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Malaysia’s Traditional Postpartum Recovery Practices

Author: Hana Halim

Malaysia is a country located in SouthEast Asia where two of our co-founders are from. Despite the country’s modern way of living, traditions are still regarded highly among local communities which are composed of the Malays, Chinese, and Indians.

Traditional medicine has been playing a major role in providing healthcare for many years. However in the last few decades, modern medicine has made its way into society, which has caused some conflicts between traditional beliefs of older generations and modern beliefs of new parents. 

The Malay postpartum period is called ‘tempoh berpantang’. The literal translation means ‘confinement period’. Traditionally, a woman remains at home during this period. During this time, lifestyle such as diet, activities and hygiene is pretty much determined by the theory, beliefs and practices of traditional Malay medicine.

Usually, a dedicated, knowledgeable and often elderly confinement lady will either live-in or conduct a daily visit to the house to help the mother after delivery. She will be responsible to assist with the rituals, caring for the baby (bathing, massaging, and swaddling the baby) and cooking ‘confinement food’ for the mother. 

She can also be the person who massages the mother and prepares her bath in the morning and evening. For the confinement ladies who conduct daily visits, they would only go home in the evening or the more common ones nowadays, will conduct half day visits. 

The help from these confinement ladies provide an immeasurable amount of support for the mothers, physically and psychologically through the practices involved in the postpartum recovery traditions

These practices below help restore the new mother’s energy and health after childbirth. The confinement period lasts for 40-44 days (6 weeks).

1. Vaginal Steaming

A famous tradition that has been long-forgotten in Malay Postpartum ritual is vaginal steaming, which is the sitting on a stool especially made to allow steaming or heating of herbs boiled/smoked in a pot to flow to the mother’s vaginal area as she sits above it. This heat treatment is traditionally used for routine care of the private parts. The herbs used are beneficial for women who have delivered through vaginal birth. 

2. Heated Point Massage

Another type of heat treatment is a form of point massage using heated objects. Similar to a hot stone massage, the aim of this treatment is to act as a hot compression to help reduce pain and muscle spasm. It also helps to ease and stimulate the healing process of injuries. It’s also quite common to improve bowel movement, a condition most new mothers are well too familiar with!

To prepare the compress, you would use a sphere-shaped river stone, heated up and carefully wrapped with cloth. It can also be wrapped around with daun mengkudu (Morinda citrifolia) or daun sirih (Piper betel) inside the cloth for aromatherapy purposes.

3. Herbal Compress Massage

There is also a modern version of this hot stone, which is an herbal compress. The compress is usually done on the limbs, shoulder, neck region, abdomen and chest after the first week of a post-delivery.The general idea for this confinement period is for the mother to have support and care while she recuperates after her delivery. Aside from the help she receives from her family, the combination of herbs, heat, touch through massage provides the mother a holistic recovery journey after her labour.

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