Photo by Siti Zalinah
Confinement, for Malay women, typically lasts 44 days, though not all women today strictly observe this, opting for a “shortcut”, from 30 days to 40.
Malays believe that the pores on a woman’s body are open during labour, so care should be taken to keep the body warm, as well as to prevent “wind” from entering it; socks and bedroom slippers block this. It is also believed to prevent headaches and white blood cells from “going up to the head”, which is said to result in blindness.
Postnatal massage experts can wrap the new mum’s stomach, a process called bengkung. It is supposed to prevent the sagging skin from “pulling” the stomach downwards and firms it up. Binding also “stabilises the womb”.
A herbal paste called pilis ― another traditional Malay treatment ― is also applied on the forehead to prevent headaches, stomach pain and blurring of eyesight. Women with long hair must always tie their hair in a neat bun or ponytail, away from the face, to prevent headaches.
A regular practice is to consume herbal drinks, using certain herbs that are “heaty” in a combination called jamu to keep the body warm, get rid of “wind” and water retention, and improve blood flow and circulation. It’s made of turmeric, ginger, lemongrass and other herbs (depending on who provides it. She should avoid cold water and “cooling” fruits, such as guava, green bananas and pineapples, chilli (to avoid constipation and stomach upsets), and seafood (causes itch and inhibits wound recovery).
Instead, the Malays believe that women should take more turmeric, ginger and drumstick leaves after childbirth. Turmeric contains antibiotics and promotes a healthy circulatory system, ginger warms the body, cleanses the blood, improves appetite, reduces wind and energises the muscles, while drumstick leaves are packed with proteins, vitamins A and C, beta-carotene, iron, calcium, potassium and other minerals.
Other Malay beliefs:
o Avoid knocking their toes, because that will affect the uterus (said to be connected to the feet).
o Avoid squatting, because it will cause their uterus to drop.
o Can’t read or watch TV as it strains the eyes.