Author: Chian Kee | Date: 1 December 2013 | 2 Comments »


Those of you who have never been Asian and pregnant before may not have had the pleasure of acquainting yourself with Confinement.  According to “traditional Chinese medicine”, which these days is a euphemism for “the Internet”, a new mother’s body experiences an imbalance of “hot” and “cold” for the first month postpartum.  In order to remedy this, all conduct that promotes “cooling” is banned, and anything “heaty” is required.   This all sounds entirely permissible and the more open minded of you might already be preparing to hitch the  modern-medicine-doesn’t-know-everything bandwagon to your high horse and ride it into the heaty sunset.  If that’s you, please don’t think that I’m advocating that new mothers shouldn’t rest and recuperate.

That said, here are my objections to the three key pillars of confinement:

Number 1: Don’t let your feet touch the ground

As everybody knows, nothing cools your feet more than direct contact with the sleet-covered dirt floor of your thatched hovel in an Inner Mongolian frozen tundra.  If you find yourself in that situation and your husband/feudal lord is requiring you to get back into the rice paddies within 40 days of ejecting an infant from your nether-regions onto said floor, you can go and tell him to 离开 because you’re in confinement and you don’t want to die from pneumonia before the ripe old age of 45.

If you have sufficient internet access to be reading this, chances are that you live in the wrong era and in too comfortable surrounds to benefit from being bed-ridden for such an extended period of time.  Plus, if your feet are cold, these days we have socks.  Of course, you can take your opposition to this one too far.  Thanks to the magic of the hormone Relaxin, a new mother’s joints are likely to be hypermobile and she will be much more susceptible to imbalance and injury for quite some time after birth.  So take it easy, but you don’t have to become the world champion of “the floor is hot lava” in order to avoid chronic illness – although I guess if the floor was lava, then it wouldn’t be cooling, so that would be ok.

Incidentally, ancient Chinese medicine also dictates that you shouldn’t sing “My feet won’t touch the ground” during confinement, because it’s too Coldplay.

Number 2: Don’t eat cooling foods

Not to be confused with a ban on cold food, a woman in confinement is not to consume cooling foods regardless of their thermal state.  As far as I can gather, everything that you can ingest can be categorised on a spectrum between yin and yang, yin being cooling and yang being heaty.  The poster-child for heaty foods is ginger, so you’ll usually find that any self-respecting confinement menu will contain more ginger than a Julia Gillard lookalike convention.  That photo of a bowl of ginger at the top of the post wasn’t actually the entirety of the ginger that my wife, Cecylia, ate in her first postpartum week.  That was just the ginger that fit into the bowl.

For a layman such as myself, it’s not possible to guess whether certain foods are heaty or cooling.  For example, chicken and turkey are heaty, but duck is cooling (Because ducks like water? Because Daffy is cooler than Foghorn Leghorn?).   If anything, you would think that the fact that ducks come with a built-in hydrophobic layer and duck down insulation would make them more aligned with yang than yin.  Maybe it’s only ok to eat duck feathers.

Now, I’m from the school of thought that says Cecylia can eat whatever she wants – so if she wants to eat ginger-infused ginger with a side serving of ginger, and a chicken, then she can go right ahead. In fact, some evidence suggests that a traditional Chinese confinement diet can help to increase breast milk production and decrease the likelihood of prolonged jaundice (source).  I’m also reasonably confident, however, that women who eat freshly prepared food for each meal after delivery, and who are prohibited from eating the usual junk that we stuff our faces with, will fare better on all sorts of metrics regardless of whether they have a sneaky piece of duck.

My main problem with this rule is that many people following strict confinement diet rules will be failing to eat foods that may contain essential nutrients – especially if they only know of a handful of heaty foods and they don’t have a Chinese medicine guru around to tell them otherwise.  Also, some of the heaty foods are generally just a bad idea.  For example, certain kinds of rather strong alcohol are considered heaty and therefore good for nursing mothers.  Added to cooked food, this isn’t much of an issue, but your alcohol concentration in your blood is the same as the alcohol concentration in your breast milk.

My other issue is that there seems to be some confusion about whether certain foods are yin or yang, and I’m pretty sure there isn’t a laboratory test you can do to figure it out.  This means that most modern mothers will Google for a list of foods they can eat, which can lead to them thinking that they can’t eat fruit during confinement or, my favourite, that barbiturates are fine as long as you stay off the cocaine.

Number 3: Every rule about water

So it turns out that after a woman gives birth, she turns into a Fire-type Pokemon.  This means that, according to various corners of the internet, there are an entire raft of confinement rules designed to protect her against water-based attacks, including:

  1. No drinking water
  2. No showering
  3. No washing hair
  4. No brushing teeth

I understand that sweating and crying are also not encouraged.

The main exception to the above rules, which were probably introduced reasonably quickly after it was discovered that even Asian women couldn’t survive for a month without ingesting water of some description, is that water may be used if it is infused with something heaty – usually ginger.  Want to wash your hair? Do it in ginger water.  Want a drink? Drink some (hopefully different) ginger water.

I don’t know about you, but if I were responsible for nourishing another human being using only my bodily fluids, I would be drinking as much H2O as possible.  Unfortunately, as most of us don’t have heated ginger water on tap, this usually means that most serious confinement practitioners may have difficulty finding sufficient hydration on demand and will forgo washing.  For a month.  Combine this with the rules that you can’t use air conditioning, and that you need to wear long sleeved clothing at all times, and you have a surefire recipe for spousal postpartum depression.

The only other option for the woman is to evolve into Mega-Charizard because then her Dragon-type will cancel out her Fire-type’s weakness to water… or so I’ve heard.

