Every country has their own way of doing things - including pregnancy. Moms might be surprised how different another country approaches the care of their pregnant women in comparison to how the United States approaches them. But, it's different all over the world.
Granted, most women end up giving birth in their country of origin, but life doesn't always play out this way. A lot of military families or overseas business venturers experience birth in another place. Today, this article is going to focus on Japan and talk about the things they do differently compared to the United States in terms of pregnancy and birth.
Keep in mind that this post is just a general comparison. Not every Japanese individual embraces all of these views or practices. No matter where a person is from, they have the right to their own unique ideals and views whether they follow the views of the rest of their country or not.
Plus, this isn't a bash on the United States. Although the United States and Japan have very different ways of doing things, it's up to each individual person to decide what is best for them.
Having said that, I really think readers will enjoy this line-up of 15 ways that Japan "does" pregnancy differently. Enjoy!
15 You’ll Be Given A Maternity Mark
For those of you who've read Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," you're well aware of what a negative mark is. But, in Japan, there is such a thing as a positive mark.
It's called the maternity mark and it even gets you perks. It's even been known as the "baby in me" badge. Coming in the form of a badge or a keychain, pregnant women in Japan wear it to let others know that they are pregnant and are entitled to be treated a certain way.
For instance, women who ride on public transport can flash the badge like an FBI agent and earn the right to a seat. Or, if a service is taking too long, Miss Mom whips out her badge and things sort of happen a little faster or she's bumped to the front of the line.
Though it doesn't always work like a charm until you're sporting a visibly pregnant belly. After all, it's hard to tell who is pregnant and who isn't when nothing is really bulging out yet. And some people just don't pay attention enough to notice this awesome maternity mark. This "baby in me" badge is issued to you once you go to your first doctor visit. It's actually at the top of the doctor's to-do list during initial check-up.
14 Medicated Births Are Looked Down On
If you know anything about Asian culture - even from the movies - it's that they are tough. And it doesn't matter whether we're talking about a man, woman, child, small innocent puppy. They're all tough. That's an umbrella statement, of course, as most Americans are considered...err, less-than-tough and many of us women have given birth without the assistance of medicine. But, generally speaking, Japanese women are tough little cookies.
So it's not surprising that most of them give birth naturally.
In fact, medicated births aren't exactly forbidden, but they're looked down on. The Japanese culture embraces the essence of discomfort in a different way than we Westerners do.
While we abhor discomfort or pain and try to avoid it at all costs, they approach discomfort or pain as an acceptable part of life.
This unique and very positive mindset puts a different twist on what doctors and the general public think of giving birth. Most of the time, women go into labor with a firm belief that their bodies know the song and dance of baby-having. They're not freaked out (as much) when hiccups happen or labor doesn't go as planned. They just grit their teeth, try something else, and make it work.
13 Some Hospitals Don’t Offer Epidurals
Many Western women who give birth in Japan aren't quit ready to deal with one Japanese fact. It's that not every hospital is ready to jab a huge needle in their spine when contractions begin to overwhelm them. Nope.
Some hospitals in Japan don't even have an on-site anesthesiologist to administer the epidural.
If you know that you will want one then you have to plan way ahead by arranging it with the hospital.
In the United States, about 50 percent of expecting moms opt for an epidural while giving birth. We tend to view epidurals less as a luxury and more of a necessity nowadays. They're not abnormal to us at all. Actually, some women don't even approach the subject of birth with mention of an epidural. Let's just keep it real here. I mean, have you seen Baby Mama where the surrogate mother character (Amy Poehler) goes as far as to give a "woot woot" in birthing class to having an epidural?
Most Japanese women aren't exactly "woot woot-ing" epidurals.
The majority of the culture doesn't view epidurals as a natural thing. Pain-free births are unnatural and most people don't try to attain them. Rather, some Japanese women believe that the pain of birth can help mother and baby to bond.
