• Call: (65) 6287 6268

What To Eat During Confinement? Pre- and Post-Natal Health Issues

Chiu-Nan Lai, Ph.D.

Observing the traditional confinement period for new mothers is becoming almost extinction, sharing the same fate as 95% of extincted agricultural crops and hundreds of millions of extincted animal and plant species.  American women usually take their newborns along for shopping trips just days after delivery.  During the 14th century in Europe, experienced midwives and herbalists were accused of practicing witchcraft and were killed.  Having a baby became an “illness” and came under the administration of medical doctors; women thus lost their independence and dignity.  Currently, 97% of American women do not breast feed their babies and 50% have their wombs removed after menopause.  What actually is the function of observing the confinement period?

Confinement is important to both mother and baby.  The new mother has to be well rested. Stagnet blood have to be discharged quickly so as to avoid toxemia and to ensure a speedy recovery of the womb.  Special attention has to be paid to the mother’s diet to ensure good overall health and good milk flow as milk is transformed from the mother’s blood.  The new baby also needs a peaceful and conducive environment to adjust to the new surroundings, as well as some privacy and space to build up a close bond with his/her parents.

Normally it takes one month for a person to heal the “Chi” body.  This applies to the new mother who needs to rest and recuperate her “chi”; thus the confinement “month”.  If relatives can help to provide the month of rest period for the new mother, it would be the most cherished of gifts.  For a small family who has no relatives to help out, it is advisable to hire a domestic helper during this period as the cost is not high.

Before pregnancy, steps should be taken to detoxify the body and mind.  During pregnancy, food taken must be clean and natural, and the mother feeling good.  These will pave the way for a smooth and easy delivery as well as recovery.  Taking tea made from raspberry leaves will ensure a painless and easy delivery, especially if drank during the later part of pregnancy.  Dr. John Christopher has an herbal Prenatal tea formula for use starting six weeks before due date (1-800-453-1406 or The Herb Shops P.O. Box 777, Springville, UT84663).

Practice abdominal or even deeper pelvic breathing regularly.  The breathing should be slow and deep, allowing the brain waves to enter the Alpha state (8 to 13 times per second).  Alpha brain waves have the function of healing and relieving pain.  The tempo is to count 8 during inhale, hold for a count of 8, then exhale counting to 8,  and stop for a count of 4.   Repeat this for more than 3 times.  To have an unobstructed flow of vital energy passing through all the charkas in the body, especially the root chakra. Chakra breathing exercises are to be a daily regime (please refer to Dr. Lai’s Health Tips) as well as cleansing anesthesia residues (after surgery), and the trauma one suffered at birth.  The cleansing process can start with gentle tapping and rolling of eyeballs.  Birth trauma if not cleared, may surface during delivery.  An effective way to deal with this is to first allow the brain waves to enter the Alpha state, and then look into the distance with both eyes closed. Imagine a clock face and look at 11 o’clock.  Move clockwise 3 times (11 o’clock…1 o’clock… 3 o’clock….).  Followed by the counter clockwise motion many times (from 1 o’clock… 11 o’clock… 9 o’clock…).  Do this exercise for 10 to 15 minutes. When feeling tired, repeat the above procedures from clockwise direction.

One may also in a relaxed state ‘rehearse’ a relaxed delivery process, so as to be better prepared both mentally and physically.  During pregnancy, a weekly oil bath will help blood circulation, relaxation and warming the body (please refer to  回归身的喜悦). Preparation for delivery should commence 6 weeks before the due date.  Besides clean and soft organic cotton bed sheets, nappies, scissors, etc., a small bottle of cold pressed olive oil is handy during delivery for massaging the perineum area to relax uterine cervix when the baby’s head emerges.  Further, prepare some golden seal root powder to dust over the cut umbilical cord.  Mix some apple cider, honey and cayenne pepper into a drink that can prevent shock (2 tablespoons apple cider + 2 tablespoons honey + 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper in 1 cup of warm water).  Also, Bach Flower Rescue Remedy helps calm the mind, ArnicaD6 (6X) helps prevent excessive blood loss.  After delivery, take 5 drops of Arnica in some water at 3-hourly intervals for 24 hours, this would reduce postnatal blood loss.  Should the hands and feet become cold during delivery, sip the shock prevention drink to warm them up again.

The foetus would transmit indications to the mother a few days before birth.  Each day at dusk, the womb would experience strong contraction as if going into labour.  At the due time, contractions would be stronger.  The husband and midwife can massage the mother’s palms and heels, especially behind the right heel and bottom of the heel to relieve pain, and the left heel to help discharge the placenta.  Should there be an urge to cry out, make a low pitch ‘AH’ loudly. Many Buddhists find it effective to chant Amitabha along with rhythmic breathing.  As the throat and root chakras are connected, making a sound at the moment of birth has the effect of dilating the uterine cervix.  Once the baby is born, immediately place him/her on the mother’s abdomen and cover with a thin cotton towel, allowing him/her to rest.  Generally, within 30 to 45 minutes, the baby would crawl up by him/herself to suckle.  Individuals born in this manner will grow up to be self directed, self-determined and physically healthier because his/her natural rhythm was not interrupted.

