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Confinement as brainwashing?

Just a rapid thought, between nappies and other reproductive tasks :-)

The practice of postpartum (i.e. after the birth) confinement is common in Malaysia, and basically means that after the birth the mother is confined to the home, or a room, and has to eat certain foods, follow certain practices (such as not bathing), and so on. For more information on the Chinese version try: "Zuo Yue", Chinese Postpartum Confinement?, and ‘Doing the month’: Ancient tradition meets modern motherhood.

Anyway, the principle seems fine: the mother is able to rest and recuperate, concentrate on getting breastfeeding going and learning how to deal with the baby. Some traditions may have made sense once upon a time: e.g. no bathing for a month - imagine in a rural setting, water can be dirty, it has to be fetched, and someone suggested to us that it was also a suitable 'contraceptive' to keep the lusty husband at bay!

But others - such as a diet very low on vegetables and fruit, high on meat, ginger (thought to exacerbate jaundice in newborns) and herbs - does not make sense. Especially the no fruit and veg for the first ten days (or something like that).

Also: being confined. Literally sometimes. A friend of a friend had to stay in one room for thirty days! Not allowed out. Now that's a good way to induce postpartum depression if you ask me!

Anyway, back to the title. Being confined to a room for a month is a form of sensory deprivation. Coupled with the high stress of dealing with a newborn, the lack of sleep, and a different diet, it could actually be said to resemble a 'brainwashing' programme. Maybe, that is one function of confinement - a liminal period that realigns the mother as an extension of the child, enforcing her subsidiary role as reproductive organ rather than autonomous individual.

Just a thought...


Ever since I’ve been in Malaysia, I've heard people talking about foods being 'heaty' – e.g. someone will say 'Don't eat [insert type of food here] when you have the flu because it's heaty', or something like that. Recently, I finally discovered what 'heatiness' really is – I was out in the sun for a bit too long one day, and got some sunburn: then, after a few days, I noticed that I kept feeling a bit uncomfortable - overheated, an unpleasant feeling in my stomach, and a bit tired. But even if I turned the aircon on and had a nap, for example, I still felt too much 'internal heat'. Suddenly it dawned on me - I was suffering from 'heatiness'! (Another symptom was an itchy neck. I didn't connect to it at the time, but later someone told me it was typical of heatiness - apparently you can even end up with boils on the neck).

Anyway, so WW got some herbs from the Chinese herbalist - I boiled it all up and drunk a big glass or two every day for a week or so, and felt better.

Some time before that, I had received a free bottle of Cool Rhino which is meant to be a cooling drink (apparently it's rebranded 'Three Legs Cooling Water'). I was curious about the main ingredients Gypsum fibrosum, and 'calcitum', and on what basis they are meant to be 'cooling'.
Cool Rhino cooling drink with Gypsum fibrosum

Gypsum fibrosum, is known as a 'stone drug' - i.e. it is a mineral (it's also used in building!) which has beneficial health properties. Investigation of the use of minerals in medicine was particularly common amongst Taoist alchemists who sought immortality, and knowledge of its use goes as far back as Ge Hong's (281 -341 AD), book Bao Pu Zi's Inner Treatise ("Discovering Chinese Mineral Drugs")
"Raw gypsum (Gypsum Fibrosum) has been shown to have an antipyretic effect, that is, it can be used to reduce fever. However, pure manufactured gypsum does not display this property. This suggests that the antipyretic effect is produced by one or more of the impurities normally associated with gypsum in its raw state (Guo et al, 1958)." ("Discovering Chinese Mineral Drugs")

In its prepared form it is known as Gypsum Fibrosum Preparata or Duan Shi Gao.

I noticed dosages "9-30 grams, up to 90 grams for very high fever", or "10-50 grams"; in the bottle there is 90mg, so I can't imagine there is much chance of overdosing, even if you take 4 times a day as they recommend.

As study on rats shows that it "can accelerate the formation of collagenoblast and micrangium in wounds, and the proliferation of granulation tissues, thus promoting the skin wounds to healing" (Source) (whatever that means :-S)

Calcitum, or Han Shui Shi, is also apparently good for relieving heat. The recommended dosages are also well above the 45mg in each bottle of Cool Rhino ( "9-30 grams" and "3-10 qian" – 1 'qian' is 5 grams). I think 'calcitum' is basically the same as calcium, which is also a mineral.

Basically – it seems that traditional Chinese medicine does support the use of these ingredients for heatiness, but at much higher doses than there is in Cool Rhino. As for me, unfortunately I did not have it at the time I had heatiness, but I had previously got round to testing it one day when I was feeling hot after working in the garden. It was not chilled, but I can’t say I felt any different… My advice is, if you want relief from heatiness – go to a herbalist and chuck down the bitter stuff!

Here are some resources on Chinese medicine
The Essentials of Chinese Medicine
• A detailed explanation of different “Herbs that clear Heat”
• What looks like an authoritative Introduction to Chinese Herbology