Three weeks after we brought Brevi home from the Korean postpartum centre, he’s put on a lot of weight and is thriving. He’s already doubled the size of his birthweight and now finally resembles something like a little human. Amazing how babies change so much! I can barely keep up with his ever-changing face and sometimes I have to do a double take to make sure I didn’t bring home the wrong baby. Despite still waking up every two hours each night to feed him, I feel more refreshed than ever (and much lighter), thanks to the amazing postpartum clinic I stayed in Korea. Though there were faults in the system that annoyed me a couple times, I believe it was worth the “investment.” And I say investment, because it was so absurdly expensive. but it was definitely worth every cent! Here’s my belated review on the Korean postpartum system and why I chose to give birth in Seoul, Korea, instead of Singapore (where I currently reside) or United States (our original home country)!
Korea is known to have superb postpartum care system (산후조리원) for the baby and the mother. Koreans (and I believe many other Asian countries) believe that right after a woman gives birth, she is in her most fragile and vulnerable state. She must follow certain restrictions and diet to promote healing and strengthen the body to help prevent any female-related illnesses, ideally for a duration of a minimum 삼칠일 samchil-il (“three and seven days” or 21 days). The restrictions may sound suffocating to some: you must keep warm all the time, eat milk-producing, highly nutritious (and bland) diet all the time, and have to keep well-rested, or more like, you cannot bend your bone joints, you cannot climb upstairs, or just move much in general, yes, all the time. Having to keep warm doesn’t sound too bad until you are told to be wrapped up from head to toe because this helps to prevent any ‘air’ to go into your bones, even in the hottest summers. Supposedly, according to the Korean culture, the bone joints in your body ‘open up’ while a woman is giving birth and if not well taken care of, you’ll suffer joint pains and shivers for the rest of your life.
So naturally, due to availability of these professional “postpartum centers” in Korea, giving birth in Korea was an option to consider. (That’s the thing about being an expat, we don’t choose which hospitals to go to within the city, we choose which countries to go lol.) We also thought about giving birth in Cali and having my mom take care of me during the recovery period, or in Singapore (Gleneagles or Mt. Elizabeth of which I toured both) but I thought I’d be better taken care of at postpartum centers that have professional doctors, nurses, and aestheticians around the clock, for weeks straight. Yes, weeks! These centers have professionals and masseuse that will help you recover and get you back into shape, all while providing utmost care of your baby and teaching you how to survive the months afterwards with this tiny little being. This is definitely what my husband, D, and I needed, as we are both the oldest in the family and have never seen or touched a baby for more than a minute.
What also attracted me to these centers was that, as the postpartum centers became quite the norm in the country, a few upscale centers were established by the popular gynecologist themselves that totally appealed to women. Not just did they take care of the birthing and the healing, they also provided the aesthetics part which every woman post-birth unmistakably needs. DeRama, where I also chose to gave birth at rather than at a big hospital, is known to be one of the best, if not the top, in Korea. And it knows it too, with posters of many famous celebrities stapled on every piece of wall you can find outside. Another close competitor is Saint Parks, but unlike DeRama it does not have dermatology/gyno/pediatrics doctors all in one building, so that was a dealbreaker for me. This is our first child and we needed every help we can get! Anyway, here is a glimpse of what my pampered day was like at the center which I will elaborate more on the latter part of the post!:
- “room dining:” be served hotel-level breakfast, lunch, and dinner made by ex-Lotte Chef directly to you room. Be served little homemade snacks and fruits in between.
- Breastfeed baby either in your room, or at the infant room (신생아실) across the hall, every two hours when the nurses call. Lactation professionals that are available around the clock will help you to get your milk started. I hear they have nearly 100% success rate for all mothers, which I didn’t know was such a big deal because mine thankfully came easily. I was told people call them ladies with 신의손 or “God’s hands,” which I thought was hilarious. You can meet other mothers also while breastfeeding and make mommy friends. 🙂
- Rest and lounge around in bed, watching tv or reading a book. While I had to feed the baby every two hours, it was good having professional nurses watch your baby to help mothers relax and recover. At times, I’d pump my milk ahead of time so that nurses can feed the baby and I can skip one nighttime feeding to get a good night sleep.
- Go up to 7th floor spa daily and receive their famous 2-hr high-frequency wave massage that supposedly gets you back into shape faster (고주파 관리). I lost all my pregnancy weight when I left the center after 3 weeks.
