Sun, Jun 10, 2018 - Page 15 News List

Yoga, cheesecake for moms in plush ‘sitting centers’

By Peter Stebbings  /  AFP, SHANGHAI

A yoga instructor teaches new mothers exercises at the Lake Malaren International Postpartum Care Center in Shanghai on May 17.

Photo: 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 might resemble a five-star hotel, but this is a “sitting center” on Shanghai’s outskirts where mothers pay up to 70,000 yuan (US$10,895) per month to stay with their newborns.

Chinese culture dictates that mothers confine themselves after giving birth, known as zuoyuezi (坐月子, “sitting month”).

Such confinement was once widely practiced in many areas of the world and continues to be popular in other parts of Asia.

However, 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,” 34-year-old first-time mother Yu Xueting said, her weeks-old son Kangkang lying contentedly beside her.

Both appeared 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 moms to learn how to care for their baby — and themselves.

Dads can stay too, but usually just visit.

Yu, who works for information technology firm HP Inc, said the lengthy stay “liberates our family.”

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


The sitting month stretches back to about 200 BC and the Han Dynasty, Hong Kong University School of Nursing lecturer Elizabeth Hui-Choi (許蔡惠卿) said.

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

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

Traditional Chinese medicine “also plays a very important part” in how most Chinese women still think after childbirth, dictating that they should eat more of certain foods, such as ginger, and cut out others, such as fruit, Hui-Choi said.

Some women stop showering, washing their hair, or even brushing their teeth for the month, and would not venture outside — traditional Chinese medicine says these can upset the body’s balance, she added.

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 traditional Chinese 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 postpartum depression.


The number of sitting centers in China has “exploded” from dozens in 2000 to more than 4,000 last year, the Chinese state-run Legal Daily said.

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

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