2 Comments in the fine print. Add yours!

  • Push It — 3:17 pm on December 4th, 2013

    […] Eating ‘heaty’ foods that have a healthy douse of ginger, drinking water that has only been marinated with ginger, and washing hands only in warm water, infused with, yeb, you guessed it, ginger. Other rules include being forbidden to look at TV and computer screens, as they are too ‘damaging’ to retinas and of course, not leaving the house or have ‘wind’ blown on you. That means, no air-con and no standing in the doorway. Oh, and the really hard-core types farewell showering and shampooing for an entire month. So far, I’ve broken every rule – and hubby also has his doubts about the strict confinement regime. […]

  • Margaret 3:19 pm on January 7th, 2014

    All said and done, the confinement monthwith a few abberations seem to have worked out well.Baby, Mom and Dad seem to be thriving.Thank God!

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Author: Chian Kee | Date: 27 November 2013 | Comments Off on Angelcare Baby Monitor Product Recall

You had one job Angelcare.

It turns out that poorly installed baby monitors that feature loose wiring between the cot and the monitor, within reach of the child, have the exact opposite effect to what was intended.  In light of some infant deaths, the first in 2004, Angelcare has recently issued a voluntary product recall of its “Movement Sensor” equipped baby monitors in the US and Canada.

So what happens if you were guilted into buying conscientiously acquired these all-the-bells-and-whistles monitors in Australia?  Well, it appears that the recall doesn’t extend to you.  According to (my number one source for baby-related misinformation) this is because:

“…units bought in Australia aren’t affected by the error.”

This is probably true, as long as by “error” you mean “calculated risk”.  Curiously, the owners of the Angelcare brand, when offering free cord covers, go so far as to say:

Do not be concerned as a correctly installed monitor poses no hazard to your baby!  We do, however, fully understand that you are concerned…”

It appears that the relevant versions of the monitors being sold in both North America and Australia all come equipped with baby-choking wires.  The difference is that Angelcare isn’t recalling the Australian versions (yet) and they don’t want you to panic in the interim.  I can appreciate the commercial imperative for this, after all these monitors aren’t cheap and there haven’t been any reported cases of Angelcare infant strangulation in Australia – but they might be treading on thin ice given that the Australian threshold for product recalls includes products that are dangerous due to reasonably foreseeable misuse.

It seems like a lot of trouble to try and continue to market a baby monitor sensor that wasn’t even effective at noticing cot deaths as it was causing them.  Don’t get me wrong, I am all for infant safety, but nothing annoys me more than products that were designed to capitalise on parental fear, rather than relieve it – mainly because I now own many such products.


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Author: Chian Kee | Date: 21 November 2013 | 2 Comments »

As a lawyer, I always read the fine print.*

This is partially by force of habit, because I’m usually the one reviewing the fine print, but also because people jam all sorts of confounding and confusing conditions in there.  I’m in the process of ordering a new, larger curbside bin from the council.  As any new parent will attest, this is essential because babies seem to be born with a supernatural ability to produce more than their weight in diaper-fillings each week.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I noticed that my local council includes the following in their terms and conditions for waste collection:


Now, I’m not normally an advocate for civil disobedience, but if the council thinks that I’m only going to throw cleaned disposable nappies in the bin, then the local tip’s discarded nappy inspector is in for a rude shock.

So sue me.


* That’s not true, I made an exception when the hospital asked me to sign some terms before admitting my wife when she was in labour.

2 Comments in the fine print. Add yours!

  • Crazy Dog Lady 10:14 am on November 29th, 2013

    I think you can just class the poop as part of the “moist refuse” from dot point 2 – you are just co-mingling your waste types – no law against that!

  • Chian 2:54 pm on November 29th, 2013

    Actually, I was going to argue that you’re only prohibited from throwing away cleaned nappies that aren’t wrapped to prevent their escape – it doesn’t prohibit throwing away dirty nappies at all.


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Author: Chian Kee | Date: 16 November 2013 | 2 Comments »

My son was born today.

Of course, that wasn’t the actual first step in this story, but it seems as good a place as any to start – not because nothing interesting happened prior to this point, but because this was the point when it fully dawned on me that all of the preparation and learning and general girding of loins that I had undertaken in the preceding months were going to be far less helpful than I thought.  I could have told you that beforehand, because most of the advice that I received was inconsistent with most of the other advice I received, but there’s something about the visceral feeling in your gut that you’re probably just going to have to wing this fatherhood thing that makes the intellectual realisation of it weeks earlier pale in comparison.

We had researched all of the various birthing skills and techniques and we had packed our bag full of half-baked distractions (like a collection of CDs without a CD player).  I was fully prepared for some pain-induced vocalisation, progression through the various positions and exercises of active birthing and I was even prepared to have my hand squeezed during contractions despite the difficulties that stress fractures would cause when later on diaper duty.

None of this prepared me for the sight of watching my wife calmly smile as she pushed a human being out of herself, armed with two Panadol, a bible verse and a prayer.  A disinterested bystander glancing at the serenity on her face could have been forgiven for thinking that she was taking a nap and having a particularly pleasant dream.  At one point, I foolishly commented that she was almost making it look too easy, to which she responded that the experience was more painful than I could possibly imagine, but that smiling helped.  I wish I had a photo of it so you could believe me, or so that I could make millions selling a new “birthing skills” book based on it, but cameras were strictly forbidden.

So Winston, if this is the future and you’re reading this, I want you to always remember 2 things:

  1. Not only has your mother endured through incredible pain for your sake, she did so with a smile by thinking about her future with you.
  2. If you’re going to bring music to a delivery room, always bring a music-playing device.

If you’re not sure what a CD is, I’m sure we still have some in the shed.

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