- Gyno checkup downstairs once a week to check if your ovaries are shrinking regularly.
- Get dermatology services downstairs if you’d like to also get skincare. I saw few mothers remove their moles and get laser treatment while they’re cooped up inside. Perfect way to spend your time!
St. Parks is newer and has better facilities than DeRama, which is over five years old, so I didn’t expect much from the rooms. Although it has upscale finishings with wood and marble flooring and a hotel-like bed, the electronics were outdated and the rooms small. But the room condition was the least important in what I looked for in a postpartum clinic so this was okay. They have maid service once a day, during the time when you’d be getting your spa service, which was excellent because I didn’t have to inform them on when they need to clean, etc. They contact the spa directly for your schedule that day. The room of course has cable, internet, small fridge, air humidifier, heater, etc.
Every room comes with your own 좌욕기 (don’t know in English, that toilet looking thing on the left that shoots out hot water, with laser) that they recommend for you to use 3~5 times a day, 15 minutes each. It’s suppose to help you heal and recover faster for those that had natural delivery. I wasn’t sure what this was prior to going in but I heard it does wonders, and I did recover quickly. 🙂 Note: Some postpartum clinics have ones to share with other mothers and I’m not sure how sanitary that’d be, so it’s something to check prior to deciding where to go.
2. Infant Care System
Infant care was the highest on my list and rightfully so, bc the newborn is so fragile and you want to make sure your baby gets the best care. The babies stay in the 24-hr care centre run by registered nurses, unlike ladies at other postpartum centres with no degrees. You get almost private care for your baby- it’s a strict 2:1 baby to nurse ratio and there are usually around 6~8 babies per floor at a time. The VIP rooms that cost $22,000 for two weeks have private 1:1 nurse service.
The nurses call your room when it’s time for your baby to breastfeed (around every two hrs for newborns). They track and keep daily records of when your baby ate, for how long, when your baby change diapers, and weigh and bathe your baby daily, and most importantly, the lactation consultants here help to successfully breastfeed: they help the baby to latch on as well as to help mommy’s milk to start. I went in not knowing a single thing about how to take care of newborns, let alone breastfeeding, and came out being pretty comfortable breastfeeding (me), burping (hubby), bathing (hubby), changing diapers and holding/calming the baby. Another great thing about DeRama is that a pediatric doctor does her rounds to the two infant centers here DAILY to make sure your baby is healthy, and calls you to your room daily to inform you on your baby’s health and measurements. Thank God for this- being first time parents we had SO many question and we wanted to make sure he’d be in good hands in the first few days of his life, and having professionals around calmed all our fears.
Food was superb.The Chef is ex-Lotte hotel chef, and the meals are prepared carefully to meet the nutritional needs of recovering and breastfeeding mothers. The main dish for recovering mothers in Korea is usually 미역국 Miyukgook (seaweed soup) and it was accompanied by a salad, side dishes, and brown rice. Even though it’s no-MSG, low sodium and super healthy food, I didn’t get sick of it as the menu constantly changed.
The daily two-hr high frequency spa that helps put your body back into shape was one of the top reasons why I had chosen Derama. They are known for their spas and pride themselves in being number one in Korea. After having received their massages, including the prenatal ones which in the package, I’m not too sure if they are worthy of being labeled the top. They were great, don’t get me wrong, but it just wasn’t the best to justify the high price tag. But I guess can’t complain- I did come out of the center with most of the pregnancy weight gone and it was great receiving daily massages to relax the tense muscles from labor and breastfeeding.
The service of the receptionists at the spa were too prude for my taste, but this i shall just pass.
In any event, we were satisfied overall with the professional care here from the doctors and the nurses. My husband and I left the center after three weeks of recovery with much knowledge on newborn care and brought home our bundle of joy on Christmas day. 🙂 (best christmas present ever!) I’m so thankful Korea has these top-notch postpartum care for women- I’ve heard first time parents panic bringing the newborns home and frequent the emergency room for anything and everything, and that would’ve totally been us had we had come straight home. We really assumed we’d have more time to cram Baby 101 in the coming weeks but Brevi ended up arriving so soon at 37 weeks. If I were to have a second I’ll probably check out the other center without all the professionals, as we are more knowledgeable. Those who are expecting and familiar with Korea (and perhaps the language) should definitely check it out! I hear a lot of Japanese and Chinese come as well, but I didn’t see any non-Koreans during my stay.