TCM Herbs for Mums-to-be

Find out which TCM supplements you can eat without fear if you need help coping with pregnancy issues like fatigue.

From carpal tunnel syndrome and morning sickness to heartburn and various aches and pains — the pains mums-to-be sometimes deal can take the fun and joy out of their pregnancy experience.

Besides taking medication or getting physiotherapy, can consuming Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) help you in stay pink of health during your pregnancy? Do note that when you take TCM herbs without proper supervision, you may have to have to deal with side effects. So, always make sure you seek a trained TCM physician’s advice.

Good news! You’re fine if you take double-boiled soups containing herbs like bak kut teh (肉骨茶) or watercress soup not more than twice a week. Notes Gee Swee Sien, Thomson Chinese Medicine’s TCM physician, “Even if hawker centre foods or those from food courts contain Chinese herbs, their effects will not be overly concentrated, as compared to a TCM prescription.”

“Even if hawker centre or those from food courts contain Chinese herbs, their effects will not be overly concentrated, as compared to a TCM prescription.”

Gee lists the medicinal properties of common TCM herbs pregnant women take:

1. Gingko nuts (银杏/白果)

USES Often added to Chinese desserts, gingko nuts are rich in antioxidants, so this is a power food to guard against chronic and serious health conditions like cancer. Gee states that in TCM, these nuts can relieve cough, as well as prevent frequent urination and a build-up of excessive cervical mucus.

SAFE? It is safe for everyone — including pregnant women — when you only consume five to eight nuts. Gee cautions, “However, when consumed in large quantities — more than 40 to 50 nuts — this will result in nausea and diarrhoea.”

2. Bird’s Nest (燕窝)

USES Gee says that this expensive tonic ― made from the saliva of a male swiftlet ― can boost an individual’s overall immunity. “It also contains phosphorus and calcium, which are essential during the fifth to seventh month of pregnancy, when the foetus is developing very quickly.”

SAFE? Safe when consumed in moderation.

3. Ginseng (人参)

USES This herb lowers your blood sugar levels and prevents issues like gestational diabetes. The herb, which can also boost your body’s endurance and stamina, is also used to treat high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. In TCM, the herb is said to enhance one’s qi — or “life-force” — to improve their energy and alertness. Gee points out that ginseng can be help pregnant women who often feel lethargic and short of breath.

SAFE? Safe ― consume just once or twice a week.

4. Fu Ling (茯苓)

USES Relieves water retention — or oedema — and improves one’s digestive system. The herb helps if your appetite is poor or you’re suffering from water retention in the legs.

SAFE? Safe. Simply add 10g to 15g of fu ling in soup or porridge and consume once or twice a week, Gee suggests.

5. Xu Duan (续断)

USES Commonly used to regulate liver and kidney function, it can also help to calm the foetus and it is often used with du zhong (杜仲) for better results.  Gee adds that it’s especially suitable if you get backaches routinely as well as weakness in your lower limbs.

SAFE? Safe when taken as directed by a physician.

“From a TCM point of view, a good digestive system also relieves tiredness and water retention.”

6. Chinese Angelica Root or Dang Gui (当归)

USES TCM physicians often prescribe it to regulate one’s menstruation as it can nourish the blood (补血) as well as stimulate the flow (活血).

SAFE? Avoid consuming this root when you are in the early stages of your pregnancy, Gee cautions. “Since the body constitution of each individual is different, consult your TCM physician if you wish to take dang gui during the advanced stages of your pregnancy.”

Other TCM treatments to consider

If you can’t stomach TCM herbs, give TCM procedures like acupuncture a try ― it’s safe as long as a qualified and trained physician does them, Gee notes.

Acupuncture has been known to boost the health and well-being of a mum-to-be and her growing baby by:

* Improving the blood circulation, energy flow and overall vitality.

* Enhancing the digestive processes and system, which ensures both mum-to-be and baby are getting the necessary nutrition. Gee explains, “From a TCM point of view, a good digestive system also relieves tiredness and water retention.

* Regulating your kidney functions. In TCM, the kidney is thought to govern your body’s ability to grow and reproduce. Gee notes, “A strong and vibrant kidney is vital for a baby’s healthy and joyful growth.”

Credits: Lee Yang Yi

How to get the right confinement nanny

A good confinement nanny can ease your early days with baby — or cause you more stress. We help you choose the right help…

1. Where can I find a confinement lady? 

Confinement nanny agencies can match your family with the right nanny and help find a replacement quickly should yours fall ill. However, you can ask for personal recommendations too from your friends, colleagues and relatives.

Always sign a contract to include full services, charges, breach of contract and responsibility for any accident. You should always request for official receipts for any official payment made. Before picking a confinement lady, ask for her profile and where possible, ask her about child care and confinement to ensure her idea about her duties match yours.

Our advise is that  “If you are selecting a nanny from an agency, list down your expectations so the agency can best match you with a nanny who suits your need and who will be to your liking.”

There are a number of confinement nanny agencies available just by doing a Google Search these days.

2.What will the confinement lady do?

An experienced confinement agency manager recommended that “Couples should look for a confinement lady who is experienced, possesses a good attitude and can maintain a high level of hygiene. Well experienced nannies have at least eight assignments a year. Nannies with good attitude can take instructions well as different mummies have different level of expectations and communicate differently. Nannies should also be able to cook delicious confinement food as this period is critical for mummies to build up strong health and immunity.”

