SINGAPORE: Singapore’s first luxury confinement centre Kai Suites will be launched next year.
Styled as an integrated wellness haven, this new facility will feature hotel-like rooms, butler services, “Michelin-style” meals, an aesthetic clinic and a hair salon. Even with rates starting at S$12,000, it seems to have ready takers.
Upmarket confinement centres are not new — they have long been established across Asia, including Taiwan, China and South Korea.
In 2015, Mandopop star Jay Chou was rumoured to have booked the entire sixth floor of a luxurious Taipei confinement hotel for his wife at an estimated cost of S$96,800.
Importing this concept offers Singaporean women more options. However, some balked at its hefty five-figure fee.
It also begs the question: Should one of the most difficult months in women’s lives be framed as an indulgence to be enjoyed with accessible “aspirational lifestyle experiences”.
Probably not. Having recently given birth to my first child, my personal experience has been that the first month after delivery is no “luxury staycation” — no matter how many fancy dinners or glamorous blowouts you throw in.
But while this lavish centre may seem a bit excessive for most, the idea that new mothers need confinement support and dedicated care is certainly not.
THE ORDEAL OF CHILDBIRTH
Natural birth is a traumatic experience lasting an average of eight excruciating hours for many first-time mothers. During this time, the cervix expands to 10cm, and the vagina stretches and sometimes tears all the way to the anus.
The alternative, Cesarean section, which I underwent, takes an even greater toll. My gynaecologist had to cut through seven layers of skin, fatty tissue, connective tissue and my uterus to extricate my baby. Throughout the entire experience, I lay fully conscious and shivering uncontrollably from the epidural.
It was like living through a silent horror movie.
Unlike most major surgeries, I did not have time to sleep and recuperate. One hour after my operation, I was handed my baby to breastfeed. Thus began a long marathon of sleepless nights and two-and-a-half-hour sleep-wake cycles.
Most women struggle with breastfeeding. Research conducted in 2013 by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) suggested that while 99 per cent attempted to breastfeed their babies, only 28 per cent of infants were exclusively breastfed at the two-month mark.
I was among the mothers who struggled with breastfeeding. I exhausted every breastfeeding position — cradle, cross-cradle, football — as if clumsily learning a ballroom dance while nursing a 10cm wound. My baby simply would not latch.
When I was not trying to breastfeed her, I was expressing, bottle-feeding, soothing her to sleep and trying to catch 45-minute naps in between.
By the end of my first week, I was so depleted that I cried all the way to my lactation consultation session. My sheer exhaustion amplified this irrational belief that I was failing my baby. This is commonly known as “mum guilt”.
POST-NATAL SUPPORT MAKES A DIFFERENCE
I am not alone in this experience. About 79 per cent of women experienced some form of mum guilt, according to a recent study by non-profit group Focus on the Family Singapore.
Even celebrities such as Pink are no exception. “I put way too much pressure on myself, I think we all do,” the singer admitted to Entertainment Tonight.
Accompanied by hormonal changes and a lack of support, this sense of guilt, inadequacy and isolation may even spiral into post-natal depression. More than one in 10 Singaporean women suffer from it, according to SingHealth.
It is not uncommon for new mothers to compromise self-care and self-fulfilment. Suddenly, enjoying a morning cuppa, blow-drying one’s hair, and eight hours of sleep can feel like guilty indulgences.
However, for the very same reasons, carving out me-time is vital during this intensely stressful period. Sometimes, a nourishing meal, uninterrupted rest and personal grooming can make a world of difference to mothers’ well-being.
Good confinement nannies function as dedicated caregivers for overwhelmed parents. Their role is to lend an extra pair of hands to help with bottle feeds, diaper changes and baths, and offer useful infant care tips along the way.
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They also see to the daily needs of the mother, making healthy teas, cooking nutritious food, preparing herbal baths, and nagging her to blow her hair dry — things that she may have completely overlooked under the fog of severe sleep deprivation.
While fathers in Singapore are entitled to two weeks of government-paid paternity leave to help with infant care, after this, most will return to full-time work.
Nannies give both parents more breathing space to ease into their new roles, juggle their multiple duties, and enjoy as much precious bonding time as possible.
THE CHALLENGES OF HIRING A NANNY
Although they offer sorely needed support for new mothers, live-in confinement nannies are not affordable for all. Most charge S$2,500 to S$4,000 for 28 days of round-the-clock care.
This excludes the two red packets at the start and end of their stint, as well as the cost of confinement food and herbs — probably another S$600 to S$1,000.
For some, this might amount to more than a month’s wage, adding to the financial challenges of raising a baby in Singapore.
Many confinement nannies also need a room of their own because they stay with the family throughout.
Dollars and cents aside, booking a confinement nanny can require more lead-time than reserving a table at world-famous Michelin-starred restaurants.
The general guideline is to book six months in advance. However, my first choice was fully booked seven months ahead.
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Another problem is that many freelance nannies function by word-of-mouth recommendations and are highly unregulated. A few of my friends have suffered overbearing or insensitive nannies during the most vulnerable month of their lives with little recourse to seek redress.
In June this year, Channel 8 actor Joshua Ang also publicly decried his nanny for cutting the teats of milk bottles to enlarge them so that the baby would drink more milk faster, causing his one-week-old infant to suffer from overfeeding and a lung infection from milk in his lungs after just one week of being born.
In such cases, Ang’s advice is sound: Always trust your parenting instincts. Always check on your child. A confinement nanny is not a silver bullet to the amount of work a newborn requires.
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These horror stories also make a case for established but pricier confinement agencies or a centre like Kai Suites, where one may expect more training and accountability.
Indeed, from cost to quality control, each option presents its own set of benefits and challenges. Perhaps the best option for each mother is simply the one she can afford and that meets her primary needs.
What is more important is that mothers do not feel guilty about seeking confinement help, forgoing breastfeeding for a full night’s sleep, or indulging in a luxurious dinner or manicure when they need one — even without a S$12,000 budget.
After all, motherhood is the ultimate endurance sport, with no clear end in sight. It really makes sense to top up the tank for the long haul.
Annie Tan is a freelance writer, and the mother of a spirited one-year-old who fires up her imagination and inspires her to find her inner child.