Yoga, cheese­cake for new moms in Chi­nese ‘sit­ting cen­ters’

Plush post partem cen­ters in Shang­hai cost $11,000 a month

The Korea Times - - FEATURE -

SHANG­HAI (AFP) — Yoga class starts shortly, the pris­tine mas­sage cen­ter is open for busi­ness and cheese­cake is served on a plat­ter of pas­tries and fruit.

And then the muf­fled cry of a baby emerges down the hall­way.

The set­ting may re­sem­ble a five-star ho­tel, but this is a “sit­ting cen­ter” on Shang­hai’s out­skirts where moth­ers pay up to 70,000 yuan ($11,000) a month to stay with their new­borns.

Chi­nese cul­ture dic­tates that moth­ers con­fine them­selves af­ter giv­ing birth, also known as a “sit­ting month.” Such con­fine­ment was once widely prac­tised in many ar­eas of the world and con­tin­ues to be pop­u­lar in other parts of Asia.

But as in­comes rise in China, the sit­ting month no longer means be­ing cooped up at home with­out bathing or vis­i­tors.

“We pre­fer to find a pro­fes­sional fa­cil­ity to take care of our baby. We have no ex­pe­ri­ence in tak­ing care of the baby or our­selves af­ter birth,” said Yu Xuet­ing, 34, a first-time mother, her weeks-old son “Kangkang” ly­ing con­tent­edly be­side her.

Both ap­pear well looked-af­ter at the pri­vate Lake Malaren In­ter­na­tional Post­par­tum Care Cen­ter in a mod­ern build­ing em­bel­lished with tur­rets and in­tended to mimic old north­ern Euro­pean ar­chi­tec­ture.

Mother and son are ac­com­pa­nied at all times by a nanny who sleeps in the same room. Nu­mer­ous spe­cial­ists, nurses and cooks are on hand.

A pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dio cap­tures those pre­cious early days of life, while a “Mother’s Class­room” runs lec­tures for new mums to learn how to care for their baby — and them­selves.

Dads can stay too, but usu­ally just visit.

Yu, who works for IT firm Hewlett-Packard, said the lengthy stay “lib­er­ates our fam­ily.”

“If we do it at home (take care of the baby), then the whole fam­ily can’t sleep well. I can take ma­ter­nity leave, but my hus­band needs to go to work.”

Long tra­di­tion

“Sit­ting month,” or “Zuoyuez,” stretches back to about 200 B.C. and the Han Dy­nasty, said El­iz­a­beth Hui-Choi, a lec­turer at Hong Kong Univer­sity’s School of Nurs­ing.

Em­presses would be well looked-af­ter fol­low­ing child­birth, in­clud­ing a spe­cial diet and life­style to re­store their “bro­ken” body and pre­vent fu­ture ill­ness, said Hui-Choi.

“They be­lieved that treat­ing the mother well would also bring good things to the baby, and it is still be­lieved to be that way.”

Tra­di­tional Chi­nese Medicine (TCM) “also plays a very im­por­tant part” in how most Chi­nese women still think af­ter child­birth, dic­tat­ing they should eat more of cer­tain foods, such as ginger, and cut out oth­ers such as fruit, she said.

Some stop show­er­ing, wash­ing their hair, or even brush­ing their teeth for the month, and won’t ven­ture out­side — TCM says these can up­set the body’s bal­ance.

Yu did not wash her hair for a week, but doc­tors told her that was un­nec­es­sary and the cen­ter rec­om­mends a more sci­en­tific ap­proach that blends TCM and Western medicine.

Hui-Choi, a reg­is­tered mid­wife trained in Western medicine, said some of the old rit­u­als are un­hy­gienic and that stud­ies sug­gest strict ob­ser­vance of tra­di­tion can make women feel iso­lated, risk­ing post-par­tum de­pres­sion.

Ac­cord­ing to the Le­gal Daily, a state news­pa­per, the num­ber of sit­ting cen­ters in China has “ex­ploded” from dozens in 2000 to more than 4,000 in 2017.

One rea­son is that Chi­nese to­day are now giv­ing birth later in life — mean­ing grand­par­ents are older and may not be able to help as much.

And Chi­nese are in­creas­ingly able to af­ford places like the Shang­hai cen­ter, where staff fuss over ev­ery baby snif­fle.

De­mand has also ramped up since China be­gan phas­ing out its one-child pol­icy in 2015. Fam­i­lies can be too stretched with their first child to cope with a sec­ond, es­pe­cially if there is no ex­tended fam­ily to help out.

Sit­ting cen­ters or self-pro­claimed ex­perts in “Zuoyuezi” are found al­most any­where that eth­nic Chi­nese are found, in­clud­ing in North Amer­ica, mak­ing it a big busi­ness with global reach.


Xu Jing­fang takes care of her baby at the Lake Malaren In­ter­na­tional Post­par­tum Care Cen­ter in Shang­hai, May 17.

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