BEIJING -- China is bracing itself for a baby boom in the Year of The Dragon, which could mean a lot more exhausted new moms facing nights of fitful sleep. But some Beijing mothers will pass the month after giving birth doing little but resting, getting massages and drinking soup.
New mothers who can afford the services of downtown Beijing's “Month Maid” Service Center get around-the-clock post-natal help in their homes. The maid cooks, cleans and even provides massages for them and their baby in the month following childbirth.
The offices of the Center are plastered with posters of Chinese pop singers and soap opera actors who hired the agency’s maids. Thousands of similar agencies exist in Beijing, in keeping with a Chinese custom which dictates that mothers should rest indoors during the month following childbirth, for the sake of their health. “The tradition dates back hundreds of years, and maid agencies started to appear in the late 1990s,” Zhang Xuchen, manager of the Beijing Center said.
“After child birth, the mother shouldn't do anything except rest and breastfeed her child,” Zhang said. Everything else is the responsibility of the maid, who will “massage, sing and talk to the newborn,” she said.
The maid is also charged with restoring balance of hot and cold inside a new mothers body, as defined by traditional Chinese medicine. Cold food and chilled drinks are strictly forbidden, in favor of hot soups, cooked by the maid. “All our maids take practical cooking exams,” Zhang said. Maids are also trained in massage, which is believed to remove toxins from the mother’s body.
Month maids are expected to be in high demand during the lunar Year of the Dragon, which lasts until next February. Superstitious couples across China hope to have "dragon babies," who are traditionally thought to be destined for wealth and success. Beijing expects a five percent increase in child births this year, according to local media. “We’re much busier than last year,” Zhang said “Our maids have all been booked through to September.”
Month maids work sixteen hours each day, without any days off during the month they are employed, Liu said. Salaries range from approximately 500 dollars a month for a new recruit, to 2000 dollars a month for the agency’s most experienced maids. Many of Beijing’s month nurses come from the countryside, Zhang said, and the job offers a route out of rural poverty.
This year’s dragon baby boom could mean wage hikes Beijing’s month maids. Starting salaries in some smaller cities increasing by as much as 25 percent as month maids seek out higher wages in bigger cities, according to Chinese media.
Zhang is confident that her agency’s month maids will find a market outside of China. The Center recently founded a branch in Singapore, and counts several American and European mothers among its clients. But for some Western mothers, getting used to Chinese post-birth customs is a challenge. “American mothers often insist on drinking chilled water, despite their maid’s warnings not to,” Zhang said.