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Having a newborn can be tough. This business will help — for $850 a night | CBC News

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Two days after Ashley Thomassen gave birth to her first baby, she and her husband checked into a Toronto hotel. 

Not just any hotel. 

For the next two weeks, they had 24/7 help acclimating to life as new parents. When they needed help breastfeeding, a staffer appeared in minutes. When they needed rest, they could send the baby to a nursery while they caught some shut-eye. 

“One of the care workers, Julia, met me at the door, took me to the room, and as she was showing me everything that was available to me … I just broke down in tears,” said Thomassen, recalling the moments after she first arrived.

“I just felt so relieved that I was stepping into somewhere where I knew I would have the support that I really needed.”

Housed inside Toronto’s Kimpton Saint George Hotel, Alma Care bills itself as Canada’s first postnatal retreat. Similar retreats are already common in countries such as China and South Korea, but the model has more recently made its way to North America, with centres popping up in New York City, San Francisco and Dana Point, Calif

Alma Care founder Hana McConville said the business was inspired, in part, by her own experience ‘sitting the month’ while postpartum with her two children. (Laura MacNaughton/CBC)

Hana McConville, Alma Care’s co-founder, says the model is inspired by the Chinese tradition of “sitting the month,” in which new moms spend 30 days recovering postpartum while a family member or nanny helps care for them and the baby. 

“If the mother is better rested and is properly nourished, she will thrive and so will her baby,” said McConville.

Can you put a price on rest?  

At Alma Care, retreats cost between $850 and $1,300 a night, depending on the size of room and how long families stay (there is a three-night minimum). The company also offers home care packages starting at $2,250 for 50 hours of help.

And while extra help has always existed for those who can afford it, some doctors say the emergence of this business model highlights the need for better, more accessible postpartum care without the luxury price tag.

All-inclusive postpartum hotel stays

Alma Care didn’t invent the concept of a splashy, postpartum hotel stay. 

In South Korea, a retreat, or joriwon, reportedly costs between a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars, depending how long women stay. In China, mothers who can afford it might spend about $11,000 US per month. And in Taiwan, where a postpartum hotel stay is a relative bargain at about $220 US per night — but where the average salary is around $22,000 US — families save up as though they’re “buying a diamond ring,” according to a recent article in The New Yorker

The price point makes sense when you consider what’s included, McConville said. 

Alma Care employs a stable of contractors — from nurses and doulas to lactation specialists and personal support workers — who are available at all hours of the day. 

Moms staying at the retreat get three dietitian-approved meals a day. Moms can choose between a Western or Asian-inspired menu, and are served herb-infused bone broth and roasted rice tea that’s thought to promote lactation

A selection of snacks and gifts is pictured on a hotel room bed.
A selection of snacks and supplies that new moms get when arriving at Alma Care, a postnatal retreat in Toronto. The retreat between about $850 and $1,300 a night. (Laura MacNaughton/CBC)

Rooms come well-stocked with postpartum supplies — from diapers to nursing pillows to top-of-the-line breast pumps. For an added fee parents can also sign up for a massage or a manicure. 

The most popular perk, said McConville, is the keycard-protected, supervised nursery where parents can send their babies while they catch up on sleep.

“[Parents] can rest assured that their baby is being taken care of, and they can actually sleep throughout the night,” said McConville.

‘Can be very lonely and overwhelming’

McConville says she wants her business to “change the narrative” around postpartum care.

“I think a lot of families think that they need to do it alone, like, ‘I’m a mother now so I should know what to do,'” she said.  

“The reality of the situation is that many new parents don’t know what to do and it can be very lonely and overwhelming.”

Dr. Evelyn Ma, a Calgary family doctor, hears those insecurities from the new parents she works with. Families often arrive home from the hospital anxious about caring for their babies, and they are unsure about where to go for support, she said. 

“To have everything under one roof and on site and easily accessible — I can see that being a big draw,” said Ma.

She noted the people who might benefit the most from having a range of services under one roof — some single parents, for example — would likely be priced out. 

“I do struggle with delivery of the services provided by these retreats in the sense that I feel like care should be available to everybody regardless of what you can afford to pay.”

A woman with a black bob, a grey t-shirt and pink cardigan is pictured standing inside a patient exam room at a family medicine clinic.
Dr. Evelyn Ma, a family doctor who practices in Calgary, said it’s common for new parents to feel nervous about taking care of their babies and unsure where to go for support. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Canada does a good job providing prenatal care and taking care of women and babies during delivery, but “where we maybe let women down a little bit is during the postpartum period,” said Dr. Amanda Black, president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. 

The level of care available can vary significantly depending on where a new mom lives, she said. Some cities have postpartum care clinics or public health nurses that do home visits, but others do not. 

At the same time, women typically get sent home from hospital only a night or two after delivery, and often live far away from friends and family who might have traditionally provided a support network. 

Black said it’s unlikely Canada’s public health-care system would ever replicate the model of a postnatal retreat but suggested the business could serve as a starting point for a broader conversation. 

“What can we draw from other cultures to try to figure out a better way of supporting women during the postpartum period?” she said. 

Expansion plans

A breast pump is pictured next to a bassinet.
The amenities at Alma Care include this top-of-the-line breast pump. (Laura MacNaughton/CBC)

McConville, for her part, said she understands the retreat is not widely accessible, but said the business is working on what resources it can offer free of charge. 

For now, the business is focused on its Toronto operation, but has wait lists open for future locations in Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal.

Thomassen, whose daughter, Lena, is now roughly three months old, said she and her husband saved up for their stay, and put money they’d considered spending on a “babymoon” vacation toward the retreat instead. She said she feels lucky they were able to afford it, even then.

For her, though, the experience was worth the price. And if she has another child, she plans to check in again. 

“I wish it was available in some form to all women because it really made a huge difference in my own recovery,” said Thomassen.

“It made a huge difference with [my baby], too, and the care that I was able to provide her because someone was taking care of me.”

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