Considering the process of pregnancy is the same for women the world over, it is remarkable how different the practices and traditions surrounding it are around the world. Many countries and cultures have their own views of how women should behave and be treated during their pregnancy.
These differences can show in laws, medical practice and attitudes at work. In Japan, there are some very specific differences from the western world. Pregnant women are given a badge to announce that they are pregnant so that other people know to offer them a seat on the train even before the bump is evident.
The father is also excluded from much of the process. Having been instrumental in the initial stage, he is sidelined during the pregnancy for hospital visits and prenatal classes. There is a growing trend towards having fathers present at hospital births, but it is not traditional.
One of the main differences in a hospital birth is that pain relief is not offered in some hospitals. While Western women might gasp, in Japan it is believed that pain relief interferes with the birth and that women will have more pride in their achievement if they don’t give birth pain-free.
20 They Have A Badge For Pregnant Women
In Japan, when you go for your initial appointment with the doctor to confirm your pregnancy, you are given a badge that you wear to let others know you are pregnant. This so-called maternity mark is given to women so that others know they are expecting when they are searching for a seat on public transportation or waiting for a long time in a line.
It is worth wearing the badge in the early days, as there are specific seats on public transportation for pregnant women, but they will not be given up to someone who is not wearing the badge.
19 They Don’t Take Supplements – They Just Have a Healthy Diet
In the west, many pregnant women take supplements, particularly zinc, calcium or folic acid. However, medical professionals in Japan do not recommend additional supplements. Instead, they believe that a pregnant woman should get all her nutritional needs from a healthy diet. Women take this advice to heart and many pregnant moms will eat organic and home cooked meals exclusively while pregnant.
The only exception to this is the recommendation to take folic acid in the first trimester to help prevent spina bifida. Doctors will give moms-to-be a prescription for any necessary vitamins during their first visit.
18 They Still Eat Sushi
In the Western world, pregnant women are warned that they should avoid eating raw or undercooked fish due to the potential risk of bacteria being present in the fish. They are also counseled to keep away from fish that has high levels of mercury in it.
However, in Japan, doctors recommend that women continue to eat sushi due to its high content of nutrients. They do recommend that women avoid raw meat, as in the West. Women in Japan also continue to drink tea while pregnant, despite its high caffeine content, a recommendation that is not given in the West.
17 Pounds Are Strictly Monitored
A pregnant woman in the west might not have her pounds monitored by a doctor, or it might be checked once or twice if there is a health complication. Doctors accept that women will gain quite a bit during pregnancy and the advice to ‘eat for two’ is common.
However, in Japan, the pregnant woman’s size is monitored at every prenatal visit and doctors are strict about suggesting that women don’t gain more than 15 - 20 pounds during the nine months. Health professionals believe that keeping the lbs lower will provide an easier birth and that it will be beneficial for the baby if the mother is not dieting after its birth.
16 Taking Meds is Not Common, and Some Hospitals Don’t Offer Them
In the West, we are used to being able to ask for meds during a long and difficult labor and would be surprised if the hospital did not offer that pain relief. However, in Japan, it is extremely rare and some hospitals don’t offer it at all.
There are very negative associations with a pain-free birth in Japan, as there is a belief that this tampers with the bond between mother and child. Pain relief is regarded as a complication to labor and there is a strong belief that woman demonstrates their capability by getting through this natural process without pain relief.
15 Women Stay in Hospital Much Longer After Birth
Although western women may be used to going home hours or at most a day after delivery, in Japan it is common practice for women to stay in the hospital for five days after the birth, and for a week after a C-section. Doctors believe that women benefit from resting in a safe environment where they can access any help or advice they need on caring for their newborn.
A midwife is always present during a birth in Japan, and after the mother and baby go home, they will receive regular post-natal visits to ensure that things are going well. Doctors believe this is beneficial to mother and baby and gives professionals a chance to spot any signs of postpartum depression.
14 Parents Aren’t Charged for Incubators
If a baby is born prematurely or has some health issues straight after the birth, it will be moved to an incubator to help it to thrive. This service costs a lot of money and in America can mount up to $200 per day. However, in Japan, there is no charge for incubation. Doctors are very risk aware and want to ensure that every possible chance is given to the baby to achieve maximum health with no additional cost.
The only cost that parents need to contribute is for diapers and formula milk if they are not breastfeeding.
13 Relatives are Not Encouraged to Stay with the Mother
There are quite strict rules in Japan about visitors to the mother and baby. While in the West we are accustomed to having friends and relatives stay with us during labor and delivery, in Japan, no one is allowed to stay with the mother during this time. However, it is becoming more common for fathers to be present during delivery.
Similarly, after the birth, visiting hours are adhered to and no one is allowed to stay with the mother and baby outside these hours. Hospitals believe this gives the mother plenty of time to rest and to bond with the baby and that staff can offer any help that is needed.
12 There Are Many More Prenatal Checkups (around 15)
According to Savvy Tokyo, a woman in Japan gets around 15 prenatal visits during her pregnancy. This is vastly more than in many Western countries. Appointments are offered every other week during the first and third trimester, and monthly during the second. If a pregnancy goes beyond 40 weeks, the pregnant woman visits the doctor every two days.
During these visits, the baby bump and blood pressure will be examined, and blood tests are taken if necessary. Urine is closely monitored, and doctors check for edema or swelling in the legs and feet. The baby’s heartbeat will be checked by doppler and a sonogram performed if necessary.
11 OBGYNs are a Bit More Reserved, and Don’t Like Husbands Being Present
Despite the low birth rate in Japan, OBGYNs are very overstretched and like to keep appointment times to a minimum if there are no major issues. They can come across as cold and perfunctory and would rather see the mother-to-be on her own rather than with her husband.
