For first-time mothers, pregnancy and childbirth can be somewhat unnerving at times. You don’t know what to expect, how to behave, or whose advice to follow. Having a baby in a culture that is not your own can make things even more complicated.
Japan is a rather safe place to have a baby, maternal and infant mortality rates being among the lowest in the world. However, some Japanese customs regarding pregnancy and childbirth may leave foreign women a little bemused or even bewildered. Let’s take a look at three of them.
Morning sickness, swollen ankles – pregnancy isn’t always fun, but at least now you can finally eat whatever you want! You’re eating for two after all, right? Well, not in Japan.
Japanese doctors and midwives have a slightly different opinion from their Western counterparts about what the acceptable weight gain for pregnant women should be. While 10 to 14 kg is usually recommended for a Western woman whose pre-pregnancy body mass index falls within the normal range, in Japan, 7 to 8 kg are the most commonly recommended gain. Based on an online survey of foreign mothers who gave birth in Japan, 17 percent were even told to keep their weight gain to 6 kg or less.
If you don’t comply, you might have to listen to things such as: “You will never be able to lose that weight”, “we can’t deliver the baby if you put on more weight. The table can’t support you”, or – my personal favorite – “your vagina is too fat to deliver. The baby will get stuck.”
One thing that appears to be a universal custom is that pregnant women and young mothers tend to be given unsolicited advice. Sometimes it might turn out to be valuable information, often times, however, you will be told local hearsay that actually isn’t helpful at all besides giving you a clear conscience for doing everything you can for your baby.
Japan is no exception in that regard, and if you should get pregnant, one thing you might be told frequently is to keep your ankles warm, or, to be exact, the pressure points above your ankles as they are connected to the uterus, and cold ankles, therefore, will lead to a difficult labor.
Another thing you might be advised to keep warm is your belly. Even in the mid-summer heat it should be covered at all times with multiple layers because if the belly cools off the baby might “catch a cold”.
One of the oddest old wives tales you might be hearing, however, is that if you clean your toilet, you will get a beautiful baby. I can’t help but think a man might have made that one up.
Being a first-world country, you might think that epidurals and other types of pain-relieving drugs are a common standard in Japan. The reality is somewhat different. Most Japanese hospitals don’t offer any kind of pain relief during labor. Hospitals that do, require you to announce your desire in advance and likely need to have you on a fixed schedule, meaning that your baby either comes on time or labor will be induced. But what happens if the baby wants out before the due date? That’s no problem, of course, as long as you get into labor on a working day between 9 am and 5 pm. Since anesthetists aren’t on call in most hospitals, epidurals can only be offered during working hours.
I suppose the best thing you can do is educate yourself about pregnancy and childbirth, and trust your own intuition. People will give you different advice no matter where you are, so do what you feel comfortable with and listen to your maternal instincts. Of course, medical advice should be taken into account as well, but it is all right to get different opinions and do what you feel is best.
Last but not least, try not to take all advice to heart. Most people don’t mean any harm but advice out of concern and based on what they think to know. If you are told something you don’t agree with, just say “thank you” and move on.