Today, our society praises moms who bounce back right after having a baby. So, we push ourselves physically and emotionally to get back to our careers and our former body weight…all to prove to ourselves and the people around us that we can handle being a mother and maintaining our former lifestyle. But what if we told you that this isn’t necessarily the best way to go about the postpartum period?
We recently learned about ‘postpartum confinement’—a Chinese practice that considers the 26-30 days after having a baby as extended rest for new mothers. Mothers and their babies are cared for by other women (family members or hired nannies trained in this practice), cooked specific meals with Chinese herbs, and are confined to their homes to rest while their bodies heal.
Intrigued by the concept, we thought what better way to learn more than to talk with someone who followed this practice themselves? We were so excited when we got the chance to chat with Amy Chang—a new mom and nontoxic beauty blogger behind BOND EN AVANT. Read along as Amy shares her experience with postpartum confinement and shares her tips for practicing self-care as a new mom!
Talking Postpartum Confinement With Amy Chang
Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Hi, I’m Amy. I’m a nontoxic beauty blogger and new mom. I write about healthy & wellness, nontoxic skincare and makeup and motherhood on my blog BOND EN AVANT, which means “leap forward” in French.
I worked in PR after college in New York City, but when we moved to Los Angeles, I decided to be on the content creation side of things. Starting my own blog has been such a fun passion project. I’ve met so many interesting women entrepreneurs, learned a tone about skincare and the aesthetics industry, and had so much fun growing my blog.
Briefly tell us about your postpartum experience. Was there anything that surprised you? Anything you weren’t prepared for or were unaware of?
I feel very fortunate to have had a smooth postpartum recovery. I’m now almost four months postpartum and body feels strong; my skin and hair have maintained a healthy glow and fullness; and even though some days I’m sleep deprived, my energy and mood have been very stable throughout this period.
I attribute a lot of this to my level of preparedness going into the postpartum period. After interviewing Kimberly Johnson, author of “The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing Your Emotions and Restoring Your Vitality,” I took time to reflect on what giving birth would physically mean and talked to my husband about intimacy, sharing responsibilities and putting a plan in place of support.
For us, we chose to hire a postpartum nurse to support me through postpartum confinement to cook, clean and help with our newborn when needed.
What is postpartum confinement, and why did you decide to do it? What are the goals of postpartum confinement?
For those who don’t know what confinement is, it’s an ancient Chinese postpartum tradition where new mothers are cared for in their homes and fed specific foods and Chinese herbs based on Traditional Chinese Medicine to aid in their recovery. The belief is that once the baby leaves the mother’s body, there is an open space in her body where the baby used to be, and this space needs time to heal and close.
During this period of repair, it’s believed the woman’s body is vulnerable. If cold (or yin) comes into this open space, it is believed the woman will have a harder time to recover and potentially future ailments. Therefore, warming ‘yang’ foods and herbs are eating, and the mother is instructed to stay indoors with her baby to rest and recover for 26-40 days, while other women care for her, either a hired postpartum nurse or family members.
You can read the full details of this practice here on my blog.
How and at what stage in your pregnancy did you find out about it?
A lot of our friends are second generation Chinese Americans, and many began having children before my husband and I. They introduced me to the Chinese confinement practice. Once I saw and heard from them about how smooth their postpartum journeys were, I knew I wanted to follow this practice once I became pregnant.
What was the end result? How did you feel at the end of this period?
Overall, I enjoyed the practice. I saw firsthand how readily and easily my body recovered with this level of support: my sin was glowing from the collagen rich foods; my energy and mood were stable from the herbs, many of which support “chi” - a person’s energy and life force; and I had the energy and presence to be able to enjoy this period with my baby.
You mention you never felt drained after having your baby, even on two hours of sleep! What do you attribute this to?
The postpartum nurse we hired was supposed to help me with the night feedings, but I found I was so attached to my baby, I didn’t want her to. I wanted to do them myself, so our little one Chloe slept with us in our room and would get up to feed every two hours, sometimes every one and a half.
There were times where mentally I felt fatigued and drained from the lack of sleep, but physically I felt supported from the confinement meals: collagen dense soups, lots of iron rich protein sources, like liver and kidneys, and cooked vegetables with ginger and herbs. And my spirit felt strong and unwavering, which I think most moms experience. There’s just this overwhelming love for your child that helps push you through the sleep deprivation.
What should you be focused on eating during this period?
During the first week, the focus is on eating foods to help flush the body of the remaining placental blood, then the focus shifts towards eating lots of collagen and iron rich foods to replenish all of the blood that has been lost and support in the body in rebuilding back the tissues.
For the postpartum confinement practice, this means lots of…
- Bone broths
- Organ meats (like liver and kidneys)
- Chicken feet (rich in collagen)
- Eggs (rich in iron)
- Leafy green vegetables
There are also specific Chinese medicinal herbs that you take and can be added to soup broths to help support circulation, detoxification and hormonal balancing.
Finding time to cook when you are a new mom is hard. How did you overcome this challenge?
We were fortunate enough to be able to hire a Chinese postpartum nurse for my confinement period (30 days) postpartum. She cooked all of our meals, so thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about nutrition at that point. But later on, after she left, it was a struggle to find a routine with cooking and there were many days where I would get to three o’clock in the afternoon and realize I hadn’t eaten anything all day.
It wasn’t until we started sleep training and I got Chloe to sleep through the night, that I was finally able to find the time again to plan and prepare healthy meals. I use a grocery delivery service, Milk & Eggs, local to Los Angeles, that delivers farmers’ market fresh produce. Utilizing services like this has helped me bring healthy cooking at-home back into our lives.
Would you recommend it to all new moms? Where can they learn more about it?
I would recommend the confinement month to other new moms, but I’m hesitant to recommend hiring a Chinese postpartum nurse. While on the one hand, it made life so much easier having someone cook our meals, clean and help me with Chloe when needed, there were many moments where it would have been nice if it was just my husband and I sharing those early moments with our daughter. It was great having her there to guide us through the process since she was knowledgeable about the diet and herbs, but now that I know how to prepare the meals myself and which herbs to buy, I’ll most likely try to do it on my own or with the help of my mother for our next baby.
If anyone is interested in learning more about it, I wrote a very extensive piece on my blog about the rules and practice of confinement postpartum, as well as a recap of all the meals I ate and the herbs I took here and here.
What is the most important piece of advice that you would like to share with a new mom?
It’s so important to find levity during the postpartum period. It can be a really stressful time, so it’s crucial to be able to laugh with your partner and remember that you can get through this together. Being able to laugh with my husband at mistakes made or times of frustration brought us closer together and helped keep everything in perspective.