Baby's 100th Day & Self Studio

September 17, 2019

I have been to my fair share of first birthdays (dol-jan-chi/돌잔치) in Korea, but having a son of my own has opened my eyes to the other celebrations and traditions that exist. 

Starting right after a child is born, there are some "rules" to follow. Keep in mind that these are all based on my experience (living in a rural area of Korea) and that not all Korean women adhere to them:
  • mother should eat seaweed soup at every meal (even breakfast) for about a month
    • While I was in the hospital, we requested different food. Having seaweed soup once a day would have been tolerable but it was an 'all or nothing' kind of deal. The staff didn't say much about it because we framed it as though I had an allergy rather than me blatantly disregarding my own health.
  • mother should wear socks at all times if not covered completely to avoid cold breezes and should even avoid using an air conditioner
    • While I was in the recovery centre, I went to get a massage on a different floor but just wore sandals and was sternly reminded to wear socks next time. I heard it has something to do with healing bodies being sensitive to sudden changes in temperature.
  • mothers should not shower for at least a week... and not even touch cold water
    • I was unable to shower due to having a c-section, but had one as soon as the doctor said I could.
  • babies should be covered/warm
    • We took our son to get his vaccinations when he was a month old (in July!) and because we didn't have him wrapped in a blanket, one mom commented "oh wow they raise their baby so cool (meaning not warm, not 😎)" ... I didn't take offence, but have heard this comment a few times.
  • even once out of the hospital, mothers shouldn't leave the house for 20 days or so and there shouldn't be too many visitors (if any at all)
    • I didn't follow this one.

A lot of the traditions I hear about seem to be rooted in the not-super-distant history of Korea being a poorer country (fresh out of the Korean War) without access to basic necessities which affected infant mortality rates. So when you hear about people in Korea being overly cautious about babies, you can understand why. When my in-laws were born in the 1960s, it was common not to register the child's birth right away because it was not assumed that the child would survive. This is why the celebration of a baby's 100th day (baek-il/백일) is so important in Korea.

Typically, if a family opts to have a 100th day party, it is only attended by family and close friends. I don't think it's super common and certainly not obligatory to have a party, but if a family decides to host a party, it may look something like this: 

© 파티베이비
Although 100th day parties may not be common, 100th day photoshoots certainly are.

For those not looking to cut any corners, there are photo studios (not unlike the one we went to for our wedding photos) which offer packages. We were gifted a '50th day' photo session from the hospital, and the studio had packages which included photo sessions for 50th day, 100th day, and first birthday -- the cheapest of which was, I think, $700. Another option is to take the photos yourself at home and buy or rent the decorations and outfits. The option that intrigued me the most, however, was the "self studio" which provides the sets, outfits, lighting, and camera but no photographer or packages (which just means no prints, but you're given all of the digital files). We went to Photo Story which gives the option of three different rooms to use for 2 hours:

"A Room" (~$120CDN)

© 포토스토리 남악점
"B Room" (~$100CDN)

© 포토스토리 남악점
"C Room" (~$100CDN)

© 포토스토리 남악점

We went with "B Room".

When we showed up at the studio, the staff (after trying to upsell us on regular packages which we declined) gave us a rundown of how to use the camera and lights, and then we were on our own. There was an entire wall of outfits and props that we were free to use. Two hours may seem like a good amount of time, but we barely got around to using every set because you have to factor in feedings and diaper changes. Overall it was a really tiring process but I found the experience a lot more memorable than simply standing by while a photographer takes care of it all. We ended up with about 300 images, some of which were expectedly out of focus or had bad lighting, but I was really happy with how they turned out and would consider doing this again in the future. Here are a few of our best shots that I also photoshopped myself: 

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