12 You Get A How-To Handbook
When you discover that you're pregnant here in North America, you typically take a time out to figure out what you need to change. Some people require drastic lifestyle changes like quitting smoking or drinking. Other women simply shift their daily habits to better support their growing baby. They do things like cut out caffeine or change their exercise routine.
In Japan, most women do the exact same thing. Though there is one extra step.
In Japan, you are required to notify the Health Office that you're pregnant. You also have to pick up your "boshi kendo techo" aka the maternity and child health handbook. This book accompanies expecting mothers to all of their doctor visits.
A mother simply brings in her book and hands it over to the medical staff to document her progress. It's an easier and more streamlined way of keeping track of any test results or other important information. The handbook is also filled with forms for you to fill out and affix a sticker indicating your registration number. With these forms, you can receive reductions in medical bills.
Also, you submit them to the National Healthy Insurance to be issued a lump sum of 420,000 yen after giving birth, which is about $4,000 in USD.
11 Forgo The Vitamin Supplements
Here in the United States and most of North America, doctors strongly recommend a slew of vitamins for pregnant women to take. Some that topped my list and likely topped yours, as well include Folic Acid, Calcium, Vitamin C, and Zinc. Then, there were the Vitamin B6 and often Unisom for the morning sickness that lasts all day (or all pregnancy). Some women are even prescribed other medications for medical conditions.
We view vitamins as a way of supplementing our diet. They're generally believed to be a healthy thing for us. Additionally, we believe they keep our bodies functioned at optimal levels and keep our babies developing like they should be. But, the Japanese don't exactly believe the same thing as us Westerners. Though the vitamin supplements are easy to find in drug stores, they tend to collect dust on those shelves.
Medical professional in Japan don't typically advise women to take them. Instead, they believe that a woman and her baby can get the appropriate amount of vitamins and minerals from healthy foods.
The only exceptions is that they still advise women to take Folic Acid in their first trimester. Everything else is dependent on a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and milk.
10 Activity Down Below Is Unheard Of During Pregnancy
Being pregnant in a Western culture means that you have a plethora of self-help books and articles at your disposal. When it comes to pregnancy, two themes that tend to play out hand-in-hand are Kegel exercises and intimacy during pregnancy. First of all, most pregnant women and their partners want to know their limits when it comes to being intimate with one another.
Secondly, when anyone talks about intimacy during pregnancy, Kegel exercises are going to be mentioned. Or rather, preached from the mountain tops. They are the "it" thing when it comes to all things about intimacy and pregnancy.
But, Japan isn't as wild about Kegel exercises as we are. In fact, not a lot of information about Kegels is mentioned. Your doctor surely isn't going to tell you about them in Japan and they're not in any pregnancy books either. They simply don't seem to be a big deal to the Japanese people including medical professionals.
Plus, intimacy during pregnancy is viewed more as a tolerated event. More than anything, it's advised in a "once in a while" frequency. The Japanese are concerned with putting too much pressure on the belly during intercourse and also the possibility of infection.
9 They Still Drink Their Tea And Eat Sushi
If you are a lover of all things sushi then you know how much it stinks for those sushi-less months of pregnancy. Some women even vow to eat sushi as their first meal directly after giving birth, because you know you're super starving at that point. Well, the Japanese don't exactly see sushi the same way that we do. For the Western culture, we are forbidden to eat raw fish during pregnancy. Even non-pregnant, we are advised to watch our fish intake because of the high mercury levels found in fish.
Japanese doctors won't warn you against the consumption of raw fish. You won't hear any horrible stories about how it could possibly contain parasitic worms or dangerous bacteria. Instead, they'll tell you that it's good for you. Yep, it's considered a good prenatal food for general nutrition.
Also, you know all that caffeine that you love but had to cut out of your diet during pregnancy? Well, Japanese doctors don't view tea drinking as presenting a risk to expecting moms. They simply don't advise against it. Granted, Western culture is basically fueled with Mountain Dew and Monster, so drinking a Japanese tea with the caffeine it contains might not even be comparable to the caffeine we dump into our systems by the truckload.
