What is it like to run a baby hotel? And what do most Taiwanese women expect when they stay in one? Do women sneak out? Are babies put on strict schedules? In my quest to learn more about Chinese postpartum confinement — zuo yuezi — centers (aka baby hotels), I interviewed Ms Jill Tseng, Service Manager at the Wenhua-Garden Postpartum Nursing Home.
Q: Does the Wenhua-Garden Postpartum Nursing Home promote breastfeeding?
Around 80 per cent of mothers choose to breastfeeding fully. But some mothers, especially those who are recovering from caesarean sections, are not always able to breastfeed. We have nurses on staff to assist with lactation issues. If need be, we can organize nurses to go to the mother’s room each day to provide specialized lactation assistance. We also provide breast pumps.
Q: Do you keep a record of breast milk expressed?
For each baby we have a booklet, in which staff write essential information such as when the baby’s weight, sleeping patterns, and how much milk they drink etc. We give the booklet to the parents when they and their baby goes home.
Q: Does Wenhua-Garden put babies on schedules?
No, we do not put babies on schedules. But we do have staff available to provide 24 hour assistance. So we can let parents know when the baby is awake. That said, we do try to make sure that the baby can tell the difference between night and day.
Q: Do many women choose to ‘room in’ with their babies?
About half of our mothers choose to room in with their babies, and the other half choose to have their infants in the nursery most of the time. Usually there are more infants in the nursery at night.
Actually, I am currently considering how to improve nursing support at our centre to enable more women to room in with their babies. At the moment, most mothers come down to the nursery/breastfeeding room or we bring the babies to them when it is time to feed. But we would like to improve access on the third floor so that it is more convenient for mothers (note: the infant nursery is on the second floor, with a dedicated lift that provides private access).
Overall, our philosophy is that so long as mothers are happy with their parenting decisions, then we support them. We don’t judge them. “Happy mother, happy baby”.
Q: How do you teach new parents to care for their infants?
We believe that it takes time for mothers to learn how to care for their babies. It often happens in stages. At first, the focus is on rest so that mothers can recover from childbirth. Then, we encourage them to spend more time with their babies, until finally they are ready for 24 hour rooming in with their babies.
Q: What classes do you organize for new parents?
It depends. Our classes include inviting a doctor to discuss immunization, nursing staff discussing how to express and/or increase breast milk, or a demonstration on how to burp baby. We also provide advice on what food is best for lactating mothers to eat.
Q: What is the typical menu?
All our food is suitable for lactating mothers. Compared with other zuo yuezi (Chinese postpartum confinement) centres, our food is light and not so heavy. We still include hearty zuo yuezi classics like sesame chicken and offal such as kidney sometimes, though.
All our meals are developed in line with Traditional Chinese Medicine principles. The zuo yuezi diet at the centre helps mothers reduce weight and recover their energy. Many women can reduce to within a few kilograms of their pre-baby weight after completing zuo yuezi. The reason women can lose so much weight is that the diet is calorie controlled, and includes nutritious foods such as fruit and nourishing soups.
We have our own kitchen, headed by a chef who is an expert in preparing zuo yuezi food. Unlike some traditional zuo yuezi diets, our menu is not too strict. We serve six meals a day. It is easy for lactating mothers to get hungry, so we serve an additional supper at 8.00pm. Many mothers save this meal incase they need to get up during the night to feed baby.
Q: Do you encourage new mothers to wrap cloth around their waist (i.e. the ‘mummy wrap)?
If mothers bring their own ‘舒服帶– shufu dai, literally, comfort belt’ then we will help them to put it on. It can be useful for women who have had caesarean sections, or whose pelvis is painful and misaligned after birth. It can take a while for some women’s organs settle back properly, and the wrap can help them feel more stable. We discuss each woman’s individual needs with her when she checks in.
Q: What questions do most new mothers ask you when they come to your centre?
Mostly they ask about the qualifications of our nurses, and want to have a tour of the facility. Most parents are impressed with the nursery. We spent NT$2 million installing a system that ensures fresh air circulation in the nursery. Around 80 per cent of people who tour the centre will book in once they see it. We only opened in January and have not yet begun to market in earnest. So far our business is by word of mouth.
Q: Why do you think that zuo yuezi centres are increasingly popular in Taiwan?
I think there are two factors. Firstly, people are having smaller families so they decide to spend more when they have children. Secondly, not all grandparents are able to help out with doing zuo yuezi and looking after their grandchildren.
Q: What about fathers?
Fathers have an important role in supporting and accompanying their wives. Many choose to live here while their wives are in confinement. Although we do not provide zuo yuezi food for Dads, there are lots of restaurants and take-away places nearby.
Q: What about mother-in-laws? What do they think about their daughter-in-laws staying at Wenhua-Garden?
There are two types of mother in laws. The first support the idea of their daughter-in-law living in our centre. They are generally the busy ones, who don’t have time to care for daughter-in-law themselves. The second group want to help their daughter-in-law do zuo yuezi, but she doesn’t want them to. So these mother-in-laws often criticize the service we provide, e.g. they complain that our food is too light and not substantive enough.
Q: What do most women do all day while at the centre?
Actually, most women are very busy. They usually feed their babies or express every two or three hours. Then they have to make time to eat each of the six meals we provide. Usually they will have breakfast, feed, have lunch, friends will visit, they will spend some time with baby in their room, eat afternoon tea, have a shower and then spend more time with friends. If they have spare time they will go to the beauty parlour or sit and read magazines.
Most women generally have lots of friends come to visit them. It is important for women to have time with their girlfriends after having a baby, to share experiences about how the birthing process was for them and to exchange views on breastfeeding and parenting.
Many women make new friends in the centre as well. Generally they will talk about common problems such as breastfeeding. For example, two women here became good friends. One women was producing more breast milk than she needed (up to two liters a day), and the second was struggling with low supply. They talked about what to do to increase breast milk, what worked and what didn’t. And in the end, the women who had too much breast milk gifted it to her friend.
Q: Do many women sneak out?
Sometimes, but usually only in the last week before they go home. Some women use the opportunity to go out on a date with their husbands, perhaps see a movie and go for dinner. We look after the baby for them in the infant care nursery while they are gone.