You may have read about the concept of the “sitting month” or zuo yuezi in China – women who have recently given birth are forbidden from doing just about anything which doesn’t involve resting in bed, for one month.
The basic idea behind this tradition is to enable the woman as speedy and full a recovery as possible after the burden that pregnancy and childbirth places on the body.
Whilst there are some more curious parts of the sitting month that may make it seem a bit excessive, such as not watching TV, drinking cold water, not going outside, not using air-con even in the height of summer, the basic concept has merit.
Many Chinese women hire a nursemaid or yuesao, during the sitting month, to look after the mother and baby. And regardless of what you think of zuo yuezi, having a dedicated helper for the first month with a new baby is something which may make a lot of sense regardless of cultural background.
The concept is gaining popularity in Europe and North America – where it may be prohibitively expensive. But in China, even if both parents are expats, hiring a professional yuesao is becoming a very practical and educational option.
Typical prices in China’s biggest cities for a yuesao to live with the family and provide for a month are around USD1600, roughly speaking. This figure will be somewhat lower in smaller Chinese cities.
How to find a nursemaid or yuesao
The best way to go about hiring a yuesao is simply through word-of-mouth. This is the way most Chinese find a suitable candidate. Ask a trusted Chinese friend or colleague – there will be someone who can make a solid recommendation.
In the first few days after the mother and baby return home from the hospital, normal household routines inevitably fall by the wayside and things may seem very chaotic.
Even in China, where older female relatives may be very willing to help care for the mother and new child, having a dedicated professional offers a stabilizing influence in the initial days.
And if you hire a professional yuesao, their advice will carry authority and may help resolve disagreements between squabbling parents and in-laws unable to agree on how best to care for the baby.
And more importantly, whilst caring for a baby does come naturally for the most part, a nursemaid can teach new mothers how best to breastfeed and how to interpret your baby’s behavior, right from the start, rather than spend time learning through trial and error.
Most mothers are exhausted in the initial days after childbirth, and breastfeeding can be very tiring. Having a professional helper on hand to change nappies and bathe the baby reduces stress and allows new parents to adjust to having a family gradually rather than jumping straight in at the deep end of caring for an infant.
If you have a Chinese partner, their family may argue that hiring a yuesao is an unnecessary expense at a time when money is a more important resource than usual.
A mother-in-law may also feel put out that she will not play a central role in caring for the infant in its first days. However, the baby’s mother may feel she has the final decision.
In China, a yuesao may also perform other household duties such as cleaning, and most will prepare food based on specially designed menus for new mothers – this is another skill which may set her apart from the normal standard of care provided by relatives.
Regardless of whether you choose to go the Chinese route and hire a yuesao, you should of course make sure you and your baby are covered for all eventualities.