Home » Hiro experienced culture shock after giving birth in Australia 

Hiro experienced culture shock after giving birth in Australia 

by Narges Mohammadi

Lisa Gong didn’t need to worry too much about her baby right after giving birth.

The 27-year-old was lucky enough to be able to leave everything to professionals at a postpartum center near Shanghai’s CBD, where she paid about $20,000 to stay for 28 days.

The maternity hotel is like a paradise for new mothers — it has quiet rooms for rest, all meals are prepared and there are staff to help with the care of newborns.

“You [can] keep your mind empty and rest whenever you need to,” Ms. Gong said.

“You wouldn’t need to worry about the baby either, just leave everything to the professionals.”

Ms Gong gave birth in September last year, but had to book her room seven months in advance due to the popularity of the services.

“You won’t have many optional rooms if you wait until the later trimester of pregnancy, as everyone will probably have already booked rooms in the middle of pregnancy,” she said.

The popularity postpartum centres have gained comes from a Chinese tradition known as “sitting the month” or “postpartum confinement”.

According to data from China-based data analysis company iiMedia Research, the market size of China’s maternity hotel industry will reach 24.3 billion yuan ($5.1 billion) this year.

In Australia, these kinds of services are becoming more and more popular among Chinese mums.

Some Chinese Australian mothers are now paying up to about $50,000 for a 26-day stay at a newly opened postnatal centre in Sydney’s Shangri-la Hotel.

Others are forking out about $30,000 for the same amount of time at Perth’s Fraser Suites.

Tidus Chau works at Baby Love Group, which operates five luxury maternity hotels in Hong Kong and has a service model that combines “Chinese tradition” and “modern science”.

He is also the director of both services in Australia — which has one of the largest Chinese populations among Western countries.

He says roughly a dozen mothers stay at the Australian postpartum centers each month.

“We are also planning to operate in Melbourne and the Gold Coast in future,” he said.

“Our main customer base is all middle- and high-income families.”

Do and Don’ts when ‘sitting the month’

It’s part of Chinese culture for new mums to spend the first month postpartum in confinement so they can quickly and fully recover after giving birth, and for their own mums to look after them in that time.

The mother would typically cook foods that would replenish the daughter’s qi — which is thought to be the life force that flows through people’s bodies.

Examples of such foods include slow-cooked soup infused with dates and traditional Chinese herbs

Meanwhile, women are also traditionally restricted from doing a range of activities, such as having cold showers, washing their hair, lifting heavy things, and eating cold or salty food.

However, younger generations of Chinese women only follow some of these rules, as the rest do not fit with modern lifestyles.

Besides China, similar traditions exist in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and some other Asian countries.

Siew Lim is a research fellow at Eastern Health Clinical School at Monash University and has been working closely with the Chinese community in Australia.

She told the ABC that some traditions like “not being allowed to do any housework, plenty of rest, having special meals prepared for you for a month” would seem like “a dream” to many women after childbirth.

“However, research suggests Asian postpartum traditions can be a barrier for women to engage with certain postpartum lifestyle advice by modern or Western medicine, as these may not be compatible with their traditions,” she said.

But Dr Lim said, instead of “writing off these traditional practices as ‘wrong'”, the medical system needs to comprehend and respect the cultural traditions.

“In Australia, we need culturally integrated recommendations for the care of Chinese postpartum women,” she said.

A booming industry in Australia

Not everyone can afford a fancy hotel and businesses are emerging to meet the needs of new mothers in diasporic communities.

One of which is maternity meal delivery services.

Nicole Chien is running a maternity meal service as she couldn’t find quality food to fit into her traditional postpartum diet when she gave birth to her first child.

“I’m a registered dietitian and have been working in the field of mother and baby nutrition for 15 years but couldn’t find anything in Australia,” she said.

“I was looking to take the good things from the traditional confinement [perspective] and then combine them with Western nutrition.”

After using a Taiwanese company during her own sitting month, Ms. Chien decided to bring a local version into the Australian market.

“In the first few years, our customers were mainly Asian, then recently I started to notice a lot of Western mummies because, in Australia, it’s not only the meals and products we provide but also ideas and education,” she said.

Yutaka Zhang started his family-run business, “Chen Mama Confinement Meals”, half a year ago, back when he had no idea it would become so popular.

Every day, Mr. Zhang delivers two meals to customers at $90–$100 per meal.

Due to capacity constraints, his business can only make meals for 10 people, but he said they have been getting up to 30 new customer inquiries per day.

“Our prices are about one-tenth of the cost of a maternity hotel,” says Mr. Zhang.

Mr Zhang hired a registered nutritionist to design the menu, to ensure meals comply with Australia’s nutrition guidance and also fit into Chinese dietary culture.

For those who need a little extra help there is another option — maternity nanny.

Known in China as “yue sao” (sitting-month aunty), these professionally trained nannies stay in a new mother’s home during the “sitting the month” period, looking after both mum and baby.

Hiro Liu, a 30-year-old living in Melbourne, paid $320 per day for 42 days for a maternity nanny service after giving birth last year.

Ms Liu said what prompted her to do this was the culture shock she experienced after giving birth to her first child in Australia.

The hospital prepared salads, wine, and ice cream for her and asked her to shower immediately after delivery — all of which contradicted Chinese traditions.

“It was quite a shock … I didn’t feel comfortable with it,” she said.

However, Ms Liu says the industry lacks necessary regulations, which put extra burdens on mums and their families.

“We only know this nanny charges less, that charges more, we still have to interview one by one all by ourselves,” she said.

“Even when you eventually find one, you won’t know if it’s worth the money until the nanny has moved into your home.”

‘You don’t know who to blame’

Yige Dong, an Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology at the State University of New York at Buffalo, has done research on the maternity service industry.

“It’s a highly professionalized industry now,” Dr. Dong said.

“In immigrant communities, it’s not always very handy to have your maternal mum right to be here with you.

“Nowadays, people care more about scientific knowledge or professional knowledge behind such kinds of care services.

“It is because of the rising purchasing power among better-off Chinese families in this age, both inside China and in the diasporic communities.”

Although she acknowledges the “psychological benefit” of the practice, she believes there are risks that could harm both maternity nannies and their customers.

“When something bad happens, you don’t know who to blame and through what kind of channels to look for accountability,” Dr. Dong said.

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