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In East Asia, Upscale 30-Day Confinement Centers Cater to New Mothers & Babies

I find this fascinating. In this week’s Time magazine, there’s a story about the increasing popularity of upscale postpartum “confinement” centers in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The idea behind these high-end, pampering centers comes from the ancient practice, zuo yuezi (“sitting the month”). It involves the mother being cared for by a team, or a “village,” of trained attendants for the first 30 days. She doesn’t go out. She is fed a special diet of nourishing, lactation-friendly soups and other warm, healing foods. She learns how to care for a her baby and is given support so she can get some sleep. A doctor makes visits. Less upscale versions of these centers exist in Queens, New York–these mostly cater to recent immigrants who don’t have extended family to help out. The ones that are gaining popularity in the east, however, are downright luxurious:

“Tsai has been sitting the month in style at Baby Moon, a three-year-old confinement center with the feel of a boutique hotel. A pack of staffers in pink cardigans and ponytails wait at the reception desk, ready to lead guests to a cushy lounge. Across the corridor, in 20 rooms that range from $200 to $330 per day, new mothers enjoy nights of uninterrupted sleep. In addition to classes on personal and infant care, there are spa and salon services available. The women are visited biweekly by doctors, have their bellies bound with postnatal girdles and take meals on white-linened food carts. They see their children when the mood strikes and — if they so choose — to breast-feed. For most of the day and night, the babies are attended to by a team of nurses. The center is booked solid for over six months.”

There’s some debate about how the tradition of zuo yuezi is being modernized:

“By and large the women in the market for such accommodation don’t want to burden, or be burdened by, well-meaning relatives. Increasingly, family members live at a distance and, in any case, it seems that sitting the month under the watch of one’s mother-in-law is not always all that reposeful. A convention that emphasizes naps and plenty of pampering following the trauma of labor is appealing, particularly to working women who need to recover fast. But the more rigid “rules” of the confinement period, still often enforced by the older generation, feel outmoded to most young moms — among them, bans on air-conditioning, exercise, crying, showering and washing the hair. In fact, the development of a progressive postpartum industry that welcomes all levels of adherence may have saved the practice from anachronism. If modern mothers weren’t able to sit the month comfortably, with ease and without familial pressure, they might not sit it at all.”

Some thoughts, in no particular order:
* In general, I love the sound of all this support and the importance placed on mom and not just newborn. There are many other traditions reaching back in time and across cultures that include caring for the mother in the first 30 days postpartum… so that she may care for her baby. But being separated from dad for 30 days and nights could put a serious wedge between the two parents in terms of experience and connection as new parents. Of aspects of this ancient tradition, this part feels incompatible with modern ideas of co-parenting. I was happy to read about the slightly less expensive alternative in Taiwan and Hong Kong, of hiring a “stay-at-home confinement lady,” or postpartum doula, to help out for the first four weeks.

*Not bathing is interesting. I may sound gross (and I personally think women at all stages of pregnancy and postpartum should immerse themselves in water as much as they can or care to), but I can see how it makes some sense in terms of the mother-baby bond. Babies and mothers have a very strong connection based in smell. My adaptation of this tradition would be to say, bathe, but don’t use any perfumes or perfumed products for mom or baby.

* No AC might come from the Chinese emphasis on heat for healing. From what little I know about Chinese medicine heat is often preferable to cold. And in general I think that can make a lot of sense. Still, I can see how this one would be hard to put up with if you’re used to a controlled climate.

* No crying (for mom) seems like a very tall order/a bit harsh. Crying can be so important or necessary or just flat-out unavoidable at the end of pregnancy and immediately after birth. Hell, even during birth it can let off some stress. Maybe moms being tended to in this way have less to cry about? But they still have a huge hormonal shifts to contend with.

Still, I find this stuff completely fascinating; maybe because in my culture (early 21st century America), so little attention is paid to the new mother’s experience in the first 30 days postpartum. Aside from an often unrealistic obsession with “bouncing back,” what do we hear about women during “the fourth trimester”?

Does this kind of nourishing, spa-like treatment appeal to you? How does it compare with what you went through or expect to go through?

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