When a positive pregnancy test, you might feel both happiness and some anxiety. Being a mother is a really big event in someone’s life and the first experience comes with anxiety of course. Not to mention giving birth in another country can add an extra layer of anxiety. Here in Japan, there are some unique points we would like you to keep in mind if you are pregnant and have the intention to give birth in Japan.
In Japan, giving birth is not considered an illness, so it is not covered by health insurance. On the other hand, to compensate for the expensive costs of delivery, there are two types of government benefits you can ask for: a maternity voucher and a childbirth lump-sum allowance.
1) Maternity Voucher
If you go to a hospital or a clinic and that’s where a doctor gives you a full diagnosis telling you that you are pregnant (meaning you need to pay 100% of the cost of the hospital visit), go directly to your local city office to issue the maternity voucher (母子手帳=Boshi Techo). You should bring this Boshi Techo everytime you go to the hospital since it is a book to record the baby’s and the mother’s health condition as well. Show your Boshi Techo and health insurance card at the reception. They will cut one sheet of your voucher and ask you to pay a portion of the cost after applying a discount. Most of the hospitals in Japan (except huge ones like university hospitals) don’t take credit cards, so don’t forget to bring cash. Based on my experience, I paid 2,000 to 8,000 yen each time I went to the hospital. The cost will vary depending on the tests you are getting. If you lose the book, you can’t reissue it. So make sure you always keep it in your bag.
2) Childbirth Lump-Sum Allowance
If you have a health insurance card (national health insurance or corporate health insurance), 420,000 yen of the delivery cost is covered by the health insurance. Using the direct payment system for the childbirth lump-sum allowance (you are asked to fill in an application document at the hospital), the health insurance will pay 420,000 yen directly to the hospital, so you don’t need to prepare a lot of money.
Traditionally, giving birth has been considered a rite of passage to become a good mother, so many mothers want a natural childbirth. In addition to this tradition, people tend to prefer natural childbirth for the baby’s health, making natural childbirth very mainstream in Japan.
But don’t worry. If you wish for a painless delivery, some hospitals possess an epidural, so ask and research whether your hospital can offer that.
The average cost of delivery was reported to be 505,759 yen in 2020. If you give birth with an epidural, by a caesarean section, or choose a private room at the hospital, 100,000~300,000 yen will be added. However, as mentioned before, 420,000 yen of the Childbirth Lump-Sum Allowance is applicable for any delivery, so the total cost a mother has to pay will be at least around 100,000 yen.
If you ask for a Boshi Techo at the city office, they will also give you this charm. By placing this on your bag, whether hanging it or attaching it, people will know that you are pregnant even if it’s not visible yet. This tag will also grant you access to the priority seats on trains or buses, which is especially helpful when you are having a bad case of morning sickness. Sadly, some commuters still choose to ignore the tag. So it’s not uncommon to see pregnant women standing and people ignoring them.
In Japan, if you give birth for the first time, on average, you will have to spend five nights at the hospital with your baby. After the second time, it will be shortened to four nights, and if your delivery is done by caesarean section, it will be a 10-night stay. During your stay at the hospital, midwives will give you a lecture on how to breastfeed and bathe your newborn baby. At some hospitals (like private hospitals or maternity homes), even body massages can be given to the new mother!
It depends on the hospital though, you can ask for a nanny at midnight so that you can sleep well. You can choose whether you want to stay with your baby all day or only during the daytime after consulting your midwife, and checking your health (mainly breasts) and mental condition.
Breastfeeding is considered in Japan as the best way to feed your baby since it strengthens the baby’s immune system. So you may be strictly advised by your midwife not to rely on baby formula if possible. And as a fact, Japan doesn’t have organic baby formula. However, as a mother who raised her baby with baby formula, the usage of baby formula doesn’t really matter.. The most important thing is feeling happy and positive when you are with your baby