Baby Care

Who are japa maids and how do they help a newborn, and the mother post-delivery?

For Kanika Khurana, a teacher living in New Delhi, who couldn’t resume work post having her second child, it became necessary to hire a full-time caretaker, also called a japa maid, for looking after her newborn and herself in January 2021. “I reside in a nuclear household. Back then, Covid was spreading, so I had to be more cautious. So keeping just one good, mature assistant was preferable to keeping two-three for various tasks. She used to perform nearly all nursing duties and was very gentle, and soft-spoken. She taught me a lot about taking care of babies. My overall experience was positive,” recalled Khurana who is in her 30s.

On the recommendation of an agency, Bhawna Kapoor Bajpai, a publicist hired a japa when her daughter was born in 2017 until 2020. “She was a middle-aged woman named Kiran. I preferred her because my mother-in-law was always in favour of hiring a skilled woman. Kiran handled the newborn with skill, assisted with my massages, baby massages, bathing, and other tasks, etc,” expressed Bajpai.

In comparison to house helps, these japa maids are touted to be skilled women sought after by families to help with the newborn child’s massages, diaper changes, feeds, burping, and even entertain them as the mother catches some reprieve considering the initial one month after delivery is immensely laborious for the mother and requires intensive care for the newborn.

A japa or jhapa specialises in looking after the baby via traditional methods, shared Vipin Prajapti, One Junction Services, Indore, Madhya Pradesh who has been running such a service since 2009. “They do not hold a certification or diploma, but they are highly experienced maids in traditional ways to assist in feeding the baby, showering it, massaging, washing the baby’s clothes, keeping the baby safe, and even looking after the mother throughout the initial period,” explained Prajapati.

Here’s what to understand when caring about a newborn (Source: Pexels)

Seema Singh, 25, currently in Ahmedabad as a japa with a family, has been in the field for the past 10 years which means she joined as young as a 15-year-old. “I used to initially work as a maid with a family. When their children were born, I took care of the babies, and even the maalkin (owner of the house) helped me with a few tips. When they left to live abroad, I joined an agency to learn the skills to become a japa,” said Seema, whose grandmother still practices as a japa.

They not only do the routine neonatal chores but if they notice any peculiar changes, or feel the child is not responding as he/she should, they immediately suggest parents to seek a doctor’s advice, mentioned Seema citing incidents like when a baby is extremely cranky or refuses to have the feed, or is struggling to pass gas.

Jaya Pawar, founder of Pune-based Taare Zameen Par Japa maid services said that to help contain the lack of unprofessional services and build in a hierarchy which exists in the IT company set up, she began with proper verification, education, and training of japas in 2011. “The pandemic saw the need for japas increasing manifold as households feel handicapped without help,” said Pawar, who provides japas for day care (6, 8, 10, 12 hours), just night care, or full-time (24*7 care).

So, how do these japas build trust when they enter a new family? Seema expressed, “I feel anxious for the initial two-three days when I enter a new place with a new family. But the work remains the same. So, there is nothing to worry about. Once they see that we are genuine, trust tends to build up, and it is better when a routine sets in.”

Forty-five-year-old Sudha Devi who worked as a japa for more than 15 years has had a mixed bag in her career in Kolkata. “Some parents are extremely cordial, while others overthink and are scared for their baby. While it is natural to be concerned as a parent, sometimes, you need to trust someone who has seen more babies than a first-time mother,” said Sudha, who doesn’t work now.

However, plenty of problems plague the sector as it remains “unorganised” in the country. There are times when an unskilled person ends up in a household and then they tend to have bad experiences like Bajpai had when the agency she had contacted had sent a girl who was underage and did not have much experience. “She was only 14 or 15 years old. She wanted to return to her hometown after the third or fourth day. We then called the company and requested a replacement. In the next two days, they sent a new one,” recollected Bajpai, who also felt that the new one was a little slow “and I had to constantly remind her to do this and that”.

This is why Pawar only hires people who are 35+ and have a certain number of years of experience. “Not every young girl can do this service. Babies are delicate and so is their care and handling. I only hire experienced japas without fail,” said Pawar, who says japas are most hired by the upper middle-class community with the basic pay of “more than that of a graduate” (Rs 25,000).

When considering the community sentiments, agencies like that of Prajapti’s have to be extremely careful of choosing and deciding to send japas who come from the same community in order to make the family “feel more comfortable and not hurt their religious and spiritual sentiments”. “An Aggarwal would only prefer a Jain japa, similarly, Punjabis tend to prefer someone who can understand their culture, and so on,” said Prajapati.

Then, there are times when the japas themselves tend to seek work outside as they make enough contacts, shared Prajapati. “There are definitely issues in the field but considering that in today’s times where there are nuclear families with no relatives or in-laws to take care of the mother and baby, a genuine japa is a blessing in disguise,” said Prajapati.

This also led Pawar to educate clients about the needs of japas including understanding their perspective. “It became important to hold discussions with any new client to make it more transparent as it is one of the most underrated services that is still finding its footing,” Pawar said.

What to consider when hiring a japa?

You can engage a Japa but don’t become dependent on her, advised Dr Shobha Gupta, medical director, and IVF specialist at Mother’s Lap IVF Centre in New Delhi and Vrindavan. “A few things you should absolutely take into account include their level of training, the fact that you shouldn’t listen to everything they say, and the fact that a lot depends on your medical history—for example, if you had a caesarean delivery, you should avoid getting a massage without first talking to your gynaecologist. Inquire about baby massages first with the neonatal nurse, and first talk to your nutritionist about your diet and dietary choices,” said Dr Gupta.

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