Usual duties include:

  • Bathing, feeding and caring for the baby
  • Cooking special confinement dishes such as traditional chicken soup for the new mum
  • Housework

Once your breastfeeding routine is established, you can express breastmilk so the confinement nanny can help with night feeds. But, if you prefer to do night feeds personally to bond with baby, let your confinement nanny know in advance. Most confinement nannies also have a repertoire of dishes and recipes that they cook for new mums. Get to know what dishes she can cook and her signature ones. Different dialect groups have their own signature confinement dishes so if you prefer to stick to traditional dishes from your dialect group, it might be wise to choose a confinement nanny who excels in these dishes. If there are certain food you are allergic to, also inform your nanny beforehand.

3. How do I transition her into the household?

Living with a stranger is never easy but there are things you can do to help her adjust to your household:

  • Most confinement nannies are not educated and hence won’t be able to understand English. Communicate with her in dialect or Chinese as much as you can. If possible, subscribe to Chinese newspapers and let her have time to watch some Chinese TV shows. This will help her feel less isolated.
  • While most confinement nannies will eat the food that she cooks for you, you could also consider giving her space to cook her own meals.
  • Give your confinement nanny time to call home. You can provide her with a pre-paid phone card.

    4. How to pay the confinement nanny?

  • The deposit (usually a fifth or a quarter of her full fee) as you need to “reserve” her while you are still pregnant. The more experienced and in-demand the confinement nanny, the earlier you have to book her (many women do so in their first trimester).
  • The fee which you will pay once the confinement period is up. It can vary depending on your area. Fees are highest during the Lunar New Year.
  • The ang pow is supposed to be a token sum given at the end of the month as a gesture of appreciation. This is usually left to your own discretion.

Do note that the Ministry of Manpower requires anyone who wants to hire a foreign live-in confinement nanny to apply for a work permit and pay a levy.


Confinement Nanny Secret Recipes

Thanks to Confinement Nanny Wat Lew for sharing this amazing tea! This is a traditional confinement drink called – Rice Tea. It is usually made for mommies who have a “heaty” body constitution in replacement of the Red Date Tea. Or suitable for breastfeeding mommies whose babies have very high jaundice.


Wash and dry the uncooked rice and put into the frying wok. Stir-fried it till light golden, put in some orange peel (陈皮) and ginger. When cooled, store into a tight container. Add hot water when you’re ready to drink!

Confinement Herbal Bath

Nowadays, most Chinese Herbal Bath comes conveniently pre-packed in 30 sachets. If you are thinking of doing your own confinement bath, here is what you need to prepare:

Ingredients : Artemesia argyi (艾叶)  30g  Eucommia ulmooides (杜仲) 20g Ledebouriella divaricata (防风) 20g  Perilla frutescens (紫苏叶) 20g

Function is to improve blood circulation in new mothers

  1. Put the first 3 herbs in a muslin bag and seal
  2. Then put the herbs in a water kettle and bring to boil
  3. After boiling, discard the herbs and pour the water into the bath tub. Add same amount of hot water to fill the tub.
  4. If bathtub is not available, just put in a pail to bath or to wipe your body.

However, please note this prescription is NOT suitable for mothers with fever after labor.

Another grandma’s recipe for post-natal confinement dish is the infamous Pig Trotters in Black Vinegar 

Ingredients :

  • 1 pair of pig trotters
  • 1kg of matured ginger (bentong giner who is the spiciest ginger of them all, a must for confinement cooking)
  • 6 tablespoon of seasme seed oil
  • 4 cups of black vinegar
  • 600g of brown sugar
  • 4 hard boiled eggs
  • 9 cups of water

If you’re a vegetarian, simply just replace pig trotters with (mock meat, mushroom, black fungus and black beans) which tasted heavenly and equally nourishing as well – minus the guilt! 

Our confinement ladies highly recommended cooking with doggie brand sweet vinegar for its sweet taste and Zhe jiang vinegar for its sour taste.



  1. Clean pork trotters and chop into big cubes
  2. Heat the sesame oil, add in sliced ginger and fry till golden brown
  3. Place the fried ginger in a big clay pot and stir in vinegar, sugar and water
  4. Bring to boil and leave to simmer for about half an hour
  5. Add the pig’s trotters and continue to simmer until the meat is tender.
  6. Add the egg about 30 minutes before serving
  7. Best served when warm.
For vegetarian cooking


  1. Put mock meat, mushroom, black fungus in slices
  2. Heat the sesame oil, add in sliced ginger and fry till golden brown
  3. Place the fried ginger in a big clay pot and stir in vinegar, sugar and water
  4. Bring to boil (black beans) and leave to simmer for about 45 minutes till soft
  5. Add the mock meat, mushroom, black fungus  and continue to simmer until the ingredents are tender.
  6. Add the egg about 30 minutes before serving
  7. Best served when warm.

Common ingredients used in TCM soup 

  1. Chinese ginseng 

Benefits (a) Restores strength and energy level after childbirth by improving blood circulation

(b) Revitalizes and aids the recovery process after serious illnesses or major operations by boosting the body’s immunity

(c) Promotes digestion and improves appetite for the mother to produce adequate milk for the newborn.

DO not use when pregnant, and do not use together with high doses of caffeine or other stimulants.

2. Dang gui 

(a) Commonly used herb in treating many kinds of gynecological problems such as irregular menstruation, painful menses and infertility.

(b) Efficient in treating anemic conditions

(c) Commonly used to relieve pain due to blood stagnation

(d) Important herb for postpatrum period as it aims to increase blood production as well as revive a weakened blood circulation

Note: Please consult a licensed TCM physician before taking any TCM herbs as some herbs may induce uterine contractions.

Confinement period is a time to rest and relax, eat all the good food and build up your immunity.

Credits: Winnie