As a foreigner undergoing Chinese postpartum confinement (zuo yuezi), I was less bound by tradition than, say, a Taiwanese woman being cared for by her mother-in-law. And one of the traditions I decided to ditch without really investigating beforehand was the practice of being bound up in a tight, muslin wrap.
To be honest, my decision not to do this tradition was not especially well-informed. I thought it was some kind of superficial appearance thing, a vain effort to try to flatten your post-birth stomach as soon as possible. I also didn’t really know where I could buy one of these muslin wraps, or indeed how to wrap myself into one. And I wondered whether it was in fact dangerous to wrap up your stomach tightly after birth.
I have since learnt that there are some sound reasons for doing it according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). My good friend and TCM practitioner, Claire Shen, told me that the Mummy Wrap is important for helping ensure good posture alignment post birth. Some women can experience pelvic or hip pain — sometimes a serious condition called Pregnancy Related Pelvic Girdle Pain or even uncomfortable symphysis pubic dysfunction.
The reason seems to be that your pelvic bones become more stretchy before and during childbirth; otherwise it would not be possible for the baby to squeeze out. But sometimes the bones don’t realign very well, or the key hormone that makes the bones softer (relaxin) is a bit over effective. All that reaching down and picking up heavy babies, carrying them around while burping etc, probably doesn’t help much, either.
During my recent site visit to Windmill to understand their zuo yuezi food delivery system, their trainer, Tina, also took time to demonstrate how to properly tie the Mummy Wrap. Windmill sells muslin zuo yuezi wraps, and its female meal delivery drivers take the time to tie the wraps on for their clients each day. I hadn’t really realised that they provided so much more than just a drop off meal service!
Tina said that the Mummy Wrap is especially important during the second and third weeks after birth. At this time, a woman’s kidney energy is naturally weaker (and in TCM, the kidney and the hips are linked). In addition to eating certain foods to strength the hips/pelvis — principally kidneys — the Mummy Wrap can be useful in providing additional support.
How to tie the Mummy Wrap
The first step is to remove underwear. This is a crucial part because once on, the wrap is difficult to remove and replace easily and it makes going to the toilet a challenge. They advise women to wear loose-fitting trousers over the Mummy Wrap once it is on.
Next, the woman should lay down on a flat surface such as a bed. With her head flat, she should lift up her bottom and keep it upright during the Mummy Wrap tying. And while doing this, squeeze in the buttocks and the stomach. This important not just for tying the wrap properly, but it is also an important postpartum exercise that helps to strengthen the pelvic floor.
Now the wrapping begins. Start at the upper thigh area and work upwards to the stomach. Like applying a bandage, you wrap it from one end, wrapping around securely.
Wrap around the thighs, and after you have wrapped one and a half times, twist the bandage over firmly at the side. This will help ensure the bandage is firm.
Make sure the muslin is wrapped very firmly, and that you your stomach is sucked in tight (but not to the point of discomfort).
Keep wrapping, and repeat the twist after another one and a half wraps.
After wrapping around the thighs several times, gradually move up to the stomach area. Twist in the middle of the stomach to ensure it is firm. Tuck the end of the wrap under the wrapping, and voila you are finished.
Many thanks to our model for volunteering. We were all in awe of her flat stomach. And yes, she is a mother herself (although she is not currently going through zuo yuezi … regaining your figure is not that quick).
The muslin wrap can be worn throughout the day, including when napping. But Windmill recommends removing it before sleeping at night. To view a video of how to put on the wrap (腹帶教學) prepared by Windmill, see their youtube clip here: 腹帶教學 — tying the Mummy wrap