slightly brutal birth, the reward was taking home my beautiful baby boy, Henry. I was shattered from the whole birth “experience” and on top of that Henry thought that sleep was for wimps and so exercise was very far from my mind for the first couple of months.

Eventually (with a lot of encouragement from Katy!) I did get started and amazingly, felt better and more refreshed. I found the local Ready Steady Mums sessions brilliant, not only did it help with motivation (hard to muster after a very broken night’s sleep) but there was also a lovely social element – which was great for me, having always played team sports. The other great thing, both about the classes and the programme as a whole, was its flexibility – I could feed Henry in the middle of a class and catch up afterwards or do a few exercises around naps etc at home.

The best thing about getting back in shape after birth? Getting back in my skinny jeans. However one of the other benefits was going on long walks with Henry in the buggy and not being exhausted at the end of them.

Now that number 2 is on its way, I’m intending to stay more active in this pregnancy than I was in the last one and am not as worried about the effect pregnancy will have on my body this time as I know now how to deal with the aftermath!

The role of dads in postnatal exercise

One of the best ways to deal with stress, baby-blues and even mild postnatal depression is to exercise. But we often struggle to fit exercise in and cope with the emotional side of getting back into shape.

We asked a group of mums “How can dads support new mums on a quest to get fit and healthy?” Here’s what they told us:

When they get it right, new dads can be heroes

A supportive attitude from our partners matters a lot. Dads, love us and love our bodies! Our amazing bodies made our babies, so please help us love our bodies too.

A few common dad blunders:

“He said it’s normal to look like a whale in the early days”
“He nags me not to eat cakes when I’ve only had 3 hours sleep and can’t face a carrot stick”
“He offers to look after the baby so I can get some time to myself but keeps asking me to step in when he can’t find something”
“My partner looked lustfully at a photo of me in my wedding dress and ‘reassured’ me that one day I might look good again”

Top tips, from mums to dads:

Get involved yourself

“Look at your own belly, have you put weight on too? Lots of new dads do.  Why not try to tone up too and join in the exercise challenge with her?”
“Walking is especially good in the early days of motherhood.  Ditch the car when you can and go out for a walk as a family.”

Have a supportive attitude

“Encouragement = 100% support, 0% nagging.”
“Mums are probably more worried about getting their figure back than you are, so be enthusiastic and share her excitement when she feels she’s improving.” 
“Every ounce counts and deserves encouragement.”

Help out practically

“Promise to help with the baby and then do it – be reliable!”
“Is she getting enough sleep? How can you help her get some more?  Tiredness can be very demoralising.”
“Presents are good. How about a pretty new sports top or a trendy water bottle instead of chocolates?”

Appreciate what she does for your baby

“Listen when she talks about what she’s going through.”
“Do not EVER suggest that being at work is harder than looking after your baby.”
“When mummy has been looking after the naughty baby alone in the early days, try to imagine how exhausted she feels.”

Love her and her body

“Lots of hugs and intimacy! Make a fuss of her and help her get confident again with her body.” 
“Under no circumstances do you agree or say it’s natural when she says she is a huge fatso.”
“It’s normal to make mistakes as a new dad, just make sure you know a florist nearby!”

Keeping up an active lifestyle in motherhood – Catherine Chastney

Catherine Chasteney is mum to two girls, Elizabeth (almost 2 yrs) and Hannah (6 months).

I really believe that declaring what you’re doing, committing to being there for others, and enrolling others in your plans can keep the motivation going. Here is Catherine’s story about setting up her active lifestyle and managing to fit exercise into her everyday life as a mum. At the end she’s also shared some tips for getting in shape as a new mum.

Catherine: I’m not a natural sportswoman. Actually, despite my best efforts, I’m really poor at sport but I think I have an active lifestyle. Before I became a mum I’d tried out different ways of exercising – circuits classes, going to the gym, jogging – and tried to keep moving in small ways such as using the stairs rather than the lift. I’ve always liked walking too. Not necessarily hiking, a suburban stroll is fine, and I enjoy the rhythm and solitude when striding out.

Since becoming a mum I’ve continued to walk but I also wanted an exercise programme that was mum-friendly. I wanted better all-round fitness and, of course, to lose my baby belly but I needed the flexibility to be able to exercise at a time that suited me and my child(ren). Ready Steady Mums has given me that. I exercised at home after my firstborn and through my second pregnancy, and after baby two was born I started attending local Ready Steady Mums walking group which progressed on to exercising with other mums and their babies and toddlers. At first I had been happy exercising on my own at home and it suited me to do it while the baby was sleeping, but after our second child I was out and about soon after the birth. I quickly discovered that me, a toddler and a newborn home alone in the summer was not much fun for any of us!

I was pretty motivated to get back into shape, not least because I was to be a  bridesmaid 13 weeks after the birth, so towards the end of my second pregnancy I thought that documenting what I was doing might help to keep me focussed and that was why I started my blog: flabmumtofabmum.blogspot.com. The blog is a public challenge to myself to keep exercising. I started writing about how I was progressing in returning to shape and improving my fitness, although there are a few posts on other related subjects. I know that friends and family read it to see how we’re doing and I hope that other mums struggling with a baby, a changed body and sleep deprivation might find it and know that someone else is going through the same.

