Pregnancy and Postnatal Traditions in Malaysia

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Every mother’s pregnancy journey is unique. And in a country where the population consists of a wide variety of different races and cultures, such as Malaysia, the differences in experiences can be immense.

makchic had the wonderful opportunity of speaking to several Malaysian mothers (Indian mama, Kasturi Katherine Devaraj, Malay mama, Ayuni Ayatillah, Iban mama, Danie Jabu and Chinese mama, Cindy Paw) about their unique pregnancy and postnatal experiences, to understand the different customs and traditions of several cultures here in Malaysia. 

Kasturi Katherine Devaraj

Family can play an important role when it comes to following traditions and culture, so we first started out by asking the mothers:

How involved or present would you say your family was during your pregnancy?

Source: Ashwini Chaudhary(Monty) on Unsplash

Danie: “Coming from an Iban family background, I observed some of the Iban culture’s do’s and don’ts rather strictly. My mother was very supportive, and having an elder sister who had just gone through her pregnancy 14 months before mine, I was very lucky to have her guide me personally each step of the way. Indeed, as much as possible, I observed all the traditional practices, from food to pantang larangs [do’s and don’ts], and ensured that I adhere to the advice of my mother and the elderlies. Exotic wild meat and raw food was forbidden, sashimi and salad included.”

Kasturi: “My mother was involved, but only a couple months before the due date.

Ayuni: “I think my experience for all three of my children [was that] generally, only my husband was involved. My parents were present as a support system. Whenever I needed them, I would ask for help, and I would go to my mum if I needed advice related to pregnancy. Usually [however], I would find things out on my own. And as for my siblings and extended family, they did not play an active role.

Were there any foods you consumed more [or less] of? If so, what were they, and what were some of the beliefs surrounding their consumption?  

Cindy explained that her practices during her pregnancy were “not too traditional, but not too modern”. She followed the process of Chinese confinement -where mothers are encouraged to stay indoors while undergoing traditional postnatal practices, designed to help them recover from their pregnancy and labour.

Cindy was advised to drink a herbal ginger soup four times every single day, and to avoid eating watermelon, crab, raw foods, or alcohol. Aside from avoiding certain foods, she was also encouraged not to wash her hair for her entire confinement period, and to even limit time in front of the television. “I very much do believe in it,” Cindy tells us, explaining that the confinement period was to mainly try and restore balance in the mother’s body. 

Kasturi tells us that she too, followed post-birth confinement – but to an extent. “I can’t remember if there were any foods I avoided, but after giving birth, I ate more traditional Indian home-cooked foods. I knew the foods that I did eat helped heal the body faster, [helped me] gain back strength, and increase the immune system.

Ayuni: “I made healthier choices and increased my intake of protein, fruits, veggies and fibre, but still succumbed to sugar cravings. I was more consistent with supplements. I knew that I needed enough nutrition for two people, so I always kept that in mind. Hence, the double-up in nutrition.

Danie: “From the Iban cultural perspective, there were no special food or drink in particular. However, I developed an extra liking for spicy Thai food, while pregnant with my eldest. For my second child, I consumed so much beef, especially beef burger patties. There was nothing auspicious in particular when I craved and chose to consume these foods. It was simply a preference by my taste buds at that point of time.

Nevertheless, having Chinese in-laws, I was encouraged to eat more tofu, soya or anything smooth and silky.Danie explains that it was believed that so her off-springs will inherit ‘fine and silky skin’. She adds, “Separately, consuming more young papaya in soup form is supposed to regulate better milk flow.

What were some of the self-care acts/acts for your baby that you had practiced?

Ayuni:I consumed raspberry leaf tea during the third trimester. More walks, lovemaking, gentle exercises, stretching. A lot of breathing exercises (I learned hypnobirthing). I journaled about my pregnancy. A lot of reading the Quran, bringing myself closer to God, and lots of prayers. I read Surah Maryam a lot (this particular surah is recommended for pregnancy and labour). Sometimes I would talk to the baby too, and also went for pregnancy massages. These were all to prepare me mentally, physically, and spiritually. It also helped distract me from the discomfort and pain throughout pregnancy.

Cindy: “I would take walks in the evening, but swam more, listened to relaxing music, read books, watched happy shows [and] tried to keep myself positive and happy.”

Danie: “Wrapping up the baby’s tummy in a lampin [nursing cloth] after the remnants of the umbilical chord sheds off. This is to flatten the baby’s belly, so it remains firm and in shape.

Kasturi: “I just followed whatever my mother told me to. Just taking care of my body, cleaning my wound after my C-section. I had to eat ‘healing’ foods, drink ginseng tea, because my body went through a lot, it had to heal, to return back to normal. And five days after my son was born, my C-section wound opened up, so I had to go on a stronger antibiotic. 

What were some of the things your parents did [or got] for you during your pregnancy?

Kasturi tells us that her son’s grandparents helped to buy baby clothes and other baby essentials, and as for Ayuni, “Food maybe – nothing specific that they bought themselves, unless I had asked for it.

Danie: “The mummy bolster pillow!

Cindy: “My parents helped take care of me during confinement. My mum would go out and buy fresh fish to cook, and all the fresh herbs for all the soups and teas. However, I did get my own confinement lady to help me out as well.

Can you share any other traditional practices you did, or heard of, that are believed in within your culture?

Source: Isi Parente on Unsplash

Kasturi: “The thirty-day confinement. One would have to bathe at a certain time, washing hair is limited [and] food is strict as well. Some of my family members practiced this after they had given birth. In some families, family and friends are actually not allowed to see the baby for about one month too, and some hire ladies to bathe the baby and mother separately. Some also practice getting massages for women who have just given birth, some shower with a certain type of flower, and it is believed to be good to wear socks and loose-fitting clothes.

Ayuni: “Pregnant mums are not allowed to eat ‘sharp’ foods, like pineapple. They are not supposed to say bad things about something for fear of absorbing the energy, or accidentally being “cursed” by the thing. It’s good to admire things that you want for your baby too, like if you want blue eyes, you can really express your adoration towards babies with blue eyes or Mat Salleh with red hair. So you “invite” the feature to your baby!

There is also this tradition called lenggang perut that is never practiced in my family. I’m not sure about the details, but I think it is used to tell the gender of the baby. During labour or the end of pregnancy, mothers are encouraged to drink air akar Fatimah – but recently there were doctors warning against the consumption, due to increased risk of excessive contraction or something. There’s also air selusuh, which is a bottle of water to drink, prepared ideally by the husband, where he reads up prayers and words from the Quran to help make labour easier.

Danie: “Drinking warm water was encouraged, keeping the body physically fit with regular walks or light exercise, and there are also practices of confinement. The confinement period was interesting; I completed 40 days like a breeze. The food was amazing (e.g. kacang ma). The least appetising was the tumeric juice. I also practised urut diligently in order to remove the angin, or bloatedness.

Cindy: “There’s not much actually, but confinement is a big one. There are good things in cultural practices. During my pregnancy, I couldn’t walk up the stairs, or do this or do that, and after giving birth, your body is very weak -that is why there is confinement, to re-nourish your body.

Thank you, mamas for sharing your perspectives and for shedding some light on some of the interesting cultural traditions we have here in Malaysia!

By Audrey Lee

From our team of purposeful, multi-faceted mummies. For editorial or general enquiries, email to us at hello@makchic.com.