This hilarious confinement practice illustrates how connected our world has become.
What is confinement you ask?
Practiced by many Asian cultures, the 40 day confinement period for postpartum or new mums is becoming better known, with a recent national radio program highlighting Pakistani and other beliefs. Whether Chilean or Chinese, confinement practices generally focus on 3 things –
- Special food to eat or avoid for the health or mum and baby
- Rest for mother
- Rituals to bless the baby or to help the new mum regain her shape.
What’s the Guinness bath?
Particularly in the 1950s, Chinese mums in Singapore and Malaysia began to bath their newborn in Guinness Stout, yes, that Irish caramel-tinged brew. I’m not joking, the practice even merited a short story in the 1957 Singapore Straits Times. The paper quoted Mr. Lee Siow Mong, an expert on Chinese customs (but really he was more known for his expertise on jade).
My own mum believed that babies would absorb the “strengthening” nutrients of stout and have beautiful skin. And this was an abstinent Methodist family! When No. 1 baby was born in Malaysia, my mum nagged me to do this, and we dunked baby in several bottles of stout mixed with water. Just that one bath and … baby grew up to have the smoothest, problem-free skin. Few pimples, even when he was a teen.
Lest you start sniggering, this is a controlled experiment (more sniggers). No. 2 baby, Faith was born in Australia. Free of my mum’s nagging, I didn’t follow this ritual. Faith oft bemoans that because she missed out on a Guinness bath, she has developed dermatitis. It became our family joke that this ritual should be continued into the next generation.
For a lark, when Felix was about 2 weeks old, I went out and bought a big bottle of the stuff. No, we didn’t gulp it down, the little bairn had a bath in it. It was a quick in and out, with little fan fare. We should have had an orchestra, or at least a trumpet playing to mark the occasion.
How much is the practice carried out today?
Not much I’m afraid. Almost none of my siblings practiced it, and none of my Malaysian Chinese friends would confess to it, although most had heard of the practice. And the next generation? For one, young mums have pushed back! And suspicion has grown that there is no scientific proof of the benefits. “Guinness Stout is good for you” was a marketing slogan in the 1920s that really drove up sales, and this practice could have been a well-targeted marketing strategy. Consumers are a bit more canny these days!
Caught (and conned) between two cultures?
If I had bought Scottish Stout we would be celebrating a blending of the two! I’d say if there are funny family rituals, let’s carry on laughing. This is a funny way to bind family relationships, and there is little downside except for the stout going down the bathwater.
Sweet dreams grandbaby, may you have beautiful skin.