The umbilical cord is cut only when pulsing has completely stopped.  According to the natural delivery process in Russian, this is about 24 hours, allowing the baby to maintain his/her spiritual connection.  It is called the “lotus-born”.  As to how much of the umbilical cord to keep, Chinese physicians do not encourage cutting it too short as it would be harmful for the baby’s “chi”. Ideally, it should be 9cm, and sprinkle the wound with golden seal root powder.  Traditionally, moxa is also burnt over the belly button area to prevent harmful “chi” and moisture from seeping in.  There is no need to bathe the new baby immediately; wiping or a warm shower will do.  Do not remove the protective layer of oil on the skin, which contains rich nutrients and can also keep the baby warm.  The oil would be absorbed into the baby’s skin in a day or two.  There is no need to separate the baby from his/her mother so that the baby could bond with the mother. This will help in breast feeding and calming the baby’s heartbeat.

If the foetus is still quiet when date is due, the mother should only take liquid food such as vegetable soup or fruit juice, be completely relaxed, set her sight only on beautiful views, have positive thoughts, and communicate a welcome message to the baby.  Normally, the baby would arrive in 2 days.  Most people, who remember their birth under hypnosis, recall that they were reluctant to be reborn.

In the Chinese tradition, the new mother drinks a herbal soup (生化汤 ) after giving birth to help discharge lochia from the body.  To recover her energy, she may also drink warm organic grape juice (best to take juice of either the red or black grapes), or prune juice.  In Southern China, shredded dried citrus fruit (金桔饼) fried with ginger and sesame oil is served immediately after delivery to assist the flow of chi. In the West, caraway and anise seeds are used.  Indians consume a teaspoon of fried fennel and cumin after meals.  To heal the womb after delivery, drink boiled comfrey root or leaves is helpful.

In considering the functions of a postnatal diet, rejuvenating the chi and blood flow are of paramount importance to keep the body warm and to promote contraction of the womb.  In general, drinking ice water and using tap water are taboos.   Should the mother need to wash, use boiled water.  Drinking soup is recommended; washing of hair is not advisable to avoid catching a cold.  Diets for the confinement period are different in northern and southern China.  In northern China, millet porridge, noodles, eggs and red dates are eaten.  In the south, boiled food is the norm, especially chicken and sesame chicken.  In Jiangnan, sweet wine eggs are also eaten.  In Guangdong and Guangxi, trotters cooked with green papaya or soybean are served.  Both northern and southern Chinese do not take fried food, raw and cold food.  They also drink honey water and use brown sugar.  Since the new birth is welcomed as a celebration of lives, killing of animals should be discouraged.  Northern Chinese are physically better built.  During confinement, the mother’s staple is millet porridge cooked with red dates.  This will promote sufficient milk flow.  In Indian medicine, the physical condition of the mother is first assessed, and then only a suitable combination of appropriate spices and herbs is recommended to balance the diet.  A balanced condition of the body is to be established before conception as well as after delivery.  The human body type is formed by the imbalanced interactions of elements such as ‘wind’, ‘fire’ and ‘water’.  Body type here refers to having more characteristics of certain element.  The ‘wind’ element (vata) is embodied in motion, fast, light, chill, coarse, dry as in cold dry wind, coarse food such as popcorns.  The ‘fire’ element (pitta) is hot, sharp, sour, oily; for example, chilli sauce, summer noon sun, and high pitch noise.  The ‘water’ element (kapha) is heavy, oily, sluggishness, cold, stable, wide, slow like the elephant’s body, drowsy as in after an afternoon nap.

A person of Vata constitution has a pulse rate (for women) of 80 to 100 per minute, she is small built, quick in action, and has irregular meal times. The Pitta constitution has a pulse rate of 70 to 80 per minute. She is medium built and gets angry easily. The Kapha constitution has a pulse rate of 60 to 70 per minute, larger built, calm temperament and patient.  The following are suitable food recommended for the different kinds of constitutions.

Vata constitution :
All kinds of oil, especially sesame oil (from black sesame) can be consumed after delivery.  Others include rice, wheat, cereal, glutinous rice, sweet fruits e.g. grapes, avocados, peaches, prunes (avoid acidic fruits for the time being), asparagus, roots and leaves of beet root, sweet potato leaves, carrots, French beans, and sweet potatoes.  Choose sweet and warm-natured sweet spices, avoid bitter spices like fenugreek and turmeric.  All kinds of nuts such as walnuts, pine nuts, cashew nuts, sesame, etc. Beans such as garbanzos, red lentils and green beans.

Pitta constitution:
Coconut oil, olive oil, sunflower oil,  苦茶 oil, barley, oat , wheat. Sweet fruits such as apples, avocados, figs, dried prunes, raisins (avoid acidic fruits). Asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, French beans, green leafy vegetables (except spinach), sweet potatoes, squashes.  Spices like cumin, coriander, cinnamon, small amount of fennel and avoid chilli. Nuts include coconut, pumpkins, sunflower seeds. Eat less beans such as garbanzos, green beans and soybean.