However, according to Blog.gaijinpot, it is possible to shop around and find an OBGYN who will be more friendly and allow the husband to come to appointments, but this is not the norm. As westerners, we might find this service slightly irritating, as we are paying for the service, but it is what moms in Japan expect.
10 You are Advised to Keep Ankles and Tummy Warm
Women are advised to keep their pregnant tummy warm at all times, even in hot weather. This is because of a belief that if the mother’s tummy gets cold the baby will catch a cold. According to Japan Times, women are told to keep socks on at all times. This is so that the pressure point on the ankle that links to the uterus is always covered up and kept warm.
If a pregnant woman is seen in the street in Japan without the necessary warmth protection, passers-by may admonish them and suggest they wrap up. There is no formal evidence to support these suggestions, although if women experience a particular sensitivity to cold it can occasionally lead to implications for the birth.
9 There is Quite a Bit of Unfair Treatment Against Pregnancy in the Workplace
Women in Japan are entitled to six weeks of maternity leave before their due dates, fourteen weeks for twins, and for eight weeks after delivery. They can take maternity leave until the child turns one, or six months if shared with their partners.
It is important within the culture of Japan that you take your boss aside and tell him about the pregnancy in person. When that disclosure comes is up to the individual and dependent on the size and culture of the workplace. Colleagues may take umbrage at the announcement and scoff at the time taken off for appointments or pregnancy-related illness.
8 Books On Pregnancy are For Women, as Men are Less Involved in Pregnancy
Stippy points out that Japanese books on pregnancy and childbirth have a more feminine feel to them than Western books. This may be because men are far less involved in the process than in America, so the books are read by mostly women.
Women do not really expect their partners to be involved in the pregnancy and are reluctant to let them be at the birth. Doctors endorse this view and the husband and family will not be very welcome if they turn up at appointments or even at the hospital. This is surprising for a country that is at the forefront of so many advances and yet does nothing to help the bonding of the baby and fathers.
7 Pregnancies Among Young People are Rarer Than Other Countries
Despite the fact that Japanese women did not have easy access to the pill for years, they have a very low teenage pregnancy rate. This is believed to be as a result of the huge number of commitments that a teenager normally has.
According to Quora, teenagers have a huge amount of school work to do after school and organized activities are common in ‘free’ time. Parents in Japan are notorious for monitoring their children’s activities so the opportunities to meet up with members of the opposite gender are limited.
6 It is Recommended they Eat Lots of Watery Foods, but Not Too Much Fruit
There is a belief in Japan that certain foods are ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ and that women should consume hot foods during pregnancy as it is important to keep the uterus warm. They also believe that a pregnant woman should eat foods that are native to Japan so that the baby is literally ‘made in Japan.’
There is a much lower recommendation for portions of fruit than in the west but the women are encouraged to eat lots of foods that have a high water content. Unusually, women are allowed to eat in labor in Japan, and midwives support this as it believed to give the mom the energy to push the baby out. In the West, many doctors forbid women to eat or drink in labor in case a general anesthetic is needed in an emergency.
5 They are Pregnant for 10 Months!
No, their anatomy isn’t different and every woman’s pregnancy lasts for approximately 40 weeks. However, in the Western world we round this to nine months while in Japan, they use four weeks to determine a month. This means that the 40 weeks equates to a ten-month pregnancy. This is based on a lunar perception of a month, as the moon takes four weeks or twenty-eight days to go from a full to a new moon.
The trimesters are slightly different as well. The first trimester is judged to end at 15 weeks, while the third trimester begins at week 28 as in the west. Traditions are very different and women often go to a shrine with a female relative in the fifth month to pray for a safe pregnancy and birth.
4 You May Have a Sonogram at Every Prenatal Visit
In the West, we are given very few sonograms. Perhaps there may be a confirmatory scan at the end of the first trimester and then possibly again at twenty weeks to check for abnormalities. However, in Japan a woman is given a sonogram at every appointment from day one.
As they are given at least fifteen appointments in a routine pregnancy this leads to a lot of sonograms. Let’s hope they sell special photo albums to display the shots!
There is a great belief and reliance on sonograms in Japan, and a belief that if the baby is regularly monitored in pregnancy it will lead to an easier birth.
3 One-On-One Time is Not Recommended Frequently in Pregnancy
Western doctors do not warn that engaging in private time in pregnancy is a problem, in fact some professionals recommend it to flood the baby with positive hormones. Unless there is a medical condition that prevents it, it is up to the couple to decide.
In Japan, while it’s not forbidden in a routine pregnancy, it is not encouraged, and books and professionals seem to caution that it should be every now and then rather than a regular event. There is a perception that women are responsible for looking after themselves to the best of their abilities in Japan, so they take note of advice and strive for ‘ganbaru,’ or doing the best they can at everything.
2 Hospital Food is Good, but Bring Your Own Drinking Water and Towels
Moms report that hospital food in Japan is good and that the parents are even provided with a celebratory meal once the baby is born. This is to congratulate the couple and ensure that the mom is eating well after the arduous birth. Walking is also encouraged during labor so many moms are quite exhausted! However, it is frowned upon to make too much noise.
This is a great asset and saves money on bringing food into the hospital, however, hospitals in Japan do not offer water to drink, so it is wise to bring a supply and moms are expected to bring their own towels in.
1 They Keep the Umbilical Stump in a Wooden Box
In Western cultures, the umbilical stump is usually discarded and not given any sentimental value. However, this is very different in Japan. Here the stump usually falls off in the hospital because moms stay for so much longer. This means that the hospital can help the mom with caring for the stump and deal with it when it falls off.
Hospitals give the stump to the mom in a special wooden box to keep as a memento of the birth. This is known as the ‘heso’ or belly button and parents keep them to mark the occasion of their child’s arrival, according to We Have Kids.