Baby care: Lim Kim Moi (left) showing new mother Nancy Cheng how to change her baby’s diaper. Confinement ladies like Lim are few and far in between, especially in the Year of the Dragon. (thestar.com.my)
The deluge of newborns by aspiring parents in the Year of the Dragon has created a demand for confinement ladies which has made them 'precious commodities'.
Mothers across the country, especially in densely-populated cities like Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru, are finding it difficult to secure experienced confinement ladies or nannies even three to four months ahead of their delivery date.
'My sister-in-law in Johor Baru was searching high and low for a nanny since March and she only found one available in July,' said Elaine Wong, 32.
Wong, who had just welcomed her baby boy in March, had booked her confinement lady from Ipoh in November last year.
'She was very good, but she was already booked in July,' said Ms Wong, who initially recommended the confinement lady to her sister-in-law.
While Nancy Cheng, 34, booked a place in a confinement centre early, she took one of the last places in the centre.
'I knew if I did not place my booking earlier, it would be difficult to get a place,' said Cheng, who is completing her confinement period soon.
Zen Ah Ching, a confinement lady in her 60s, said she had already received reservations up till December.
'I am already fully-booked for this year since January,' said Zen.
Zen said due to the high demand, the charges for confinement services had increased from about RM100 (S$39) on average to RM3,800 but mothers might have to pay more for nannies from other states if they could not find local ones.
Alice Ong, who runs the SN Confinement Ladies Service, said her centre had received bookings up to December this year.
'Normally, people would make last-minute bookings or book two to three months in advance,' she said.
Ong said there were fewer confinement ladies to go around this time partly because many of them had gone to work in Singapore, where the pay was more lucrative.
'The shortage is worse in Johor Baru, as many confinement ladies have chosen to work across the Causeway,' said Ong.
She said those who could not secure a confinement lady could hire domestic help and take care of their babies with the help of their husbands or relatives.
'Some confinement centers have training classes for husbands and relatives on how to take care of a newborn,' said Ong.
The Year of the Dragon is considered auspicious to have a child. Babies born in this year are often said to be driven, charismatic and brave qualities that many believe would make them more successful in life.