Kapha constitution:
Use oil sparingly; can take a bit of sunflower oil, 苦茶 oil, almond oil, organic butter.  Grains include barley, buckwheat, corn, millet, rye, etc., but avoid oat flakes, rice and wheat.  For fruits, choose apples, apricots, dried fruits, pears, and guavas; avoid sweet juicy fruits.  All kinds of vegetables, but avoid cucumbers, sweet potatoes, summer squashes, tomatoes. All kinds of spices, except salt.  Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are allowed and all kinds of beans except tofu.

In the north, the weather is cold and the constitution tends to be of Kapha type.  Southerners tend to be Vitta or Pitta types.  No wonder the confinement diets are different.  Nursing mothers must have enough fluid intake, 1000cc more than the normal consumption is recommended.  In Europe, 50 gm (4 tablespoons) of barley or oat is boiled in 8 cups of water for 1½ hrs with lemon rind or 1 lemon.  To encourage milk flow, cook 4 parts of red beans with 1 part of polished round-grained non-glutinous rice into porridge, or 30g pan-fried sesame seeds, or peanuts in sweet almond/sesame milk, or walnut puree, sesame puree, almond puree, pine seed puree.  Above-mentioned puree is prepared together with pan-fried glutinous rice.

Cooking methods recommended are steaming, boiling and dry-double boiling.  The latter means to double boil over low heat without addition of water to the food, that is to say, the food is to be cooked in its own juices.  This method of cooking is most ‘warming’.  Choose an iron pot or corning ware, coated with a thin film of oil, put sliced roots at the bottom of the pot, next layer stems , and top layer leaves or squash; sprinkle a little ginger or other spices, cover tightly and cook over low heat. If necessary, sprinkle with sesame oil before serving.  If appetite is poor, cook slippery elm in water (1 teaspoon to 1 cup water) to drink.  Avoid eating leftovers or food that gives a bloated feeling in the tummy such as cabbage and bean sprout.  The following are some recommended Chinese recipes.

To nourish the blood:
2 parts wild yam ( 山 药)
1 part red dates
rice (long grain)
cook into a  porridge

To nourish the heart (spirit):
1 part wheat
1 part uncooked licorice root
3 parts large dates
add water to make a brew

To enhance chi:
9 gm  Codonopsis root (党 参)
18 gm  white Atractylodes (白 术)
15 gm  Astragalus (黄 耆)
60 gm long grain rice
Brew the first 3 ingredients, sieve, add the liquid to rice, and cook to make porridge.

To improve kidney functions:
black beans (pan roasted)
black dates
black sugar
winter melon skin
Make a brew with 1 part of each of the above in water

To improve functions of the spleen, stomach and kidneys:
30 gm chestnut
30 gm large dates
60 gm wild yam
6 gm fresh ginger
100 gm long grain rice
Boil into a watery porridge

To relieve blood stagnation, pain and injury:
option 1:
60 mg hawthorn cook in water, add brown sugar

option 2:
6 g cinnamon
15 g  Salvia root (丹参)
a little licorice root and ginger boil in water, and to be taken once a day.

30 g  dandelion roots
30 g   忍冬藤
add water and wine in appropriate quantity
Boil into a thick brew, to be taken twice a day.
(Note:  Wash hands clean before breast feeding; allow baby to suckle and empty from one breast, then the other; any excess milk is to be expressed with a breast pump.)

To discharge lochia:
生化 soup  (to be consumed 10 days after delivery)

For overall nourishment:
Four Things Combination (四 物 汤)
Rehmannia Eight Combination (八珍汤)
Ten Complete Supertonic Combination (十全大补汤)
To consume 10 days after delivery

When it’s time to wean the baby, boil wheat sprout in water to make a drink.  Take for 3 days and the milk flow would stop. Similarly, pearl barley, Chinese chives, star anise boiled in water serves the same purpose.

As far as diet is concerned, do take into consideration one’s own environment, own constitution as well as the season of the confinement.  It is best to master the technique of measuring energy level in order to judge what the body needs.  There is a need to avoid contaminants in all kinds of processed food, food with high sugar content, coffee, alcohol and cold food.  Whatever the mother eats, the baby will also take in through the milk, including residues of pesticides.  Should the mother be depressed after giving birth, her tail bone needs to be adjusted.  Please refer to Hanna Kroeger’s book New Dimension In HealingYourself.  Information is also available from various Lapis Lazuli Light centers.  The mother should sleep and rest more during the confinement period; oil massage the whole body daily.  Allow people around to help out with the household chores and take care of baby and mother.  This article is only for reference; for further information consult elders as well as experienced persons.


  1. Christopher, John R., (Every Woman’s Herbal), Christopher Publications, Springville, Utah, 1987.
  2. Kroeger, Hanna,  (New Dimensions in Healing Yourself), Hanna Kroeger Publications, Boulder, Colorado, 1991.

Extracted from Lapis Lazuli Light Magazine 2002 Aug Issue
Translated by Lapis Lazuli Light Singapore