The Malay confinement period, like its Chinese compatriot, is an arduously long process of over a month (44 days) and full of taboos or pantangs that one is not to disobey. There are some similarities to Chinese confinement, such as only drinking warm drinks and wearing long-sleeved clothes and trousers, while others are rooted in Malay superstitions such as tying a black thread around the toe to prevent bad luck.
However, the most well-known aspect of Malay confinement is the postnatal wrap or bengkung and massage. The postnatal wrap and massage, combined with traditional herbs, is believed to help the uterus recover and for women to lose pregnancy weight quickly and regain their figures. It is so famous that many non-Malay women in Singapore follow the practice as well.
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What is the bengkung and massage?
The postnatal wrap is known as the bengkung. Traditionally, it is a long strip of cloth up to 15 metres long that is tightly wrapped around the belly from above the pelvis to just below the bust. Other variations of the bengkung include a wrap that is tied together with cloth strips on either side, and a corset with intercrossing straps.
Applying the bengkung is typically carried out by a nenek (elderly lady) who is rich in knowledge about pantang, much like a confinement lady. She would be experienced in what medicinal herbs and oils to put on the bengkung. She would also guide you on consuming jamu, applying the hot compresses, taking herbal baths and would also give you the post-natal massage.
If you don’t wish to hire a lady to do the bengkung and massage for you, what should you do? First of all, it’s easy to buy a bengkung. These used to be handsewn, but now are commercially made and available from traditional Malay health stores or from online shops. Ask to try on the different types so you know which suits you best.
Next, if you don’t want to bother with the herbs and spices, you can buy a bengkung cream to apply onto the wrap before putting it on. Similarly you can buy herbal packets to put in your bath or the hot compresses.
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The postnatal massage is the hardest part to do yourself at home as it involves many techniques like thumb pressure, kneading and rolling. A traditional masseur will also utilise jamu herbs and oils, which will be complicated for a beginner. If you want the full experience, you may need to hire a masseuse or visit a reputable Malay massage spa.
If you still want to do it yourself, just gently massaging your body with long strokes will give you some benefits like better blood circulation and help you relax. Maybe that’s good enough!
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