Pregnancy in Japan: Differences Between Japan and Other Countries

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  • Every country has a different way of treating and dealing with pregnancy. This can be seen in differing laws, medical advice, state facilities, and general practices. The ideas around pregnancy differ greatly depending on the main religion of the country (if any), the political landscape, women’s rights in the society, and general legislation.

    In the west, there is a recognized system of managing pregnancy. This differs greatly from practices in Japan. For foreign women who may become pregnant in Japan, it may come as a bit of a shock. However, the system seem to work well here, so take a look at these main pointers to consider if you are pregnant in Japan.

    The Maternity Mark

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    The first thing you will be given when you are pregnant in Japan is what is called a ‘maternity mark’, or ‘baby in me’ badge. This will be issued to you once you go to get your initial checkups from a doctor.

    This badge or keychain can be worn to indicate that you are pregnant, and can be particularly important in the early months when your baby bump isn’t so visible. The main reason for this badge is to indicate that you are pregnant in situations such as on public transport or when queuing for a long time for services.

    Pregnant women have the right to a priority seat or a priority queue, but often won’t be offered them unless visibly pregnant, which can be hard to tell. Therefore, wearing this official badge makes this whole process a lot easier for everyone.

    Vitamins

    In the West, it may be common to be recommended by doctors to take vitamin supplements while pregnant. Some common vitamin supplements which pregnant women take in western countries include Folic Acid, Calcium, Vitamin C, and Zinc.

    This is seen as a way of supplementing a diet in a healthy way, and ensure a baby is getting all the nutrients it needs to grow and develop.

    In Japan, although the above supplements are easy to find in drug stores, many medical professionals will not advise taking them. Instead, it is widely believed in Japan that a healthy balanced diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, and milk, will provide all the vitamins the body needs when pregnant.

    Indeed, doctors believe this is preferable to taking artificial supplements. The only exception to this is that they do often advise women to take folic acid supplements in their first trimester.

    Eating Sushi and Drinking Tea

    When it comes to food, in many western countries pregnant women are advised not to eat too much raw fish such as sushi. The reason for this is because of the risk of bacteria and contamination, and also mercury found in fish.

    Raw fish carries the risk of containing parasitic worms, and medical advice tends to state that you should check fish has been frozen first if you intend to eat it raw. However, in Japan, the advice is somewhat different. Doctors will not warn against consumption of raw fish, and even consider it a good prenatal food for general nutrition.

    The same can be said for drinking tea while pregnant. In many countries, pregnant women are advised not to drink much tea due to its caffeine content. Caffeine is a stimulant and some research has shown risks to unborn babies such as low birth weight and a late birth.

    In Japan, doctors do not regard drinking tea as presenting a risk to pregnant women, so often won’t advise against it. However, when it comes to raw meat, both Japan and most other countries will recommend not consuming any type of raw meat while pregnant.

    Body Weight Limit

    In the west, it is quite common for pregnant women to be encouraged to ‘eat for two’, and increase their food consumption to allow plenty of nutrients for the baby. It is seen as a normal part of pregnancy to put on some weight, and not worry about it too much.

    In Japan, doctors monitor the weight of a pregnant woman very seriously during checkups. The general advice on weight gain during pregnancy is quite strict, with recommendations that women shouldn’t gain more than between 7 and 12 kilograms during their pregnancy.

    The reasons given for this is that is it thought the birth and delivery is a lot easier and less risky when weight gain has been moderate. Also, there is a big emphasis on moderate weight gain being good practice as women will be able to return to their pre-pregnancy weight easily and with less stress. This, in turn, means they can be more active and energetic for their baby.

    Epidural Pain Relief

    Having an epidural procedure just before labour is a very common and normal procedure in western countries and internationally. An epidural is a strong anesthetic injected into a woman’s spine and provides a numbing pain relief. It is a preferred option for many women who experience a painful labour.

    In the United States, around 50% of women receive an epidural while giving birth. However, in Japan, it is not at all common. Indeed, quite a few hospitals won’t offer the procedure at all. There are somewhat negative ideas associated with a pain-free labour, and it is seen by some as unnatural.

    Indeed, many Japanese feel that a natural birth without pain relief can facilitate bonding between a mother and child. This difference is really something to consider carefully if you are pregnant and plan to give birth here. If you want the option of an epidural, you should contact a hospital well in advance to check it will definitely be available.

    Rest Days after Delivery

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    In Japan, a woman who has a normal birth with no complications will usually stay in the hospital for five days. This is increased to seven days in the case of a caesarean section. Sometimes it can be even longer than this, just to make sure the mother is healthy and not at risk of adverse issues.

    In many other countries, the rest period can be much shorter. In the United States, for example, most women with a normal birth stay for a maximum of two days, and a maximum of four days after a caesarian section.

    In Japan, people very risk adverse. Women are expected to stay in the hospital after delivery and receive information on how to care for their newborn. One could find these rest days a little boring, but they do generally seem to be effective, allowing women time to heal and be in a supportive environment.

    Even after returning home, new mothers will often be visited by public nurses regularly for general checkups. This is also a good way of spotting and treating any signs of post-natal depression.

    Costs for Incubation

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    If a baby is born prematurely or with health issues, they should be kept in an incubator at the hospital to monitor their progress. In some countries, this costs a significant amount of money for new parents. It can be quite a stressful factor alongside worrying about the baby. In the United States, this service can cost more than $200 per day.

    In Japan, many hospitals offer this service for free. The only cost to the parent is for diapers and milk. Some private hospitals do charge for this service, however, so do check it out beforehand.

    Hospitalization and Visitation

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    In many western countries and around the world, it is normal for relatives of the pregnant woman to stay with her when she is in hospital. They will often stay over for a night or two to support the mother when she is in labor.

    In Japan, only mothers and babies are allowed to stay in the hospital before and after delivery. Relatives can visit of course, but only during special visiting hours.

    Some people may find this unusual and a bit isolating for the mother, in Japan it is seen as more convenient. During hospitalization, mothers are mainly focused on their babies, and if they need any help, the hospital nurses are more than happy to assist them.

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