Giving birth to a child is difficult and painful -- especially so for women with a relatively small pelvis, like Koreans. Inadequate postnatal care also leads to mothers’ health problems later. All this shows why Korean people think recovery after childbirth determines women’s health.
In the past, midwives delivered babies and mothers’ parents took care of their daughters and babies for up to a month. In this era of the nuclear family, however, it has become difficult, if not impossible, for mothers to stay at their parents’ home after childbirth. It was against this backdrop -- plus the nation’s improved living standards and enhanced awareness of wellbeing – that a new healthcare business named “postnatal care center” made its debut about two decades ago.
As recently as five years ago, this new business, almost unparalleled in the world, was not even included in the government’s economic statistics. Now more than six out of every 10 Korean mothers use these facilities.
“It’s like a hotel. Nearly 90 percent of the people I know go to postnatal care centers. I went three times,” said Song So-yeon, a mother of three.
Some luxurious postnatal care centers offer a wide variety of services, such as massages, spas, educational programs, and even cosmetic surgery, for new mothers.
|Yun Kyung-ae explains the necessity of postnatal care centers and the services they offer.|
“Koreans have a small physique that makes childbearing physically burdensome,” said Yun Kyung-ae, a postnatal care specialist that operates Olivium Postnatal Care Center in western Seoul, affiliated with Seran General Hospital. “In the past, grandmothers usually took care of their daughter and baby while the mother rests. With the development of the economy in general and that of the healthcare industry in particular, however, the family care has rapidly become a thing of the past.”
A mother agreed. “We need to rest no matter what,” said Ryu Mi-young who has one child. “But it’s better to pay for these services, rather than bother my parents, much less my husband’s parents.”
Yun, who heads Olivium, one of the most thriving postnatal care centers, said, “People live a fast, hectic lifestyle that makes bearing and rearing a child difficult. In other words, marriage and children have become a luxury reserved for the upper class.”
Noting that most of her customers are mothers with their first child, Yun said, “In recent times, couples have only one child, which is why parents plan and invest extensively in their only child before and after birth.”
Price varies according to the facility, services, duration, and medical staff at the care center. Olivium charges 3 million won ($2,670) for deluxe rooms, and 5.5 million won for suite rooms for a total of two weeks. Suite rooms in Gangnam, southern Seoul, can cost around 10 million won for two weeks.
|A suite at Olivium has two rooms, furnished with two beds, a massage chair, and toiletries like a luxury hotel.|
People at first frowned upon the new generation of mothers as frivolous spenders, but mothers who stay at luxurious postnatal centers have become the target of envy, industry watchers say.
People now associate these services with wealth, prestige, and independence. Celebrities, such as actress Ko So-young, have used centers located in upscale Gangnam, which have added to its exclusive image.
“People who spend 10 million or 20 million won on these centers probably take pride in how much they can afford, but I think it’s a waste of money,” Song, the mother of three, said. “I went because I didn’t know how to take care of my baby at first. They provided education programs and taught me hands-on how to handle my child. The second and third time, I went for me. I needed rest.”
“These facilities are like hotels graded by the number of stars ranging from five to one,” Song said. “It differs based on services, facilities, location, and price.”
Ironically, the increasing expensive care centers have come to discourage couples from having a child. “No wonder Korea has one of the lowest birthrates in the world,” a commentator said. “Not all can afford to use these facilities.”
There are two types of centers -- hospital-run centers and independent ones. Anyone can open a postpartum care center, but its operation requires medical staffs.
“I woke up, ate the meals provided, and went to the educational programs on taking care of babies,” Song said. “The child is brought to my room for mother-child bonding time throughout the day. I also got massages and went to spas.”
|The infant unit is off-limit from visitors, monitored by postnatal care specialists.|
Newborns spend their two weeks under the care of designated specialists in a different room on a designated floor. Only designated personnel can come to these floors. Parents must desterilize and sanitize before entering these rooms. Even then, visitors can only see the newborns through glass doors, to reduce the risk of spreading contagious diseases.
Technology is also integrated into every step. Camcorders are placed on top of each incubator, to allow mothers and relatives watch their baby on their smartphone anytime, anywhere.
Yun believes that postnatal care is essential -- for mothers, children, the government, and the country as a whole. A mother’s health should be one of the nation’s top priorities, she believes.
“Seran General Hospital has come to operate Olivium because doctors began receiving women patients in their 40s and 50s with physical ailments,” said Yun. “These women did not receive proper care after birth, which eventually resulted in their poor health. The hospital set up this center as a preventive measure for future mothers.”
“We provide educational programs for mothers that teach them how to nurture and foster their child to the best extent,” Yun said. “In the future, hopefully, the government will subsidize costs to make it available for everyone. These programs are crucial for the well-being of the mother, second generation, and Korea’s future.”
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