For many new mums in Singapore, the first one to two months after giving birth are not a time to frolic among the flowers with their newborns. That’s because they’re in confinement, which basically means they’re under house arrest, usually under the watchful eye of a confinement nanny.
So who is this confinement nanny, and why does she sound like a prison warden?
Confinement nannies basically accompany new mums at home during the first one to three months, doing everything from cooking, cleaning and feeding the baby, and helping them cope with their newborns so those first few months are bearable.
There’s also a traditional element to the job, though. Most of these confinement ladies are Malaysian or Singaporean Chinese women who will prepare herbal soups for you, cook Chinese confinement dishes and might scold you for washing your hair.
Related: 3 confinement rules you can break
While most confinement nannies are hired through word-of-mouth recommendations from friends or other mums, it helps to know how this arrangement works and how much it’s likely to cost.
Confinement nanny salary
You can expect to pay anywhere between $2,100 to $5,000 per 28 days for a full-time nanny who basically lives at your home. Most people usually pay about $2,300 to $2,800.
A part-time or daytime confinement nanny usually works office hours, which is enough time for her to cook three meals a day. You can expect to pay about $1,600 to $3,200. As you can see, this is not much of a discount, and will also mean you’ll have to wake up in the middle of the night. That is why many people prefer to go for full-time nannies.
There are various factors that can hike up the price of the nanny, such as the following:
- Is she expected to look after your older children? Nannies will usually pay not attention to your other kids, so be prepared to pay more if you want them to.
- Is she expected to cook for the rest of your family? Most will happily cook for your spouse, but if you have a larger family you might be charged more.
- Is your home very big? If you live in a multi-storey or landed home, you might be asked to pay more.
- Did you just give birth to twins/triplets? You will, of course, be charged more.
- Is the nanny expected to work over Chinese New Year? During the festive period, be prepared to pay up to $1,000 more.
- Is she hospital-trained? Nannies who have been trained at a local hospital will cost more.
Your nanny will probably insist that you buy certain traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) herbs or special ingredients for your meals, which are not included in the fees.
Do note that you are also expected to give the confinement nanny a hongbao (red packet) on the first and last day of the job. If you’re getting your nanny through an agent, ask if the price of the hongbao is included.
Just like at wedding dinners, there is a market rate for the hongbao. Be prepared to fork out between $30 and $200. Most mothers give smaller hongbao on the first day, and bigger ones on the last.
Administrative and insurance costs
Many Singaporeans hire confinement nannies from Malaysia due to the lower cost. But you must apply for a work permit which costs $30. This is either paid directly by you, or by an agency. If you’re using an agency, make sure you confirm if the $30 is included in the fees.
If your nanny is not a Singaporean, you must also pay a $60 monthly levy to the government if your newborn is a Singapore citizen, and $265 a month if your baby isn’t.
Finally, you must buy medical insurance for your nanny offering coverage of at least $15,000. This applies whether she is Singaporean or not.
Some mums will also want their confinement nanny to go for a medical checkup to ensure they’re in good health, which of course you’ll have to pay for.
How to find a confinement nanny
You have two options: to gather word-of-mouth referrals from other mums, or to use an agency.
The advantage of using an agency is that you won’t have to handle the paperwork, such as applying for a work permit if the nanny is from Malaysia. The obvious drawback is that you’ve got to trust that they’ll assign you to someone you can trust.
When you should you book a nanny
Your search should begin in your first trimester. It is advisable to book your confinement nanny at least five or six months before your expected delivery date. Some mums-to-be even book a nanny once they know they’re pregnant.
Booking early makes it less likely your desired nanny will be booked by someone else, and also enables you and her to make the necessary administrative arrangements with time to spare.
Most nannies will require that you pay a deposit to book them.
What you need to prepare before the nanny arrives
Assuming you hire a full-time confinement nanny, she will be living with you between two and 16 weeks, so you’ll need to prepare her room or sleeping area. Be aware that some mums have complained about the confinement nanny blasting the air-con all day and wasting electricity.
You’ll also want to prepare to brief your nanny about all the household tasks she’ll have to do. Besides baby-related tasks, these might include laundry, cooking and cleaning. Make sure you’ve bought all supplies, such as detergent, before the nanny’s arrival.
Finally, don’t forget the hongbao. You’ll want to set things right on her first day of work.
If you don’t want to hire a nanny
So, a confinement nanny sounds like a handy person to have, but what if you’re not willing to fork out thousands of dollars, or just don’t like the idea of having some random auntie in the house?
Some hospitals, clinics and businesses can deliver confinement food to your doorstep, supposedly prepared in accordance with TCM principles. Examples include Tian Wei Signature and Thomson Medical Centre.
It’s not going to solve the problems of fatigue and lack of sleep, which are actually why most people end up feeling relieved that they hired confinement nannies (no, it’s not really about the herbal soups).
But at least you won’t have to prepare your own meals and, if you’re the kind who wants to do things the Chinese way, you can let someone else worry about the menu.
A version of this article first appeared in Moneysmart.