As a doctor, Terry Loong is very attuned to the needs of her own body. So when she gave birth to her first child at the age of 40, she knew she needed time to heal. As a result, she decided not to wash for her first month as a new mom.
Loong lives in London, England, with her business consultant husband Kurt. She herself is an award-winning aesthetic doctor, and through her cosmetic work, Loong tries to help women look and feel their very best.
But when the doctor welcomed her first child Matthew in April 2016, she turned her attention to caring for her baby and herself. Although Loong’s labor had been pretty textbook, she said that the experience had left her feeling like she’d been “hit by a bus.”
In June 2018 Loong told the Daily Mail, “It takes an enormous amount of energy to make, carry and deliver a baby. The sheer exhaustion I felt was a shock to my body.” As a result, the doctor knew that her body needed rest.
With that in mind, Loong decided to give postpartum confinement a try. The practice – which is common in some Asian cultures – involves not leaving the house, showering or welcoming guests for the first month of motherhood.
It is believed postpartum confinement can help mothers and babies to bond. Moreover, it is said to protect the child while its immune system is still weak, while also providing time for new moms to heal after their deliveries.
However, the practice is not without its critics. Some medical professionals warn that postpartum confinement could lead to feelings of isolation for the new mom. She may also find it difficult to cope with caring for her baby without a wider support system to lean on for help.
While the jury was still out on postpartum confinement, Loong had already been exposed to the practice thanks to her Malaysian background. “I remember my mum having a period of confinement when I was little,” she revealed. “I’m the oldest of five so I saw it a lot.”
Consequently, when Loong left the hospital to return home, she did so without showering. She admitted that she was was “covered in sweat” and still had “blood down below.” However, the doctor added, “I didn’t care – it was the most natural thing in the world.”
While Loong admitted that her hair was dirty, and she smelled “of bodily fluids,” she did implement some minor hygiene precautions. Because the new mom had stitches after her birth, she washed her private areas with witch hazel. She also used baking powder on her hair to soak up the grease.
But adopting a minimalist approach to hygiene was only one aspect of Loong’s confinement. She also switched up her diet to include warm foods full of healing. “I stuck to things that were easy to digest, and full of nutrients,” the doctor explained.
During her first month as a mom, Loong spent most of her days inside her home, with the windows shut to protect Matthew from outside infections. In fact, she only ventured out on one occasion when she took her baby for his first walk.
Loong revealed, “I broke the confinement slightly as I went out for around an hour at the two-week mark to the park as it was a sunny day. We walked around the park a little bit and took in the sunshine with a picnic, but we didn’t talk to anyone there.”
Despite becoming a self-confessed “hermit” over the course of her confinement, Loong claimed her baby kept her busy. She added, “My husband was there all the time, as he works from home, and we actually really enjoyed the confinement.”
While most new parents are inundated with visitors after a birth, Loong and her husband only welcomed a handful of relatives. The idea was to keep Matthew safe from germs, especially since the baby was yet to be properly exposed to the outside environment.
After 30 days of confinement, Loong began to transition back to her normal routine, meaning she could finally take a shower. “I almost got used to it by the end, but I could tell I was smelly,” the new mom revealed. “I was committed to completing it though.”
Speaking of her long-awaited bathing session, Loong added, “By the end of it, Kurt joked, ‘Thank god you’re allowed to shower now.’ So much dead skin came away in that first shower – it was almost like I had cocooned myself.”
While the idea of postpartum confinement may sound extreme to some, Loong has become an advocate for the practice since her birth. “I personally feel it helped us bond and become a family without distractions, and I came out of it feeling mentally stronger and ready to start my new life,” she said.
The doctor added that the month not only gave her time with her son, but also the chance to heal. “It is common in Asian culture. Some of my Chinese friends here in London have done it too, but adapted it to what works for them, picking different parts of it,” Loong revealed.
While the doctor admitted that most people didn’t go as far as she had done, she believes the practice made her a better mother. “The biggest thing is that people couldn’t believe I hadn’t showered,” Loong said. “It wasn’t pretty, but it was important. If I had another baby, I would definitely do it again.”