Chinese postpartum confinement centres (aka zuo yuezi centres or baby hotels) are all the rage in Taiwan (and increasingly also in China and places were there are large Chinese communities). Mothers can check in and relax in hotel-like accommodation, with dedicated nursing staff to attend to her and her baby’s needs. I have always wondered what it would be like to stay in one. And now I have had my chance, when I overnighted at the Wenhua Garden Postpartum Nursing Centre. Read on for part one in a three-part series about what life is like in a luxury baby hotel.
Postpartum confinement centres are growing in popularity in Taiwan almost as fast as the birthrate is plummeting. In researching and writing about Chinese postpartum confinement (zuo yuezi), I have been fascinated about why women (and their families) invest so much in the postpartum confinement centre experience.
Nor am I alone: some blog posts have talked about the seeming the extravagance of baby hotels, especially high-end zuo yuezi centres China. And one of my good friends back in Australia, was shocked to learn that wealthy families spend so much on the zuo yuezi experience. New mothers, in Western societies, it seems are often expected to look after themselves and baby as part of the rite of motherhood. Self pampering is often viewed of as frivolous and unnecessary: better to spend the money on a status pram instead. Well, perhaps a bit harsh but my experience in Australia was that the focus often is more on the baby than the mother.
So when the opportunity came up to overnight (with family) and experience life behind the hidden doors of a confinement centre came up, I jumped at the chance. Almost literally — I was so excited.
So what is it like inside a five-star luxury confinement centre? And is it worth it?
As I alighted from the lift, the first thing that greeted me at Wenhua Garden was the ornate French-style silver and white chairs crowned with a glistening chandelier. A waiting room, it turned out, where a new mother could safely meet friends if they turned up with sniffles rather than subjecting her infant to unnecessary germs. (This seems harsh, but having had babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit I certainly understand the importance of protecting newborns from unnecessary germs. ) This glitz was, I discovered, just a teaser to the luxury within.
Once I had sanitized myself by removing shoes, donning slippers and washing hands with sterile alcohol (baby also had his temperature taken), we entered the centre itself. The third floor reception area was manned by a large desk, with uniform clad attendants. The centrality of the reception reminded me of a maternity ward set-up, with the room layout looking like a hotel. A lovely lady named Cleo escorted us to our room and then gave baby and I a tour.
Directly opposite the reception desk, I noticed the ‘relaxing and calm area’. This was a small alcove equipped with massage chairs. “It’s not just Mums who get tired,” Cleo explained. “Dads have a hard time, too, helping with baby, and they often need massage.” Mental note to come back and try out the equipment.
But first, a look at our rooms for the night. Each of the twenty-two rooms in the centre is designed around a different theme, and nearly every one has a different colour. Most of them are in pastel, although I chose a strikingly furnished room with dark wooden floors and a forest green sofa. Around the corner was a queen sized bed, a shiny new bathroom with quality fixtures, and a small balcony. I felt instantly at home here, loving the zen elegance.
The room was equipped with free Wi-Fi, LCD television with cable television, a microwave, large fridge, and hair dryer. And of course all the towels, toothbrushes and so forth you would expect in a hotel. But there were a few unexpected extras, like comfortable breastfeeding cushions (note the green crescent-shaped item on the bed) and a baby bottle sterilizer. And a special massager to help women with engorged breasts and/or to improve quantity of breast milk.
My husband and our toddler stayed in the ‘Tiffany’ room. At first I thought this was just a reference to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, until later I learnt that the chandelier at the entrance had been purchased from Tiffany’s in New York. So it really was a Tiffany room.
The Tiffany room was decorated in silver, blue and white. At first I almost mistook it for a Swedish room: beyond the blue and white, it had a light and airy feel to it that was almost European. This room was slightly bigger than the BV themed room, and you could view the television while lying in bed. Mr Taiwanxifu loved it. “Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer this room,” he kept asking me. Yes, I was happy in my BV room. But the Tiffany room was also lovely, in a fresher and brighter way.
And it had a chair for massaging legs and feet. I don’t always like electronic massaging equipment, but OMG, this was so comfortable. I could image lying back in one of these while cradling a cuddly newborn infant.
And it also had a balcony, perfect for soaking up the morning sun. Many people had told me that women should avoid going outside during zuo yuezi for fear of being exposed to the evil wind, so I was surprised at this inclusion. Cleo admitted that many Taiwanese women did not like to go outside during zuo yuezi. But I suspect that many do actually sneak out now and again, especially when the weather is nice. And it would be a perfect place for Dads to escape to read the paper, have a cup of coffee and perhaps even indulge some guilty nicotine pleasures.
Cleo then took me downstairs to level two, using Wenhua Garden’s dedicated lift. This was an opportunity view the infant nursery, one of the most important features of the baby hotel.
The newborn babies were so cute! I wanted to reach and through the glass and give them a cuddle. As the mother of babies who had spent time in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (first one for prematurity, then second one for jaundice), I know that it is impolite to stare at other people’s babies without permission. So I resisted the impulse to take close-up photos. But believe me when I say that the tiny little newborn babies were adorable.
The nursery is designed so that when babies are in their cribs, parents can see their little ones via webcams. (If you look carefully you can see the webcams on the ceiling.) Cleo said that mothers can tune into their television sets in their rooms to watch their infants. Fathers can also watch remotely from their computers or smartphones, so they can still see their baby while at work.
Opposite the baby nursery was a dedicated breastfeeding room, where women can go to breastfeed or express milk in private. (Wenhua Garden provides breast pumps if they are required.) Of course, women can choose to have their baby in their room with them or alternatively for a nurse to wheel the baby to them when it is time for a feed.
Cleo then led me into a VIP area, designed for mothers who needed extra special star treatment — and the assurance that they would be safe from prying paparazzi eyes. This area required swiping through an additional secure door, ensuring maximum privacy. And the rooms — well, they were something special.
The ornate French-themed suite was decorated in apricot, pink and white with roses. Fit for a princess.
And the VIP rooms come with bathtubs. Not everyone wants to follow the strict advice to forego bathing for a month during zuo yuezi.
Taiwanxifu stayed at Wenhua Garden at their invitation. Stay tuned for my next post about the experience of staying overnight in a confinement centre.