The concept of “laying-in,” with mothers spending the first month post-childbirth indoors, being cared for by family members, is a generations-old tradition in China. While it may seem completely at odds with modern American society’s postpartum outlook, complete with perfectly coiffed new moms boasting about how quickly they got back to yoga class, work, and multitasking, this period of confinement was created as a time for women to rest, let their bodies heal, and take a break from domestic duties. Now, with the rise of China’s wealthy class, “sitting the month” as the practice is also known, is taking a luxurious turn, with new moms paying up to $27,000 to receive upgraded accommodations at maternity centers and to enlist the help of specially trained nannies.
The old school version of “laying-in” had its own interesting and controversial set of rules and beliefs including a ban on new mothers washing their hair or brushing their teeth, going out in the fresh air, drinking cold beverages, eating fruit, and limiting visits to only members of the immediate family. A mom, mother-in-law, or other female female relative would take care of most of the household chores, prepare foods thought to aid the mother’s healing process, and help care for the newborn. While many Chinese parents in recent years have eased up on these rules or ignored the tradition entirely, the new version of “sitting the month” has grown rapidly in popularity, especially in major cities where clientele can afford the hefty price tags. One chain of maternity residences has opened 15 maternity centers and provides additional nanny services in 100 cities.
Options during these postpartum stays can include a personal nanny, a chef providing up to six daily meals, specially-designed spa treatments, breastfeeding presentations, and crafting rooms. Instead of being watched over by a matriarch of the family, new moms are pampered by staff members who have undergone training in areas including lactation support and baby massage. For new moms who don’t want to live in the maternity centers themselves, they can also hire a trained nanny to live with them for the first month postpartum. The growth of these postpartum services has been chalked up to numerous factors, from a desire to avoid unwanted maternal advice and a lengthy stay from female relatives to disposable income within the prosperous economy to a new way of exhibiting one’s social status.