Newborn Raeshman Ray Sundran is all fragile limbs and tender flesh, but Devi Siva handles him effortlessly and confidently as she rubs gingelly oil all over his tiny body. She deftly massages him, cooing to him as she crosses his arms and legs. Raeshman is content as Devi soothes him with her warm and sure touches. The massage improves blood circulation and helps baby sleep better. Its best to use homemade coconut oil or gingelly oil that contain no preservatives. Plus, its gentle on babys skin, says Devi, as she gently strokes the bridge of Raeshmans nose, in the belief it will give him a higher nasal bridge. Devis skills are honed from decades of tending to new mothers and their newborns. She specialises in Indian postnatal care, and is known colloquially as a confinement lady as the postnatal period is usually referred to as the confinement period. She is a postpartum helper, also called a doula in some cultures. For a month or so after delivery, women are expected to rest at home to recuperate from the rigours of giving birth. All the ethnic groups in Malaysia believe in the importance of observing the dos and donts of confinement for a womans long-term health benefits. The Malays confinement period is a 44-day pantang (abstinence) when traditional practices such as stomach binding, postnatal massages and drinking jamu (herbal concoctions) are carried out for the mothers well-being. The Chinese call the confinement period, zuo yuezi and practices dating back 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty are still observed. The focus is on the bodys yin and yang energy, and new mothers are fed wholesome food and herbal tonics to warm their body and replenish their strength.
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