If you are pregnant right now, you will need to start thinking about your confinement arrangement and if this is your first baby, you may be wondering what to do about your confinement.
In my opinion, having your mother or mother-in-law (assuming you get along fine with them) do your confinement for you is the best arrangement. If you are fortunate enough to have this option, count your blessings!
Firstly, they are true family and will go the extra mile to help you. Your own mother will know your taste in food and you are used to the kind of cooking she does. Although the down side is that they tend to be the most interfering people around, and you may find them naggy and dislike the way they interfere with how you want to take care of your baby, to me, this is still the best arrangement compared to the other options which I will elaborate later. At least, try to overcome the little disagreements here and there and treasure this blessing of having family do your confinement.
It is also common for people to engage a confinement nanny to take care of them and the baby during the one month confinement. Typically, there are two sources – local confinement nannies or foreign (Malaysian) confinement nannies. If you are hiring a Malaysian confinement nanny, please note that it is illegal to do so without applying for a work permit and paying the Foreign Worker Level for her. For more information, please refer to Ministry of Manpower website.
According to people who have engaged the service of confinement nannies, some of the common problems with engaging local confinement nannies are higher costs, fussier nannies who won’t perform certain duties (e.g. Cleaning the house or doing the night feeds) and the tendency for them to quit midway and not completing the whole month’s worth of work.
Malaysian nannies tend to give less of such problems. According to people in the confinement nanny business, these days, it is harder to find experienced nannies from the local market, which leads to more people employing Malaysian nannies. Another key factor for the popularity of Malaysian nannies is that they are cheaper to employ. However, if you factor in the Foreign Worker Levy, I find the cost difference to be small.
Whether you are employing a local or a Malaysian nanny, my advice is to rely on word of mouth recommendation. This is much better than to rely on an agency to find a nanny for you. The agencies will always claim that they only use experienced nannies or that their nannies come highly recommended by previous clients. But there is no way for you to verify this as confinement nannies don’t come with certification. So nothing beats recommendation of people you really know.
My Experience with Nanny Agency
For my second baby, I engaged a nanny through an agency that is supposed to specialise in confinement nannies. They are supposed to have many years of experience in this business and have a pool of very experienced nannies. As I have already been through one confinement (which my mother did for me), I already had a good idea what I wanted from the nanny and I specified my requests to the agency.
The reason why I went through an agent was because I thought it would be better to deal with such engagement at arms’ length. Word of mouth usually involves friends or relatives of someone you know and if things turn sour, it could be awkward. You may be obliged to keep the nanny even though she may be a nanny from hell. Secondly, employing through an agency usually guarantees that you can change within a day or two should the nanny turned out to be unsatisfactory. This is something you can’t get if you employ someone through word of mouth. If you sack your nanny whom you engage through word of mouth recommendation, then you would be stranded with no help after that.
It turned out that the second confinement was the worst I had. The nanny was terribly unqualified. I had to teach her what to cook and how to cook. Before the baby came, I bought all the necessary confinement food ingredients and herbs. But the nanny hardly knew how to use them and had to be taught. The worst part was that she was terribly unteachable and unwilling to follow our instructions. I had to repeatedly tell her what to do before she would comply and I even had to spot check her. The moment my back was turned, she would revert to her old ways.
She could not cook a lot of common confinement dishes. It was fortunate that I trusted no one to cook the Pig’s Trotter in Vinegar but asked my mother to take care of that particular dish for me. When the nanny saw the dish and tried it herself, she had the cheek to ask my mother how the dish was done. This was despite the fact that I specifically asked for a Cantonese nanny who knew how to cook cantonese confinement dishes, of which this dish is one of the most common.
As for the other dishes, she only could cook something decent after seeing what my mother brought for me now and then. Other times, like my hubby said, I ate worse than army food. Everyday, it would be different kinds of veggies fried with fish cake. It could be beans for lunch and broccoli for dinner but always done the same way. She could not even cook a decent Sesame chicken or Rice Wine Chicken.
Initially, she would cook the same thing for me as well as the rest of the family. This should not be the case because confinement food are usually not suitable for normal people. Confinement nannies will always cook separately for the new mother. My nanny had to be told before she would do this.
These are just the main issues with her incompetence. I spent the whole one month boiling over her incompetence and her reluctance to comply with instructions. You may wonder why I didn’t exercise my right to change a nanny. The thing is, we realised that you won’t know how bad a nanny is within days. We tried to give her the benefit of doubt in the beginning and see if things would change. After all, confinement practices vary and not everyone does things exactly alike. We did speak to the agency about our unhappiness. Their response was typical denial – “We have used her many times before and no one complained”, “I have not heard of using black beans in confinement”, etc. It was only after many calls that they offered to replace a nanny. By the time things got really unbearable, it was already 2 weeks into my confinement, and I felt that it would be pointless to change a nanny just for another two weeks, having to go through the trouble of getting used to a new person again. Besides, the next one could be just as bad.
We thought about it and figured that the nanny probably got away with knowing little because she was probably assigned to people who were new parents and didn’t know much about confinement practices, or people who just didn’t care too much.
A friend also experienced the same thing. She too knew that her agency nanny was incompetent because she had a good nanny before. The second one had to be taught what to do.
Hence, these days, I am of the opinion that if you are hiring a confinement nanny, it is better to do so through word of mouth recommendation of people whom you know and trust. Having said that, it is still important that you ask and check thoroughly to ensure that the recommended nanny fulfills your requirements. As I said before, confinement practice varies from person to person, so the nanny may be very good but may not suit your particular requirements.
Foreign Domestic Worker
This is another alternative you can consider, especially if you are not particular about confinement practices and you are already hiring a foreign domestic worker or intent to do so.
You can try to train your foreign domestic worker to cook some confinement dishes before your baby arrives. During your confinement, you can instruct her to cook the dishes that she learned. Besides cooking, you may also need to train her in basic baby care. If you are not sure about confinement practices yourself, you can prepare by asking around, and getting some confinement food recipe books. Nowadays, such recipe books are easily available in book shops.
We used this arrangement for my 3rd confinement and it worked out fine. At least, my FDW won’t complain about having to do housework (as some confinement nannies would).
Confinement Food Delivery
This is yet another option if you just want a simple confinement. If you have someone helping you with housework and baby care, e.g. Foreign Domestic Worker, but don’t have anyone to take care of the cooking, you can consider ordering confinement food delivery, or locally known as tingkat meals. There are companies dealing with confinement food. I have not tried the quality of the food though.
Last option is not to have a formal confinement. I know of people who basicallly get back to normal life just within days after delivery a baby. While this is not impossible, I personally am not in favour of it. The main reason is because I feel that it is important for the mother to have adequate rest and the time to get to know the new baby and bond with the baby. Even if you are an experienced mom, no two babies are alike and you will need the time to get to know the new baby.
Confinement is not something that only the Chinese practises. Across many cultures, confinement or babymoon is a common practice. The time period and the specific practices may differ from culture to culture. But the common idea is that this is the time for the mother to recuperate from her 9 months pregnancy and her labour.
Hence, I find that instead of trying to be too gungho, why not just take the time to rest and relax? Even if you are the type who can’t sit still for a moment, it is still good to just slow down your pace for one month and enjoy your baby. Even if you do not subscribe to the confinement practices of your culture, there is no harm just taking things a bit leisurely for a while. Work will always be there. But you can never get back the precious time with a new baby.