Baby Care

Why these mums have a month-long ‘holiday’ after they give birth

Watch The Best Place To Have A Baby? Tuesday 27 June, 9.30pm on SBS or stream via
When I had my first baby, I felt a whole lot of different things — joy, pain, confusion, and trauma. Childbirth took a really heavy toll on my body, but my main focus was on the baby’s wellbeing and not my own.
As a mother of two, I know that the first month of having a newborn is no holiday. But what if I told you that it could be like a vacation?
The Chinese tradition of postpartum confinement, known as zuo yue zi or ‘sitting the month’, is a time for new mothers to recover after childbirth.
Traditionally, a mother or mother-in-law would be housebound with the new mum for 30 to 40 days to help care for the baby and let her rest. The rules for new mothers are strict in order to prevent them from getting cold and ill. No going outside. No showers or washing hair. Keeping feet warm. Drinking a lot of ginseng tea and eating special dishes.

In Taiwan, this ancient practice has been given a modern and luxurious spin. For a price, high-end post-birth facilities offer to take the stress out of the first month by pampering new parents while their baby is in the caring hands of professionals.

SBS World News presenter and journalist Janice Petersen with her firstborn daughter Odessa in 2010. Source: Supplied / Janice Petersen

Putting mum’s needs first

In the Taiwanese capital Taipei, I meet Los Angeles-based influencers Michael and Maxine Yeh, who have come to have their baby and the confinement period at an upmarket maternity centre, Gemcare. It is one of 193 confinement centres registered in Taiwan.
Gemcare appears equal parts a medical clinic and a five-star hotel.
Here, new parents have an ‘army’ of staff at their disposal — doctors, nutritionists, physiotherapists, and counsellors — to help them restore their physical and mental health and learn how to look after the baby.
“I’m going to stick with this kid for the rest of my life, so I think just for this month, I need to recover and relax,” Maxine says.
Michael adds, “It’s like going on a vacation before entering the real world, now that we have a baby. But why not, being a mother is tough.”

The city views from Michael and Maxine’s suite come with a hefty price tag: about $13,000 for their month-long stay. That’s about five times the average monthly income in Taiwan.

Three nurses wearing medical masks and hair caps are holding newborn babies in a nursery room

At the Gemcare nursery, cameras are installed over each infant’s crib and live stream to designated TV channels so that parents can watch their babies from the comfort of their rooms. Credit: SBS Dateline

One room that catches my eye is the nursery. It’s like a high-tech goldfish bowl. Nurses tap away at computers and CCTV cameras keep a bird’s eye view of the babies.

Those pictures are beamed to each infant’s designated TV channel so parents can watch from the comfort of their rooms.
In the nursery, nurses spring into action at the slightest stir.
I stare in wonderment through the glass. I struggled to get my own babies to sleep or settle but these professional baby whispers are keeping half a dozen tots in dreamland simultaneously.
Occasionally parents peek through the glass to check on their newborn. Then, they’re gone.

“The best part is if you want your time alone, you can just have them take care of your baby. So sometimes if you can’t handle it, you can just make a call and they will step in and help you,” says Maxine.

A young couple are bending over a baby in a hospital crib with a nurse standing next to it

Michael and Maxine Yeh are looking at their baby son Myron before he’s taken to the nursery where he’s cared for while they enjoy their free time. Credit: SBS Dateline

Back in their suites, they can feast on meals cooked by professional chefs. Staff member ‘Sharon’ says the menu is designed to help restore the body.

With baby Myron in the nursery, dad Michael announces it’s time to chill. With a click of the TV remote, Michael checks on his baby via CCTV then changes the channel over to his other great love, US basketball.
Maxine, meanwhile, ponders the services on offer. She can choose to do yoga or visit the in-house day spa. Mental health services are also part of the deal.
The resident psychologist says his informal chats help women open up about how they’re coping.
“I let them know if there is a chance that they might trigger postpartum depression. We don’t stigmatise. You do not have to wait until it becomes serious before seeking help,” he says.

I remember having brief but informative home visits by a midwife soon after giving birth. There were practical tips on breastfeeding and swaddling but no deep dives into post-natal depression symptoms.

Maxine says the sessions have been rewarding, especially since she didn’t have much time with Myron on the day of his birth and now in his first month is spending most of her time away from him.
But she says it had no impact on bonding or breastfeeding. In fact, she’s trying to suppress her abundant milk flow.
“The nurses gave me special meals so that I won’t produce that much milk,” she says.
“I still feel very connected and bonded with my baby. If you want, you can just call the nurse and have the baby for the whole day. It’s really about putting your needs first.”
Soon, it’s time for bed. Michael says, “Good night, Myron” to his baby son’s image on the TV and switches it off.

It’s lights out for the Yehs and they’re left to enjoy the rare and enviable gift of sleep.

Doing the confinement the traditional way

But there are couples who prefer the comfort of home to day spa facilities and trained chefs. I wonder if parents doing traditional confinement get to indulge quite as much.
Two hours out of Taipei, I visit Fanny and Ren Fu, who have just welcomed their first son, Eagle. There are baby bottles and swaddles around the living room. Pots bubble away on the kitchen stove. The new parents are doing home confinement with the help of Fanny’s family.

Fanny’s mum and dad dart in and out of the kitchen. Other relatives pop in to visit, and baby Eagle gets passed around, unfazed by the blur of activity.

A group of men and women are sitting around a dinner table filled with plates and pots of food and eating with chopsticks. An older woman is holding a baby.

Janice Petersen joins a family dinner with Fanny and Ren Fu. Also at the table are Fanny’s parents and Fanny’s sister with her husband and daughter. They are having traditional meals served to women who’ve just given birth during the confinement period. Credit: SBS Dateline

The village is in full swing, raising a child.

“I’m more comfortable and relaxed at home.  Apart from the physical restoration, I feel happier with my family around me,” Fanny says.
Ren Fu takes tremendous pride in caring for his son while Fanny is recuperating. He talks me through his stash of Chinese medicine and shows me Sheng Hua soup, a traditional herbal soup for women who’ve just given birth, that he’s whipped up for his wife.

He says home confinement offers benefits money can’t buy,

A man in a dark-blue polo shirt is holding and bottle-feeding a baby while a woman in the background is looking at her phone

Ren Fu has become the main caregiver for baby Eagle while his wife Fanny is resting and recovering after childbirth during the traditional confinement period. Credit: SBS Dateline

“Baby care is a sweet burden. I would rather start bonding with the baby from day one,” he says. “He’s just learning to be a human being. All we parents can give him is love and time.”

When I had my first baby, I searched for the magic passcode for ‘mother’s intuition’ trying to figure it out on the fly. But having seen the confinement in action, I wonder if it’s time to reconsider our Western approach.

Having time to recover from the pain and trauma of childbirth makes a lot of sense. From what I’ve seen, the rules of traditional confinement are ever-changing but the focus on mother and baby’s health is an evergreen bounty rewarding generations.

Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button