New mothers paying big bucks to be ‘confined’

Gina Yong’s business partner at Bonda Villa, Shirley Fan (left), holds a baby. Business is booming for confinement centres due to the Chinese practice of post-natal confinement involving new mothers.  – Photo by Saw Siow Feng
Gina Yong’s business partner at Bonda Villa, Shirley Fan (left), holds a baby. Business is booming for confinement centres due to the Chinese practice of post-natal confinement involving new mothers. – Photo by Saw Siow Feng

PETALING JAYA, July 7 – Right after she gave birth to her third child, Siah Teng Teng moved out of the Setapak condominium she shared with her husband and two young daughters.

Bonda Villa, a post-natal confinement centre in Kota Kemuning, Selangor would be home for the next 28 days.

The Chinese practice of post-natal confinement involves new mothers spending 28 days after childbirth confined to their homes in order to rest and recuperate from the rigours of childbirth. 

Where women used to have their mothers or mothers-in-law to fall back on during their confinement, this is no longer possible with most people no longer living in their hometowns.

Typically, Chinese new mothers hire middle-aged nannies, or confinement ladies who charge between RM3,700 and RM4,500, excluding angpows of between RM200 and RM500, to care for them full-time at home.

But with more and more people living in condominiums now, accommodating a confinement nanny is near impossible. “If I have a confinement lady, she’d have to sleep on the floor,” explained Siah.

Gina Yong, Bonda Villa founder, says that most confinement nannies do not encourage mothers to breastfeed. – Photo by Saw Siow Feng
Gina Yong, Bonda Villa founder, says that most confinement nannies do not encourage mothers to breastfeed. – Photo by Saw Siow Feng

Enter luxury post-natal confinement centres targeting Chinese mothers. These centres are experiencing rapid growth as the scarcity of maids and space constraints in condominiums make stay-at-home confinement nannies, already a dying tradition, increasingly unpopular.

Siah, 33, who works in property management, spent close to RM13,000 on a spacious 500 sq ft room at Bonda Villa. Her air-conditioned “royal suite” has a king-sized bed, a baby cot, a flat-screen television, a CD player, a mini-fridge and even a safe.

She added that the overall cost of hiring a confinement nanny with a salary of RM4,000, buying herbs, as well as providing meals and accommodation would come up to about RM8,000 to RM9,000.

Bonda Villa founder Gina Yong said that mothers who came to her centre would not have to worry about buying herbs, going grocery-shopping or doing household chores.

“In condominiums, the kitchen is very small... you would need a big wok, a slow cooker, a steamer. You’d need sesame oil, wine, sauces, and you have to buy herbs. It’s a big headache,” Yong told The Malay Mail Online recently.

Yong said Bonda Villa, which was set up last October, has increased its clientele from four mothers each for November, December and January, to the maximum capacity of six mothers this month. It is fully booked until the end of the year.

Bonda Villa’s royal suite costs RM12,899, while the luxury and classic rooms cost RM9,899 and RM9,399 respectively. The luxury room has its own bathroom, while the classic room has a shared bathroom.

Mothers have eight nurses caring for them and their babies 24 hours a day with a buzzer in their rooms to ring for help. There is a separate cleaner and cook. 

Mothers having their lunch at Bonda Villa which consists of brown rice, steamed chicken with Chinese wolfberry, green vegetables, herbal soup and an apple. – Photo by Saw Siow Feng
Mothers having their lunch at Bonda Villa which consists of brown rice, steamed chicken with Chinese wolfberry, green vegetables, herbal soup and an apple. – Photo by Saw Siow Feng

Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed and spend time with their babies, but otherwise enjoy uninterrupted sleep at night. They get post-natal body massages and organic meals six times a day. The women’s husbands can also stay with them overnight.

“You treat this like a hotel,” said Yong, as she showed us a large airy room with four babies, who are bundled in blankets, sleeping in white cots.

Yong added that she has received several enquiries from Malay new mothers who are unable to receive care from their own mothers.

“In the young modern family, all the mothers and mothers-in-law are very young,” she said, adding that she could not accept Malay clients because her centre serves pork.

Yong also noted that Indian new mothers, on the other hand, hire confinement nannies who did not stay at home with them, but merely cooked their meals.

Dave Teoh, the chief executive of Daveleen Sdn Bhd, told The Malay Mail Online that there was already a growing shortage of confinement nannies.

“One day, nannies will die out for sure. They are in their fifties... most of them are retired,” said Teoh. “Most nannies are not that educated. Most come from rural areas. Can’t find younger ones to be a nanny unless you’re uneducated.”

Siah Teng Teng says that she chose to pay almost RM13,000 for her room at Bonda Villa because she does not have much space at home in her condo. – Photo by Saw Siow Feng
Siah Teng Teng says that she chose to pay almost RM13,000 for her room at Bonda Villa because she does not have much space at home in her condo. – Photo by Saw Siow Feng

He added that many confinement nannies have also gone to Singapore because the pay there is double with the stronger currency.

Daveleen, a 14-year-old company that also sells herbal supplements for new mothers, also delivers confinement meals and provides confinement nanny services as well as run and manage a confinement centre.

Teoh’s daughter Jade, who is Daveleen’s business development manager, said that clients at the confinement centre have been increasing over the years, with full bookings last year and early this year. The centre, which is located here in Petaling Jaya, can take in a maximum of 18 mothers at a time.

The deluxe room which costs RM10,562 but is currently RM7,388 on promotion, has a single bed and a television. The standard room, which is smaller, also has a television and costs RM9,162 but is currently RM6,188 on promotion. 

“We even have a cooking class for mothers and a short post-natal yoga session,” said Jade.

According to confinement customs, mothers are supposed to keep warm and avoid “cold” food like cabbage, watermelon and cucumber, as well as cold drafts, because they are thought to weaken the body. 

One of the more extreme customs is to avoid bathing during the 28-day confinement period as cold water is believed to cause arthritis.

The confinement centre managers that The Malay Mail Online spoke to, however, said that there was no scientific basis for it and they provide herbal baths for mothers instead.

Christin Cheng, the Taiwanese founder of the Hearty Carnation confinement centre in Subang Jaya, said that Malaysia did not have standards for confinement nannies, unlike Taiwan.

“In Taiwan, the nanny has to be licensed, even if you take care of just one,” Cheng told The Malay Mail Online adding that she went back to Taiwan last year to be trained as a confinement nanny before opening her centre in November.

The ‘royal suite’ at Bonda Villa. - Photo by Saw Siow Feng
The ‘royal suite’ at Bonda Villa. - Photo by Saw Siow Feng

“But in Malaysia, the confinement lady goes by experience,” she said.

Time magazine reported in 2011 that Taiwan’s post-natal confinement business is the most upmarket in the region.

Cheng said that her business has picked up, with solid bookings from March until September at a maximum of seven mothers a month. A single room costs RM6,888, while twin-sharing is RM6,388.

IT analyst Chloe Lee, 31, said that she came to Hearty Carnation because of concerns over the confinement nanny being downstairs at home alone with her daughter.

Also, her husband had no idea what groceries to buy during the one month Lee is not allowed out.

“Now, I have proper rest here. Feeding my baby is my only job,” Lee added as she sipped red date tea.