This past month has been a very happy time for us. Steve and I were overjoyed to welcome our baby girl Elise into the world on May 28. While we’ve had a tiring time as new parents, the past three weeks have been much smoother for us compared to how people have it in the rest of the world for a great reason: Taiwan’s postpartum centers. We first heard about them four or five years ago from our friend Kara who stayed in one when her daughter was born. These “baby hotels” are East Asia’s 21st century way of resting and recovering during the first month of the postpartum period. I’ve had trouble finding a good explanation of these baby hotels online, so of course, I’m taking a stab at it myself.
Confinement sounds pretty scary, but this is a time-honored Chinese practice really mostly about giving mothers a chance to properly recover from childbirth. In Chinese, the term is “坐月子” which means to “sit [for the duration of] the moon” (or a month). It involves getting quality sleep, eating healthy foods that will help your uterus contract and breastmilk come in, and following hygiene guidelines that reduce your risk of getting sick. Today, these postpartum centers, also known as “moon centers” in Chinese, can feature five-star treatment, with spa treatments, deluxe rooms, and even smartphone apps with a direct webcam feed to your child’s crib in the nursery.
Taiwan is full of baby hotels of many different sizes and shapes, but they offer similar basic services: three square meals a day (and two snacks!), housekeeping, and on-demand baby care 24-7. In December and January, we toured four places, including one attached to the hospital we gave birth at. At each location, we saw the nursery where scrubs-clad nurses bustled around and washed and fed babies and visited hotel rooms, which varied from quite large to smaller than our bedroom. Once, we even sampled a meal, which had beef broth and dark green sweet potato leaves. We were looking at places that charged between $150-250 USD a night, but more deluxe places, I had heard, charged between $400-500 USD a night. People stay as little as ten days but many Taiwanese mothers do the full 30 days, so it can be a pretty penny. Some places won’t let a partner stay with you. Other places are lenient about older children visiting whenever. Some places are even going to put restrictions on when mothers can leave. With all considerations in mind, we ended up scheduling three weeks at a place in Beitou just off the MRT station, with a very large spacious room and a gorgeous view of the MRT line and mountains. As a partner, Steve stayed the entire time, and they had no restrictions on when I could leave or come back.
Though we were both excited about going to a baby hotel, I found it difficult our first week. I felt melancholy being away from home and missed our dog. Waking up during the night to do night feeds or pump felt strange. I even preferred the food at the hospital, and secretly regretted not reserving a spot at the hospital’s postpartum center (which would have been good but was definitely more pricey). A week later, we had settled into a pattern, and my milk supply came in, so Steve was able to convince me to leave Elise with the nursery overnight, and we started going out for evening walks and couple time. I have also been able to get pretty much 6 or 7 hours of sleep most nights! This last week, we have been moving into a new apartment and cleaning up our old place, so it has taken a lot of energy. Overall, the time has flown by, and tomorrow, we’re checking out of this place. I’m excited about our new apartment but also sad since it has been very relaxing here.
A day in the baby hotel starts between 6 and 8 am, when the nursery rings me to let me know Elise is awake and hungry. They wheel her over in a little movable crib, and I nurse her while sitting in an armchair in the morning sunlight, so she can get adjusted to the morning and lower her bilirubin levels. Around 8 am, breakfast arrives, and I eat after or during nursing while Steve drinks coffee. While she’s still awake, we have been able to do some video calls with the two sets of new grandparents, who are all infatuated with her. After she falls asleep, we shower and do our own thing before she wakes up a little after noon. In between, housekeeping comes to sweep the floor, take out trash, and bring me fresh towels and maternity pajamas, which button on the side for easy nursing access. A nurse usually also visits in the morning to check my blood pressure and temperature, ask after how my uterus is contracting and if I’m experiencing any pain, and also make sure to take Elise’s temperature. Lunch comes promptly at 12 pm, and I’m usually able to eat before Elise demands her own lunch, which we usually do while sidelying on the bed. Afterwards, we both take a two-hour nap. Around 3:30 pm, an afternoon snack arrives, and then Elise typically wakes up again around 4:30 pm for another feed before dinner arrives around 5 pm. For our evening feeding, I try to pump so that Steve can give her a bottle and bond a little. Bottles also typically take less time than nursing. After 6 pm, we push her back to the nursery with a few bottles so that we can go out. Our evening snack comes at 7:30, and then I do one more pump before bed around 11:30 pm, and then hopefully sleep until at least 6 am.
The biggest part about being here is obviously the 24-7 on-demand baby care, which allowed us to learn parenting on a gentler curve and just be happier with each other. Any time we want, we can wheel her back to the nursery with a bottle of milk or ask them to use formula that we bought, and leave her there if we need to go out. There are two or three nurses on staff at all times, feeding and washing and changing babies and rocking them to sleep. One of the nurses came yesterday to do a whole washing baby demo which was very informative! It took us a little while to take full advantage of this, because I wasn’t sure at first how much we wanted to let go. But once we did, it became a lifeline to sanity and rest to give her up at night. We could deal with new parenthood as a daytime job, instead of a 24-hour job! I think most new parents, even though they’re tired, they still end up operating and doing everything they need to do for the baby (if you have no other choice!). For me, only when I got a decent night’s sleep did I realize that by comparison, I had been in a fog last week and making questionable decisions. Also doing things that I normally did (rather than feeding/ changing this baby) helped me feel more like myself. Just walking around Beitou hand-in-hand with Steve felt like such a gift the first two or three nights, a reminder that I was more than a new baby feeding and changing machine. We even got out to our neighborhood bar trivia night to say goodbye to some friends and see others for the first time. I also had my first beer in nine months!
