One of the first questions people ask you when you are pregnant in Taipei is ‘are you going to try zuo yuezi’ (postpartum confinement). The second question is whether or not you will stay at one of Taiwan’s luxury confinement centres.
According to a November 2011 Time magazine article, Taiwan currently has around 120 postpartum confinement centres, up from only one in 1994. The growth in centres has increased along with higher disposable incomes. Couples are having fewer children — and later — and can afford to splurge to ensure a woman recovers in style. Plus many independently minded women, especially those with careers they want to bounce back to quickly, prefer being pampered in a hotel like environment than being stuck home under the watchful eye of mother-in-law — however well-meaning she may be. Although Taiwanese women can take up to a year off work after having a child, in practice most only take 56 days, with many choosing to focus on having an intensive recovery process before handing baby over to mother-in-law or a nanny before returning to work. And I suspect there is also a certain amount of status in announcing that your wife/daughter/daughter-in-law stayed at a certain luxurious centre.
So how much does all this cost?
According to an article published in January on Taiwan’s Money DJ website, the average cost per day of most confinement centers is between NT$5,000 to NT$6,000 per day (US$166 to $200). But many are now priced NT$10,000 (US$333) and over. In order to be competitive, confinement centers fall over themselves in promoting luxury five-star service with up to six gourmet meals a day prepared by top chefs. To secure a place, you need to book at least six months in advance. A friend whose wife is expecting their second child in November can’t even get into a confinement centre: with the surge of dragon babies, most confinement centres are booked solid for the remainder of the year — especially the top end ones.
Can the average person afford this? According to the Money DJ magazine, to spend a month at a confinement centre the usual cost is around NT$300,000 (around US$10,000). To put this into context, Taiwan’s per capital GDP just reached US$20,000 last year. But despite the high cost, confinement centres remain a popular choice for new mothers, anxious for help and reassurance about how to care for their newborn babies.
I have surveyed a few of the most popular centres around Taipei (at least, popular at time of writing — new centres keep springing up all the time):
Taipei Adventist Postpartum Nursing Care Centre: Taipei Adventist is one of the most popular hospitals in expatriates in Taipei, in part because many foreign diplomats (and their wives) choose to deliver there. In addition to a hotel-like room, Taipei Adventist offers nutritious vegetarian meals (no meat), designed to avoid ‘over nutrition and obesity’. The centre organises mothers classes on parenting and exercises conducted by medical staff, a lounge for visitors, and 24 hour security. Plus round-the-clock care (babysitting) for the infant. Cost if you deliver your baby at the Taipei Adventist is NT$6,400 (US$213.58). Rooms are fully booked until February 2013.
Yono Maternal Centre (悠之家產後護理之家): Yono has three locations in Taipei, including one affiliated with the Loving Care Maternal Centre in Xinzhuang. The birthing centre is often recommended to foreigners by professionals such as doula Angela Chang because of their relaxed, non-interventionist approach — and because they are one of the few places in Taiwan that can facilitate water births. The postpartum centre is part of the same building, but not affiliated with, the five-star hotel ‘Chateau de Chine’ and has relaxing views over a temple and park. While it has the usual luxury rooms, TV, internet access and security features, one advantage of the confinement centre is that the centre actively encourages breastfeeding (not always the case in postpartum centres, where the emphasis is often on providing rest and support for new mothers rather than bonding with the baby). The food features international influences (無國界月子料理), so it is not as traditional (or as heavy) as the usual zuo yuezi foods. Price ranges from NT$5,200 to NT$6,380 per night. The centre is at 新北市新莊區中正路82-1號2~3樓 (tel 02-29925522).
Taipei Medical University Hospital at Wuxingjie (臺北醫學大學附設醫院產後護理之家): Situated a few blocks away from the iconic Taipei 101 building in Xinyi District, the Taipei Medical University Hospital has a popular obstetrics department — and an equally popular postpartum care centre. Their care features infant care classes two to three times a week (including specific classes for newbie dads), a breastfeeding room, support from traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, and laundry facilities. Room rates vary from between NT$4,900 to NT$6,600 per day (US$163 to US$220), with food an additional NT$800 (US$26).
We Go Go: The oddly named We Go Go features glitzy, Western style rooms decorated in four themes: Rose House, Blue Mediterranean, Royal and Romance Forest. Situated near the new shopping precinct in Dazhi, it bills itself as the only centre that is housed in its own unique building with easy carparking access. The five meals a day are prepared by two executive chefs: one a former Sheraton chef, and the second claiming over ten years’ experience in Chinese herbal food. Their website includes multiple testimonials from happy parents, including from celebrities. Prices for the Rose, Blue and Romance Forest rooms are NT$7,500 (US$250) with the Royal room NT$6,500 (US$216). Most of the rooms are booked until late January. We Go Go is at 台北市中山區(大直)樂群三路56號5樓址 (phone 02 8502 5577).
Lizz Postpartum Nursing Centre: Hidden in a luxury apartment building along the Xinyi Road Section5, Lizz Postpartum Nursing Centre bills itself as the only government-accredited postpartum confinement centre in the Xinyi residential area. And crucially, one that uses top-grade anti-flammable materials in its designs. (A few months ago, a government inspection of 24 postpartum confinement centres found that 21 failed to meet public safety or contractual requirements.) One of its features is secure, 24-hour infant care: not only Mum can watch live video of her baby streamed from the nursery as she rests in her room — Dad and other family members can also log-on via computer to monitor their baby anytime of day. Cost per day in one of the newer twelve-month old suites costs NT$7,200 (US$240), while rooms in the four-year old wing cost NT$6,200 (US$206). All room charges include six meals a day (three meals plus three refreshments/snacks), nappies (diapers) and infant formula. The meal choices rotate to ensure the same food is not served twice within a 21 day cycle. They have some limited rooms available from late July/early August.
Eonway Health Management Centre 永越健康管理中心附設產後照顧中心: One of the most exclusive confinement centres is contained within the six-star Eonway Health Management Centre, which is affiliated with the West Garden Hospital. At a function a few months ago, a charming socialite told me about how her daughter stayed at the Japanese-themed centre for 45 days’ of intense confinement. The bathrooms were large and spacious, and her son-in-law enjoyed the use of the large swimming pool (new mothers are not supposed to wash, or indeed do anything that would expose them to anything cold for at least 30 days). But she was unsure whether the NT$12,000 per day (US$400) they paid was entirely worth it. [Note: several online sites mention that the rate is just over NT$10,000 (US$333), but this is the price she told me they paid.] This 16-room confinement centre on the sixth floor of the health centre is popular with celebrities who want to keep a low-profile while they recover their health and figures after having a baby. Yet a high price tag is not always a guarantee of safety, with the centre receiving bad press after a nurse’s carelessness led to a baby sustaining second degree burns from his bath.