The difficulty about exercise is keeping it up. I enjoy feeling fit but I have to make exercising fit in with my lifestyle and routine and make it as fun as I can otherwise I will find excuses not to do it. Doing the blog is one motivator and becoming a Ready Steady Mums Group Leader is another. A few weeks after I started going to Ready Steady Mums Socialcise sessions in my local park the mum who coordinated it had to return to work. As I wanted to keep myself motivated I volunteered to take her place. Now I know that at least once a week I will definitely do some exercise, and I can’t wimp out of it as other people are depending on me to be there. The session I run is on a Monday morning and it feels good to start the week in such a positive way. I like meeting other mums and doing something that benefits me but is still toddler-friendly, and I think it is the only thing I do with my children where I don’t end up singing nursery rhymes!

Exercising with young children can be challenging. I feel that I don’t get as much cardio work in as I would like but maybe it is enough at the moment just o be a bit short of breath and quickening my heart rate as I up the pace while pushing the buggy. Often one of my daugthers is upset at some point while I’m doing a session in the park but at least when you are exercising with other mums everyone else understands the predicament. In general, exercising is easier than I thought it would be because I hadn’t really registered that my lifestyle was already fairly active. I have really only added two dedicated exercise sessions to my week and all the other exercises I do are slotted into everyday life.

I feel a little bit proud of myself for managing to keep this exercise malarky going. My husband is delighted and so supportive, he helps me write workout sessions for my Monday group, and my toddler loves to copy me doing stretches. I feel happy that I am a positive role model for my children and am promoting a healthy and active lifestyle (whether that is by playing sport or by making exercise part of a game you play together or just by walking instead of taking the bus).

My top tips for mums wanting to get in shape are:

  •  work out what your motivations are and keep reminding yourself of the target
  • get someone else to remind you what your motivations are and to spur you on when you’re feeling tired (partner, friend, relative, exercise buddy)
  •  know what your challenges are and spend time working out how to tackle them because at some point your enthusiasm for your new exercise routine will wane
  •   be kind to yourself, if you have a bad week it doesn’t matter
  • try and make exercising a part of your life (pelvic floor exercises whilst watching TV etc.)

Leading a postnatal walking and exercise group – Charlotte Taylor

Charlotte was one of our first Ready Steady Mums Group Leaders, here she reflects on those first sessions… (and achieving the goal she set herself at the outset … That Honey Moon Bikini!)

I was about 6 months pregnant when I decided to set up a Ready Steady Mums group. I have always been a sporty type, and being fit and healthy is very important to me – with three months to go I was feeling pretty big and wondering if I’d ever get in shape again…   I mentioned that I was going to set one up to my NCT group and a few of the girls were very keen, then I set up the group. We decided from the outset to include exercises as well as walking in our sessions.

Ready Steady Mums – Choose a Venue

It was pretty straight forward; choose a suitable time and place (for me it is the local park, 11.00 on a Tuesday morning), then spread the word. The mum network is great where I live, and quickly we got members from three different pre & post natal groups. A few other members joined after seeing a tweet, and a couple from the flyer I stuck up I the park café.

I was a bit nervous before the first session, which in hindsight was completely unnecessary. There were seven of us, and I led the session using a post it note I stuck on the buggy which listed the exercises to do. I was struck by how quiet the first session was which made me a bit unsure, but in fact everyone was just concentrating on following the exercises. The sessions are rarely quiet now! I asked for feedback  at the end and it was very positive, which made me feel really good about myself.

There is a mixture of mums each week – often a few are away visiting family, or at the health visitor, or recovering from a sleepless night, but there always enough for a fun session, and I even managed one in the snow, with just two of us (a crazy two of us I think).

The group has grown as mums invite more friends, and other mums spot us in the park. It’s a very social activity as well as a good exercise, and we always get a coffee afterwards (*happy face*) and catch up on how well our babies are napping, what the latest preferred weaning meal is, or what our plans are for childcare when we return to work (*sad face*). I am back at work now and in the short term another volunteer has taken over and runs fantastic sessions which by all accounts are harder work than mine! As I will be going part time, my plan is to set up a second session a week on the day I’m off, so there will be even more opportunity to get an exercise/ social/ outdoor fun fix. I have hugely enjoyed setting up and running my group, and I can’t recommend it highly enough if you’re thinking about it. If you still need convincing here are my top 5 reasons to become a Yummy Ready Steady Mums Mummy!

Ready Steady Mums – Top 5 Reasons

  1. Stretch, tone, strengthen – get your body back faster
  2. Feel great outside – fresh air is brilliant for you and your baby
  3. Make friends – a joy shared is a joy doubled, a sorrow shared a sorrow halved
  4. Regain a bit of structure to your day and week – I’m a teacher and loved a bit of routine
  5. Contribute an amazing thing to your community.

Reason 6: I got into my honeymoon bikini on our first family holiday with our 6 month old. ( *Huge Smiley Face*!)