In many parts of the world, relaxing in a postpartum care center after giving birth is considered a luxury. Not so in Korea.
The tradition of postpartum care is called sanhujori (산후조리), which literally translates to after-birth logic and dates back to pre-modern times.
Even today, the idea that new moms need proper postpartum care to recover is as much a given as the idea that babies need good prenatal care to have the best start in life .
Well before I became pregnant, my own mom often talked about how vulnerable a woman’s body is after giving birth and how monumentally important it was to care for myself in those few precious weeks afterwards.
This notion that postpartum care has a life-long impact on a women’s health is still firmly embedded in the Korean national psyche. Is it true? I don’t know. Does it have any modern medical proof behind it? I don’t care.
The only thing that mattered to me was being treated with the most TLC possible at a point in my life I most needed it.
Which is why staying at a postpartum care clinic was a no-brainer for me. In fact, it was actually the biggest factor in choosing to give birth in Korea.
Knowing the first couple weeks afterwards would be brutal, I wanted to be somewhere that viewed pampering for new moms as a necessity, not a medical system that would treat me as an afterthought following one of the most important moments of my life.
And to be honest, I think it was one of the best decisions I made in my pregnancy. Here’s why.
9 Things I Loved About Staying at a Postpartum Care Center
Pregnancy is a busy time. You’re growing a human being and preparing for the entry of a new life into the world. At the same time, you’re negotiating the drastic changes that are happening to your own life.
Between baby preparation, juggling work obligations and putting together a birth plan, life can get chaotic.
Which is why the most beautiful thing about staying at the postpartum care center was the fact that you don’t have to do anything. You literally just show up with the clothes you’re wearing, your baby and your partner in tow.
Everything is provided. Here’s a little list of the things I loved most.
Nourishing Food (You Don’t Have to Prepare)
After close to 10 months growing and nourishing a tiny being, I knew my sore and depleted body needed nutritious, whole foods to help me recover.
But I really didn’t want to have to prepare the food myself or even take on the mental labor of planning meals for family to make for me. Which was why completely entrusting this part to a postpartum care clinic felt like a giant weight lifted from my shoulders.
The clinic provided room service for everything. That’s three solid meals a day, with fresh-squeezed juices and snacks in between.
Needless to say, I ate everything. Which is why I only managed to take a few pictures, all between bites.
Oh, the clinic also provided a simple breakfast of toast and various marmalades and Nutella for dads. And boxes of soy milk delivered to the room for mama to sip on all day – apparently, it helps breastmilk supply.
24/7 Baby Care
One of the coolest features of the postpartum care center is that there is a sort of central Infant Room. It’s where all the babies are kept and it’s staffed by trained and experienced neonatal nurses who handle all newborn needs, from feeding to burping to changing and everything in between.
The best part is that it’s available 24 hours a day.
The ratio is three babies to every nurse and since most newborns are busy sleeping the day away, there always seemed to be a nurse available whenever a baby needed something. And trust us, we checked. A lot. Especially since our room was right across from the Infant Room.
The nurses that run this Infant Room are ready and able to take your newborn at any time, pretty much all the time, except for twice a day when the Infant Room is cleaned and sanitized for an hour.
If you wish to breastfeed, you just let them know and a nurse will deliver your baby to your door when it’s time for feeding.
If you wish to rest, you can either opt for formula – which is provided – or pump your breastmilk in advance and drop it off with the time and name of your baby written on it with a piece of masking tape.
The nurses handle the breastmilk storage and warming up.
I chose to breastfeed during the day but let the nurses handle feedings during the night. The clinic provided a Medela breast pump, which I used right before I slept and around 3AM and then dropped off at the nurse’s station for the little one.
A pediatrician visits once a week to check each and every newborn over and make sure that all is well. In the early days, it was wonderful to have this provided on-site instead of having to trek to the pediatrician’s office.
Breastfeeding may be natural but anyone who has ever had to breastfeed knows that it doesn’t necessarily come naturally.
This stuff is hard. I struggled with latch, position, hand and arm cramps, shoulder strain, and the constant worry of whether baby was getting enough – or even anything at all.
My head was full of questions and my boobs were angry, swollen balloons of milk and pain.
So it was a huge perk that the postpartum care clinic had a very efficient, no-nonsense lactation consultant who regularly came to the room to provide complimentary breast massage and help you with issues of latch and positioning.
Baby Equipment You Can Try
When I was pregnant, I watched loads of videos and read a bunch of articles on must have baby essentials. But the truth of the matter is, you never really know what is going to be essential for you until the baby comes.
