A day spa, yoga and plenty of sleep: The rise of luxury birth hotels.

The first few weeks with a new baby can be challenging as mums learn to navigate a lack of sleep and juggle feelings of overwhelm in their new role while caring for their tiny baby.

Imagine how different that experience might be if mums not only had their partner to support them, but a team of professionals in a luxury hotel? 

Nurses on hand at all hours of the day to give advice and care for you and your baby, a day spa, a hair salon, postnatal yoga classes, a psychologist and catered meals delivered to your hotel suite.

It sounds like a new mum's fantasy right?

But for those with the financial means living in Taiwan, this postnatal fantasy is a reality thanks to the growing number of luxury postnatal 'hotels' that care for new parents and their babies. 

Watch: The Trailer for Dateline 'The Best Place to Have a Baby?' Post continues below.

Video via SBS.

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This concept of caring for a new mother after the birth of her baby stems from the Chinese practice of 'confinement'. This ancient tradition means that all new mums are looked after by grandmothers or in-laws and the wider extended family for the first 30 or 40 days of their baby's birth.

The traditional rules state new mums can't cook, go outside or even wash their hair, but while these luxury hotels aren't so prescriptive, the idea of caring for mum – as well as baby – remains at the core of their practice.

SBS journalist Janice Petersen travelled to Taiwan for Dateline to learn more about luxury postnatal hotels and the changing practice of confinement. 

As a mum of two, she says that her interest in the topic was also personal.

"It's hard to ask for help when you're at home struggling with a new baby," Janice tells Mamamia.

"I had a difficult birth with my first and ended up needing a blood transfusion. It was scary and made me realise the perilous nature of birth and yet I was out of the hospital and back home the next day with my tiny baby. 

"I had never even changed a nappy before! But I had a healthy baby and so I would think, 'what do I have to complain about? It's a joy, it's a gift', and so it is hard to say, 'I'm not really coping here'."

After meeting US-based Taiwanese-born couple Michael and Maxine in the postnatal hotel, Janice says she understood why they spent their first month as parents in this luxury cocoon. 


Maxine at the luxury hotel. Image: SBS.

In the documentary, we see the couple relaxing in their luxury suite while nurses take care of their new baby. We see Maxine chatting to a psychologist to help her adapt to her new role as a mother. We see them watch on lovingly as a nurse gives their baby a full-body massage, and in another scene, a swimming lesson. 


Everyone seems very chilled and new mum Maxine reports having 'no stress'.

"In Taiwan, I could see that there is an option of confinement that suits everyone's personal needs and wants," Janice recalls.

"For Maxine and Michael, Maxine's mum is in poor health and so couldn't help her daughter, and while Michael's mum works as a professional confinement assistant in the US, Maxine said they would probably clash. So they sensibly opted for the hotel, which they liked for its modern, science-based model of care.

"At first I thought the hotel might be a little hands-off and also just delay the inevitable moment of bringing your new baby home, but then I really came around to the idea. Maxine and Michael wanted to start parenthood with a relaxed frame of mind and they did – I mean how many of us can say that the first month of new mum life was like a vacation?

"Michael and Maxine will always have that experience and memory and I think that really puts them in a wonderful frame of mind. Of course, there are going to be bumps in the road but Michael said that while he was in the hotel, he learnt so much, and so he felt more confident as a father, which is helpful for the baby and Maxine. It's a great start."

According to Dateline and recent government figures, around 50 per cent of new mums in Taiwan spend time in confinement hotels but the cost – around $13,000 AUD for 30 nights – means it doesn't suit families on median or low incomes.


Maxine at the luxury hotel. Image: SBS.

Janice met another young couple, Ren-fu and Fanny, who opted for a more traditional first 30 days of new-mum life at home with Fanny's dad taking a central role in her confinement.

"The setup at their place felt equally relaxed but much more humble and grassroots," Janice explains.


"There was always someone cooking in the kitchen or dropping by to help Fanny. New dad Ren-fu was very proud and confident holding his baby and taking care of his wife with various Chinese medicines. There was so much generosity and love surrounding this little baby and supporting Fanny to be in her new-mum cocoon.

"It was interesting, too, seeing dads really take the reins in both scenarios. Ren-fu especially was very comfortable just changing nappies and holding the baby while often Fanny could relax and recover. 

"It really made me think about how we divide the roles and responsibilities between men and women (if you are in a traditional heterosexual relationship) and I think there's a lot we can learn from this."

Fanny and Ren-fu with family at home. Image: SBS.


Janice says that while her two girls are 13 and nine, learning about confinement has made her think about what we in Australia could benefit from if we placed more emphasis on the health and wellbeing of new mums.

"The concept of confinement has continued through generations for millennia for a reason – it works. The whole family benefits when a new mum's health and wellbeing is factored into postnatal care. And if I were to do it all over again, I would absolutely ask for more help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness and you don't need to hit rock bottom in order to get any.

"Seeing the hotel psychologist asking Maxine some deep and probing questions about motherhood and identity was incredible. He asked things like, 'Whose idea was it to have a baby?', 'Did you have agency in the decision to have a baby?', 'Did you consider how much your life and identity would change?'. All really big questions that would absolutely have future ramifications."

Listen to Mamamia's podcast for all things parenting, This Glorious Mess. Post continues below.



Ultimately Janice says that her new knowledge of confinement has left her feeling like we could all do a bit more to be part of the new mum 'village'. 

"I think that's why the practice of confinement has lasted because it really works. It takes a village to raise a child and we all have a part to play in that support network, whether we are a mum, a grandparent, a dad, a relative or just a friend. We just have to figure out what's needed and when. And now that I've had children, I am reassessing my role in the villages of my friends and family.

"While the idea of outsourcing the first 40 days of parenthood to a luxury hotel might not suit everyone, and certainly not many can afford it, the practice of helping new parents in our own villages is something that most of us can do. 

"Whether it is taking some soup or a lasagne over to a neighbour after they bring home their baby, or offering to take the baby out for a walk while they rest, my experience has really made me think about my responsibilities to the wider community, not just my immediate family."

Janice Petersen's Dateline documentary, 'The Best Place to Have a Baby? airs at 9.30 pm tonight on SBS. Stream anytime on SBS On Demand.

Laura Jackel is Mamamia's Family Writer. For links to her articles and to see photos of her outfits and kids, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.

Feature Image: SBS + Mamamia.

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