Mother nurture

With residential packages and a crack team of specialists, Mermaid Maternity Retreat uses wellness to ease the path to motherhood, writes Eve Oxberry

With the evolution of ever more complex wellness retreats, the line between medicine and spa is becoming increasingly blurred. While it doesn’t advertise itself as a spa, and indeed has no hydrotherapy facilities, Mermaid Maternity Retreat has carved itself a new niche, offering everything from massage and pedicures to breastfeeding workshops and baby osteopathy.

night view of Mermaid Retreat The members-only retreat opened its doors on Chelsea’s Kings Road in late July and proved an instant hit with the areas affluent mothers. Yet founder Nick Balfour is adamant the retreat is “not just about pampering for rich people” and is a model that can be repeated in towns across the UK. In fact he is already on the hunt for three more sites in London, with a nationwide roll-out to follow.

Adjusment time
The core Mermaid offer is residential packages for a few days after the baby is born, where women can adjust to their new lives in comfort, surrounded by experts. Mermaid doesn’t have hospital facilities for the birth itself but women can sign up for membership at any stage of pregnancy and visit before and up to six months after the baby is born.

“I saw a clear gap in the market between the NHS, which is free but quite basic, and private care, which is incredibly expensive,” says Balfour. Mermaid Retreat charges £30 a month for membership then additional fees for treatments, appointments with experts such as nutritionists, acupuncturists or osteopaths and for residential stays, which start at £595 a night including meals designed by the in-house nutritionist and access to the experts.

Perceived value
“It costs £15-20,000 to have a baby privately, whereas if you end up spending £3,000 with us you’ll get a lot for that over a long period of time,” he adds.

The 10,000sq ft space has 14 bedrooms, a wellness zone with three treatment rooms, a large fitness studio, plus consultation rooms, a nursery and a 30-cover restaurant.
Bedrooms are of different sizes so partners can stay too. Mermaid will pick new families up from any London hospital and bring them into the tranquil retreat.

“Hospitals discharge women as early as six hours after birth, which is medically sound but that doesn’t mean she is ready to go and deal with it all by herself,” says Balfour. “We believe we can create a more supportive environment than is possible at home or in a hospital.”

Balfour has four children of his own and came up with the idea for Mermaid six years ago when his wife gave birth to their third and he got chatting to her obstetrician, Professor Eric Jauniaux of University College Hospital, London – now his partner in the business. Although she was a private patient and was allowed to stay, both agreed the time after birth could be more pleasant and less expensive. “We had the idea together and he helped me put together an advisory board of medical professionals,” says Balfour.

Expert guidance
In fact one of the reasons the project took so long to come to fruition was Balfour’s Studio at Mermaidinsistence on getting the right experts on board. The team, he says, is a “who’s who” of maternity practitioners and includes acupuncturist Emma Cannon, nutritionist Vicki Edgson and osteopath Fiona Greer.

“When you have a baby suddenly everyone starts recommending an amazing baby massage expert in North London or an acupuncturist in Putney and you can spend a lot of time trying to get appointments and travelling without ever quite knowing they’ll actually be any good,” says Balfour. “The idea at Mermaid is that you have access to the best of the best all under one roof.”

Targeted treatment
To develop the Wellness Zone, Balfour partnered with QMS Medicosmetics, a cosmeceutical brand that also runs a medispa in nearby Cadogan Gardens.
The brand has trained Mermaid staff in a capsule collection of four treatments designed specially for pre-and post-natal women. The 45-minute Recover Your Skin Facial is designed to provide an immediate boost to moisture levels depleted during pregnancy. There are also treatments for hands and feet and an upper-body treatment focused on maintaining the elasticity and vitality of the skin.

“Therapists from The QMS spa can come here to perform treatments if we need them and we also refer women to them for additional treatments not offered here,” says Balfour.
Other beauty services will include manicures and pedicures with OPI, lash tints and waxing.

Most of the alternative therapies will also be performed in the treatment rooms, although Mermaid will offer appointments in residential rooms too.

While some consumer press has hailed Mermaid a luxury just for yummy mummies, most in the spa industry know that the current rise in popularity of wellness during a time of deep NHS cutbacks is no coincidence. So, a specialist maternity spa with a comprehensive, medically focused residential offer makes a lot of sense and, while this business may still be in its infancy, if Balfour’s expansion goes to plan, it could grow into quite a family. 

Mermaid in numbers
Size: 10,000sq ft
Bedrooms: 14
Treatment rooms: three
Opened: July 2013
Brands used: QMS Medicosmetics, OPI
Treatments and classes: Reflexology, osteopathy, nutritional advice, physiotherapy, accupuncture, yoga, pliates, massage, facials, manis, pedis, waxing, lash tints, plus workshops on everything from breastfeeding to sleep routines and baby first aid