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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Of Baby's Full Moon, Pui Yits And Ang koos

When a baby turns one month old, most Chinese parents celebrate the event with a party. The celebration is called ''Baby' s Full Moon" and it also marks the last day of confinement for the baby's mother. The confinement period is a traditional post-natal Asian practice and is so called because the post-partum mom is confined to the home for a period of one month after the delivery of her baby. Various routines and rules are observed. A special diet is cooked for the mom to help accelerate her recovery from her weakened state and replenish the loss of blood and nutrients after childbirth. The Chinese believe that everything in life requires a balance between the Yin and the Yang in order for harmony to exist. Yin is cold and Yang is hot and the Yang in a post-natal mom diminishes after child birth. To restore the lost Yang and expel the trapped 'wind' in her body (when the placenta is exerted out) , she is given "hot" foods that are loaded with ginger, sesame oil, black vinegar, rice wine, etc.
The confinement period is an entire month of total pampering for the post-natal mom. While she rests all day and eats 5 meals per day, a 'Pui Yit' does all the chores, cooks and looks after the newborn. Traditionally, the role of the Pui Yit is played by the mother-in-law so it's kinda like pay-back-time for the post-natal mom! These days, moms-in-law would gladly relinquish this role. I know I would.
A 'pui yit' (literally translated as confinement companion in Cantonese) is employed to care for the mother and newborn during her period of confinement. Pui Yits are generally elderly ladies above their 50s. These ladies usually have a brood of children and grandchildren and so with their vast experience and wisdom that supposedly commensurate with age , they qualify for the position.
For that one month of sleepless nights (yes, they change the nappies and bottle feed the babies), they are paid a hefty sum (a four figure salary) and a generous ang-pow for their effort!
The downside of the confinement period? There is a long list of taboos and DOs and DONTs to adhere to. The pui yit watches the post-natal mom like a hawk so it's not easy to get away with the rules.

Here are just a few.

1. Bathing in really, really hot water that has been infused with lemon grass, old ginger, tumeric leaves and brandy to prevent rheumatism and joint pains in later years.

2. No washing of hair for an entire month! My head started to itch after the second day and 2 weeks was my breaking point. I washed my hair on the sly when the pui yit dozed off and started to snore. Of course she found out and scared me with tales of moms who disobeyed and ended up sorry.

3. No eating of yams or your 'wound' would itch for a hundred days!!

4. No stepping out of the house (hence the word 'confinement') - something to do with encountering evil baby-snatching spirits. Seriously, who wants to be seen in public when your hair stinks to high-heaven! I had this mental image of flies buzzing around my head where mushrooms had sprouted.

4. Drinking water while standing causes incontinence. Hmmmm, is that why I leak whenever I yell at my boys?

5. Eating 'hot' foods. Sceptics, explain this! Hubby who could never resist a warm bowl of 'Jee Geok Choe' (pig trotters in black vinegar) had one too many and ended up with high fever. Too much Yang!!

For more confinement taboos read here...

On the last day of the confinement period, gift packs consisting of red eggs, angkoos, yellow rice, curry and pickled ginger are distributed to relatives and friends as proclamation that a new member has been added to the family and that the confined mom is now ready to receive visitors. A party is usually held and visitors arrive bearing gifts and ang-pows for the baby.

Every item in this basket has a symbolic meaning

Hard-boiled eggs with their shells dyed red symbolize prosperity and fertility

Angkoos (meaning red tortoise in Hokkien) represent the baby's gender. Plain for males and textured for females.

Rice to ensure that there will always be food on the table (not sure about the yellow colour).


  1. Wow!! I never knew that! I would feel like a queen..LOL!! But, I have to agree about the hair washing. My husband would be grossed out if I didn't wash my hair for just one!!

  2. I didn't adhere at all to the traditions...even my OB who is Chinese herself made me take a shower while still in the hospital.
    I wish I could have fired my self-appointed Pui-Yit. I was miserable! Didn't know that it was an actual "role" though. So as always, thanks for sharing!
    Love that comic strip at the end!

  3. I love visiting you! I find out such awesome information and cultural goodies. Love the comic Happy Weds sweetie :)

  4. I wouldn't have done very well with a pui yit. I love to do things my way, when it comes to my little ones. And not bathing for a month...nope...I would've done exactly what you did. In some ways, if the pui yit is sweet, then it might be a bit nice to be pampered but to have someone in your house that you don't really know????

  5. I didn't have any pui yit. These service is not readily available where I live. My mom took care of me for all three of my kids. The rules during confinement is strict but I'm glad I followed them. Better be safe than sorry is my motto. My cousin who didn't have anyone to care and guide her during confinement is now experiencing a lot of the problems that people say you will get if you didn't follow a strict diet and so.

  6. Very interesting post. I could definitely get into being pampered for a month and maybe even being confined, but not washing my hair for an entire month, NOT! lol

    thanks for your comment on my post also. The kids are my grand babies.


  7. Like hearing about other cultures. Interesting !

  8. It is very interesting hearing about different cultures. Great to hear and see what is going around the world.


  9. Greetings from Malaysia! We end up DIY my confinement when my CL broke her leg 2 weeks before I delivered. It was the best thing that ever happened (after delivering my son naturally of course) cos we get to bond with our baby and breastfeed all we want. Our CL are not very pro BF and we're also not into all those superstitions. I showered few hours after delivering, eat and drink whatever I wanted and wearing singlets and short pants everywhere (it's very hot here in Malaysia)

    ( I'm a full-time mummy )

  10. Hi-

    Thanks for stopping by my Stress Relief for Caregivers blog.

    I don't follow all of the ancient Asian traditions but this one I definitely stand by:

    . Bathing in really, really hot water that has been infused with lemon grass, old ginger, tumeric leaves and brandy to prevent rheumatism and joint pains in later years.

    Lemongrass is an amazing essential oil for joint pain as well as Ginger.