The crazy thing about giving birth and then new parenting is that right after you go through the ordeal of birth, which is incredibly mentally and physically demanding on both of you, you’re immediately thrust into the ordeal of having learn how to keep your baby alive and disease-free by nursing, changing, and washing the baby every few hours around the clock so you become sleep-deprived. Either birth or new parenting would be incredibly hard, but you have to do it all back to back! It’s kind of an insane physical and mental challenge. The magic of the baby hotel is that it has allowed us to concentrate on one thing at a time and rest too. Changing’s not so bad, and we could split it between the two of us, while we just left washing up to the nurses. So we focused on mastering feeding. The first week was all learning about latching, schedules, changing her before vs. after, figuring out milk production, how to pump, when to pump, what to pump with… it was the most dramatic learning curve I’d been on in decades, and every night we’d talk about how we made another big stride that day that changed our perception of this experience. Three weeks later, I’m more or less on top of pumping and feeding, we both recognize when she’s hungry, and Elise is a hard worker too, getting feeding times down from two hours to about 30-40 minutes. With this challenge largely under our belt, we are at least mentally more prepared to take her home and tend to her 24 hours a day, and learn night feedings, using cloth diapers, and washing her once a day. I am so glad for this grace period that basically gives us more runway to figure things out before taking on more challenges. Without our parents at our sides, this is the biggest thing about the baby hotel that I would recommend to anyone expecting a first child.
The food and housekeeping help was also really nice. Every meal had two main dishes of protein (fish, tofu, chicken, pork, or beef) and a meat broth, as well as two vegetable dishes, one bowl of rice or carbohydrates, and one helping of fruit. Some of my favorite dishes were scrambled eggs in the morning with stir-fried mushrooms and salmon and century egg congee. I also especially enjoyed a tomato and onion soup with pork. My one complaint is that dishes are slightly too oily sometimes. Afternoon and evening snacks are usually something sweet. My favorite were black sesame dessert dumplings and sweet potato chunks in ginger tea. I originally thought that it was slightly overkill – I think I was having like at least 1000 calories at every single meal, and I never felt hungry. After going out for lunch one day and eating regular restaurant food, I realized that that was the point: not being hungry at all meant that I was eating enough for the two of us. There was also a different herbal tea provided every day, and we got a fresh thermos of it delivered, with more in the common kitchen. Steve and I both enjoyed that. Overall, it helped me stay very hydrated, which is a must when you’re producing so much milk. Finally, I have to say I really appreciated the help from the housekeeping staff. A few times when we needed the sheets changed ahead of time, I just picked up the phone and called the front desk, and someone showed up to change and take away the laundry. Offloading those things to other people who are always cheerful and nice is huge.
That is not to say there aren’t any drawbacks from staying in a baby hotel in Taiwan. The lack of privacy has been a little disconcerting. Staying in a hotel is just not as comfortable and private as being in your own house. And it was a bit difficult to relax away from home in the beginning while learning how to parent. Sometimes we were trying to figure out how to handle paperwork or discuss our impending move (not recommended) when housekeeping just rang the bell and walked right in to deliver towels or lunch. The other problem is that confinement in East Asia typically comes with a lot of cultural expectations about hygiene standards. You’re not supposed to wash your hair until weeks later, because you might catch a cold from if you don’t dry your hair quickly. Twice, the visiting nurses reminded me I needed to blow dry my hair after the shower. (I smiled and thanked them, but I really don’t ever blow dry my hair, so no thanks.) You’re also supposed to keep warm and not eat cold foods. One afternoon, I came back from running an errand with a mango iced smoothie, and the front desk lady was very shocked and reprimanded me. It’s a little bit like having a bunch of Chinese aunties around you giving unsolicited personal advice. I’m used to it, but it’s not the most fun thing in the world. Fortunately, that was few and far in between. Due to the pandemic, we were also not able to have any guests visit us. Normally, that would be pretty sad. Some friends of ours opted out of staying in a postpartum center because they didn’t want their parents to wait two weeks before meeting their grandchild. However, our parents are all across the ocean, so it wasn’t a big problem for us.
Overall, I think these baby hotels are God’s gift to womankind. And that was my opinion before we stayed at one. Now that we’ve done a stint here, I’m really grateful for all the support we received, and we are overall pretty happy with the choice we made and the amount of time we spent. It made it possible for us to better enjoy Elise’s first few weeks and establish some good memories along with the crazy dawn feedings and being spit up on. It certainly wasn’t cheap, but I think we reaped some priceless benefits at a very important time in our lives. With Baby #2 (someday), I would take advantage of the nursery even faster, and make sure to schedule fewer things in our lives (like no moves!!!). And next time, who knows? Maybe we’ll even do the whole month.