Do-it-yourself parents

Do-it-yourself parents
Stay-at-home mum Nicole Loh and her husband Julius Tan, with daughter Evie, use cloth diapers and did not have a confinement nanny.

When Ms Nicole Loh went to the hospital to give birth to her first child, she and her husband told her parents that they were going for a staycation.

"We didn't want to have to give constant updates on how the birth was progressing," recalls her husband, private chef Julius Tan, 30.

About a day later, they returned home to the flat where they live with Ms Loh's parents.

Her mother, Madam Eveline Chua, 62, did not initially realise that the cloth sling wrapped around her daughter contained a newborn - baby Evie, who is now nine months old.

That was the start of a period of "big adjustment" for Madam Chua, because Mr Tan and Ms Loh, 28, handled the confinement period on their own, refusing most offers of help from the grandparents.

They had no domestic helper or confinement nanny either.

A confinement nanny is an experienced woman who helps a mother care for her newborn during the traditional Asian confinement period of between 28 and 44 days.

During this time, the extra pair of hands allows the new mother to recuperate from pregnancy and the rigours of childbirth.

"We wanted to be the main caregivers. We wanted to see all our baby's milestones and be there with her," says Ms Loh.

The stay-at-home mum, who runs an online business selling organic body products, found the confinement period "quite difficult". She adds: "During the first month, Evie would cry and my parents would run over, wanting to comfort her. I closed the door of our room because I wanted to learn how to do it myself."

Her husband looked online for traditional Chinese confinement recipes, adding black fungus and ginger to nutritious dishes he cooked for his wife. Her confinement menu included papaya soup, fish soup and quesadillas.

Such do-it-yourself parenting for newborns, without live-in help during confinement provided by parents, confinement nannies or domestic helpers, is "not that common", says Ms Angelyn Seet, director of ParentLink, which conducts parenting and childbirth courses.

She adds: "I do see more people doing such 'self-confinement', maybe 10 per cent more, but it's not popular.

"Parents who want to do it by themselves have a strong sense of independence. They may feel that a confinement nanny or their parents have a parenting philosophy that's very different from theirs."

In fact, a week before their daughter's birth, Ms Loh and Mr Tan wrote a long text message to her parents outlining their child-rearing philosophy.

"We wanted a natural approach, using cloth diapers which we wash ourselves, no chemicals. Also, we were caned as children and we didn't want that for our child. We didn't want her to watch TV and we wanted her to eat healthily," she says.

Mr Tan says he told his own parents about their parenting plans, which they accepted.

But his mother-in-law admits she was initially upset. Madam Chua, a contract administrative worker, says: "I was angry Nicole didn't appreciate my advice. Now I let her be. It's so different from the way we've been doing things. I was so happy to have help after I gave birth. My mother and mother-in-law helped me. We're very traditional."

Privacy is another consideration for couples who opt for DIY parenting.

Stay-at-home mum and blogger Ang Chiew Ting, 27, and her husband Joshua Tan, 42, who runs his own photography business, decided against a confinement nanny when their daughter Meredith was born eight weeks ago. Their parents were not available to help out.

Ms Ang says: "We didn't feel comfortable having a stranger live with us for a month. We also didn't want a confinement nanny because we've heard how some enforce many rules, including how we are supposed to wear long sleeves and long pants during confinement to keep warm. I didn't want to be restricted and stressed out by that."

Although she had confinement food delivered by a caterer, both husband and wife found it was a strain coping on their own, especially with their baby often waking every 1½ hours throughout the day and night.

Mr Tan lost 8kg during the confinement month, for which he took leave. He did a "permanent night shift" caring for their first child because Ms Ang fell ill frequently, suffering from migraines, nausea and numbness of limbs.

Recently, Ms Ang, who also found breastfeeding painful and difficult, got a viral infection which a doctor said might be because of lack of rest. The couple then decided that they needed help with housework and caring for the baby, and they hired a maid.

"I feel very blessed to have a husband who's very supportive and hands-on," says Ms Ang.

If couples are going it alone, the spouse can provide support and look out for problems during the confinement period.

Ms Yafa Yong, a midwife and lactation consultant at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, says: "The husband can see whether the new mother is coping well. Having a bit of anxiety is common for mothers who have just given birth. They must go to the obstetrician if post-natal depression is suspected. The mother may be very withdrawn, with no interest in eating or in handling the baby."

Some physical signs that the mum needs medical attention include experiencing a sudden rush of blood or blood clots. She says the infant should be "feeding well and well hydrated".

ParentLink's Ms Seet says: "It can be overwhelming for new parents to take care of the new baby by themselves, especially if they have no helper and have to do the housework too. We would encourage them to get the whole village to help."

The "village", in the form of a network of friends, went to the aid of stay-at-home mum Jeana Wong.

She decided on DIY confinement for her second child because the confinement nanny she hired for her first child did not "match" her breastfeeding philosophy. So she decided to get support elsewhere.

"I wanted to breastfeed my daughter on demand, who is now four. But the confinement lady was used to formula feeding. I ended up pumping milk all day," says Ms Wong, who is in her 30s.

"For my son, who's one year old, it was much easier for my husband and me. There were no conflicting agendas. We didn't involve my mum or mother-in-law because they don't have the culture of total breastfeeding. For their generation, it was formula feeding or mixed feeding."

Without the live-in help of parents or a confinement nanny, Ms Wong relied on her husband and friends who breastfed, as well as a breastfeeding expert for "emotional support in how you want to raise your child". Another friend cooked high-protein breakfasts, including porridge with meat, for her.

Her husband, Mr Handry Sudjana, 41, who runs a consumer finance firm, took two weeks' leave and cooked dishes such as steak and poached fish for lunch and dinner. Yet another friend came by regularly to look after their older child.

Regardless of the reasons, "self-confinement" is difficult across the generations.

Says coffee shop assistant Seah Pui Ing, 60, of caring for her two children, who are now in their 20s: "I had some help from my mother-in-law for my first child, but I did it myself for my second.

"For instance, I carried one child and mopped the floor, while the other child crawled around. I don't know how I did it, I just gritted my teeth. Of course, I was tired, but luckily, I was in my 30s then - still young."

This article was first published on May 10, 2015.
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