5 surprising things I learned from having a baby in South East Asia
There’s nothing more universal than childbirth, yet it’s such a different experience across the world. I’ve realized this first hand, as a European woman delivering my baby in Bangkok.
One of the many questions I got from home was “are you coming back for baby’s birth?” and “aren’t you scared to do it over there?”. A double no for me: Bangkok was my new home now, and I wasn’t too fussed about birth itself. A baby can come out anywhere, right?
Flash forward to one year later, I’m typing this post at home with my 7 months old girl Cleo. I’m grateful that I had her in Bangkok, and happy to call this city our first family home. But I’ve also learned some unexpected things about having a baby in this part of the world. Here are the 5 things that struck me the most!
1. You can pick your baby’s birthday
Back in Europe you’d be advised to opt for a natural birth, with the help of an epidural if you so wish. A c-section is only performed if necessary for either mom’s or baby’s health. In Thailand I found out it’s the opposite! When I was pregnant, I was often asked how the baby will come out. I found this question pretty surprising, but people were even more surprised to hear I was aiming for a natural birth.
Most Thai women are afraid of labor and delivery, and prefer a cesarean instead. Moreover, people here believe in lucky numbers – they go to a fortune teller or monk to find out the best day for their baby to be born. Cleo was born at 12.34 on the 5th (of April) – by coincidence in our case – which was considered a very lucky time!
For anyone pregnant in Thailand, I’d advise to check the hospital’s and doctor’s birth policy. Many prefer to do cesareans as they’re convenient to schedule and bring in more money. But some specialize in natural births if that’s your goal. Overall, medical care in Bangkok is top notch so I always felt I was in good hands!
2. Surprising hospital habits
My birth experience was great – I actually ended up needing a cesarean, but my doctor and the hospital staff were outstanding. The way I delivered was not my only surprise though. I discovered many things are done differently compared to home.
First of all, partners aren’t usually allowed at the surgery room, but we pushed this one through. Secondly, it’s common for your baby to stay in the nursery while the mother can rest. Personally I preferred to have my baby with me all the time, but this didn’t seem to be the usual way!
Another thing that struck me was the “crowd”. It’s pretty common in South East Asia to see a lot of staff behind a shop counter, and a hospital is no different. There were more nurses than patients! From early morning onwards there was a coming and going of hospital staff in our room, doing all sorts of medical checks or cleaning. It could be a bit much sometimes, but overall I felt blessed for being so well looked after!
3. “Be careful!”
Without wanting to stereotype, I’ve noticed that South East Asians overall are more cautious in the early stage of parenting. When I was pregnant, I was advised to walk slowly and preferably not walk much at all. Caffeine was off limits – an expecting friend of mine was denied a coffee she ordered, while where I come from it’s considered ok to have a cup per day.
Two weeks after Cleo was born, we took her out for a walk in the city. People looked at us like we were crazy! Apparently it’s common in Asia to stay inside with your newborn for the first few months. While I understand the concern, I need outdoors life so Cleo has always been tagging along with me!
4. Get your sweat on momma
It’s a tradition in Thailand and other parts of South East Asia to undergo the “Yu Fai” ritual after giving birth. Yu Fai means “lying by fire” and is rooted in superstition, but would also have physical and mental benefits for the new mother.
As the name reveals, women will stay by a heat source for a few hours a day, a few days in a row. Traditionally this would be a bamboo bed with a fire underneath, which has been replaced by a sort of steam bath these days. It’s combined with Thai postnatal massage and aromatherapy. Yu Fai would reduce fluid retention and help the uterus shrink back to its original size. In addition, it relaxes the mother after the intense process of giving birth and during the care for a newborn.
As I was curious to experience this tradition, I had a mini Yu Fai session at my home. It included an herbal warm bath and different massages with herbal compresses and Reboso scarfs. It was relaxing for sure, though I naively hoped it would make my postpartum pouch disappear (which it didn’t, haha).
5. A whole lotta love
Keeping the best for last: no ones loves a baby more than a South East Asian! Women, men, young or old people – everyone is crazy about babies, especially foreign ones. I once came out of a taxi with my baby, and a bunch of motor taxi drivers (usually not the gentlest of men) ran up to help me with my stroller and to admire Cleo. It’s nice to know that, with family living far away, people care for you!
Looking back at the past year, it’s been one full of surprises – and one of the most amazing years of my life. Wherever our little family will venture out next, we’ll carry the South East Asian positivity with us!