So it was lovely to spend the first two weeks of baby’s life in the coziness of a clinic that provided everything.
We got to see that baby slept just fine in a tiny little wooden cart next to our bed. I got to try a breastfeeding cushion and pillows to see if that made the experience better. Baby got to try out the Nuna Leaf rocker, which was provided for every room.
Most importantly, we learned over those two weeks that we didn’t really need much. And the two week stay gave us plenty of time to order the things that we did need – like a breast pump – and rent the things that we found useful – like the Nuna Leaf.
Massages for Mama
I weighed 58 kilos when I got pregnant. At my last weigh in before giving birth, I weighed 85 kilos.
A day after giving birth, I weighed…85 kilos.
I was so swollen full of fluids, I found it hard to move sometimes. So the deep tissue massages that were included as part of the postpartum care were a godsend.
Everything is scheduled for you and the massage center calls your room to let you know when you can come in for your moment of zen.
My only complaint is that these massages didn’t happen every day – only two massages were included in the package, you had to pay for every additional massage.
Yoga (and Other Activities)
The main activity at a postpartum care clinic is resting and recovering. But they also offered a couple activities and educational classes for new moms.
Most of the activities, like making baby mobiles or baby handprint keepsakes, didn’t appeal to me but I enjoyed the yoga class they offered in their brightly lit skywalk.
Some classes, like self breast massage and a short class on making baby formula, was also really helpful.
Lighting doesn’t seem like a huge deal but when you feel ugly, depleted, swollen beyond recognition, weak, depressed and aren’t allowed to shower for another week – seeing yourself reflected only in soft, flattering lighting will warm your weary heart.
It’s such a small thing but the fact that this postpartum clinic seemed to have considered even their lighting from a new and exhausted mama’s perspective won me over.
That was the final thing that made me think: Yup, I can trust these folks to take care of me at my most vulnerable.
As part of the postpartum care package, we received a complimentary pregnancy and newborn photo shoot.
A week into our stay, an impressively efficient photography team arrived in sanitation coats and awed us with their ability to conduct seamless costume changes for a handful of newborns.
The downside, of course, was that the photo studio tried to upsell us on more photo packages that would have totaled close to $1,000.
We fell for the first upsell and ended up forking over close to $300 for a pregnancy photo session, which we later realized was entirely unnecessary.
But the complimentary newborn shoot was fun and we got some lovely pictures of our little spud out of it.
There is a lot that a partner and/or family and friends can do for you after you give birth but ultimately, everyone has different standards and ways of doing things.
With my hormones yet to level off and emotions running high, the last thing I wanted was to be stressed or angry because my husband hadn’t prepared a balanced dinner or forgot to wash the baby’s clothes separately.
The simple removal of stress over everyday household tasks allowed me to focus on the only things that mattered: recovering while enjoying my baby.
2 Things That Could’ve Been Better
Like with all things, it wasn’t all roses and unicorns at the postpartum care center. Here’s what I wished could’ve been different.
This isn’t so much a criticism of the postpartum care center but rather an unfortunate consequence of having access to 24/7 baby care.
During our stay, I chose to sleep through the night rather than wake up to breastfeed so little one ended up being bottle-fed for his night feedings.
The result? The little bugger realized the bottle was easier and once we checked out of the clinic, he refused to go back on the boob. I visited lactation consultants and tried everything to no avail.
I ended up pumping for the next four months. Still, the sleep I got during our stay was worth it.
One integral part of Korean postpartum care is nutritious food that helps you heal and in Korea that means one thing: seaweed soup.
As a result, I had seaweed soup every single day during my stay.
It also bears mention that every meal, every day was Korean food. I love Korean food. But I also love Mexican food, Indian food, Vietnamese food, and so on.
This was possibly the only factor that made is easier for me to leave. Otherwise, I might have tried to stay there until baby was 18.
Was It Worth It?
A resounding yes. Completely and totally.
It was worth every penny. And there are usually a lot of pennies involved in postpartum care. A two-week stay at one of these clinics can range from around $2,000 to over $10,000.
I chose a fairly mid-range postpartum center, which came to a little over $3,000 for our two-week stay.
And overall, the price tag may make it seem like a luxury at first but for what you get in personalized attention, round-the-clock professional baby care, and the burden of new motherhood cares lifted off your shoulders – it’s actually a bargain.
It falls solidly in my category of things-that-are-expensive-but-worth-paying-every-penny-for. And yes, I’d definitely go back if I had the chance.