What is post-delivery confinement all about?

Confinement is about keeping a new mother and her baby at home for a certain number of days or weeks after delivery. The tradition arose from the need to protect both mum and baby from infection and help the mother recover from the exhaustion of childbirth. Different communities in India have different traditions and practices for the confinement period. But generally, the new mother is supposed to do a minimum of housework and rest as much as she can during this time. Usually, a mother can only indulge in her confinement period if she has help from family members. Mothers that live in joint families or that who move to their parents' house for the delivery of their child are more likely to follow traditional confinement practices. Many new mothers also choose to hire a maalishwali for the massages or a maid or dai to help out in the house during this time. Traditionally, there are many restrictions for the new mother during the confinement period. These are based on beliefs of what is good for recovering from childbirth and what not. If you find some of these restrictions difficult to follow, let your family members know. Tension or stress can interfere with your milk supply and affect your general wellbeing. Especially if you are suffering from postnatal depression, having many restrictions might make you feel worse. To plan your first 40 days or get ideas on how to spend them, read more in our guide to your first 40 days after birth

How long is the post-delivery confinement period?

It depends on the region. In most of North, West and South India, women stay at home for about 40 days after their baby is born. In the east, especially in the North-Eastern states, confinement is not practised rigorously and is much shorter. In some parts of South India, ladies can stay indoors for up to 60 days.

However, many new mothers choose not to follow the traditional confinement period. Either they have to get back to work or do not have the necessary support. Some even think that the concept of 'confinement' after delivery should be a thing of the past. The decision about how to spend your first few weeks after your baby is born will depend on you, your family and your beliefs.

What usually happens during confinement time?

1. Confinement massage: New mothers are given a full body massage or maalish, once a day for the confinement time. A massage will be very soothing to your tired body and will help with your blood circulation. Read about which oils are best to use for your massage. If you have had a caesarean, read on to find out how to safely have your post-delivery massage after a c-section

2. Baby massage: Many mothers also give their babies a daily massage. In many families, the baby's massage becomes part of his daily bath routine, which will continue well past the confinement time. If you are not the one giving your baby a massage, make sure your baby is handled gently.

Even if you hire a dai who has a lot of experience in massaging newborns, always keep an eye on what she is doing. Babies with dislocated joints from too vigorous massages are sadly seen quite often in hospitals. Read more about which oils to use for your baby's massage

3. Confinement foods: It is believed that the confinement time and recovery of the mother are very closely linked to what she eats. Each region of India has it's favourite confinement foods or recipes that the mother is given. It is generally believed that after birth a mother's body loses "balance" and enters a "cold stage" due to the loss of blood. Confinement food is therefore usually made with ingredients that are believed to be warming. Warming or heating foods are believed to speed up your recovery from childbirth. Here are some examples of the kinds of foods you may be advised to have or not have:

  • Gourds such as lauki and tori are believed to increase your supply of milk.
  • Paan (betel leaves) after every meal is thought to help with digestion.
  • Increased intake of ghee is believed to help regain strength and aid muscle repair.
  • Fruits, fizzy drinks and juices are believed to be cooling.
  • Green (hari) and red (laal) chillies (mirch) might be difficult to digest so you might be told to replace them with black pepper (kali mirch) for some spice.
  • Foods believed to produce gas for your baby through your milk will be discouraged. Some examples include onions (pyaaz), cauliflower (phool gobhi), cabbage (patta gobhi) and jackfruit (kathal).

Looking for confinement recipes? Have a look at our traditional confinement foods and drinks for breastfeeding mums

Confinement restrictions:

Once you come home, especially if you are living in a joint family or with your parents, you might feel as if you have to change all your usual habits. Everything from how you bath to how you dress might come with a new 'how to' instruction. The practices vary from family to family, and region to region. It's believed that following them helps a mother avoid health problems such as rheumatism, arthritis, headaches and body aches and pains later in life. There is no medical evidence to support these beliefs, however. Most of the dos and don'ts of confinement focus on the underlying belief that heat will help you recover faster. You will be asked to lead your life in a way that keeps you as warm as possible, even if you deliver in the hottest months of the year.