8 They're Strict On Siza, So No Eating For Two
Women who experienced pregnancy in Japan are often taken aback by the stringent weight gain "laws" of Japanese doctors. I say "laws" because they are heavily enforced. many North American women living in Japan during their pregnancy were appalled at the strict weight gain rules. We Westerners are encouraged to eat for two. This is completely and utterly incorrect for many different reasons, but it's still a pretty popular belief in Western culture.
We vehemently defend ourselves, our friends, and even our favorite celebrities when the scales tip upwards during pregnancy. Weight gain is expected, plain and simple. And it's expected in Japan, too, but the recommendations there are for women to gain no more than 7 to 12 kilograms during pregnancy. In pounds, this works out to be about 15 to 26 pounds.
The reason behind their thinking is that birth and delivery are a lot easier and less risky when size is kept in check. Also, doctors tend to focus on the aftermath of size changes during pregnancy. Japanese women are believed to bounce back faster and with less stress than your average Westerner.
Doctors also support this strict weight gain on the premise that the new mother will be more active and energetic for her baby.
7 They Opt For Longer Hospital Stay
Remember seeing the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton standing on the hospital steps waving to an adoring crowd just seven hours after giving birth to her third child? In the United Kingdom, the average length of a hospital stay for a new mom is a day and a half. Most jet out of there sooner than that. In the United States, the average stay for a uncomplicated natural delivery is about two days and about four for a cesarean.
According to Japan Info, "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."
This might comes a shock to many Western moms. We generally find ourselves complaining about not being in the comforts of our own home or griping about the food. And then there are the constant check-ins at all hours of the night. Japanese hospitals are quite different. The food is notoriously delicious and the care is less of an annoyance and more of a helping hand when it comes to caring for a newborn.
6 Nurses Check On New Mothers At Home
With such a lengthy hospital stay, you'd think that Japanese medical professionals would send their patients packing after the five-day stay, but that's not exactly the case. Although you're assigned a handbook, and assisted generously in the hospital, you will have more help coming your way.
When you return home from the hospital with your new baby, you will be visited by public nurses. These caring nurses will help you with any trouble you might be experiencing.
Whether your body is hurting or you're having breastfeeding issues, your nurse will help you. Not only do they help you care for yourself and your newborn, but they are also trained to keep a keen watch for symptoms of postpartum depression.
These check-ins don't last forever, but they are more hands-on than here in the United States. If you're like most women then you had a couple doctor visits after giving birth. But aside from a generalized postpartum survey, you might have felt a little forgotten. At that point, all eyes were on your new baby and you were left to just heal by yourself and figure stuff out. Japan may have tough birthing beliefs, but they practice a lot of positive post-natal care.
5 The NICU Is Often Free, But You Buy A Birthing Package
If you've ever experience life, more specifically medical care, in another country then you know how different it can be from receiving medical care in the United States. Some countries have an amazing healthcare systems where you don't have to worry so much about opting in or out of treatments. Sometimes, here in the United States, families end up fretting over how to pay for the treatment their new baby needs.
In Japan, the anxiety is less or at least it's focussed on something a little less intense.
If a baby is born in Japan needing extra medical attention like what the NICU provides in the United States, it's often offered by the hospital for free. So, parents aren't faced with insurmountable hospital bills or forced to choose between giving treatments or not.
Instead of paying for treatment, Japan offers what are called birthing packages. These birthing packages are more about what level of luxury you desire than how much medical treatment you are allowed. Birthing packages are sold in tiers and include things like extra baby supplies, the option for a private room, or congratulatory meal. Sometimes facials and a meal voucher for a 5-star hotel are optional, as well.
4 It’s Strictly About Mother And Baby
In many countries, most in the West, it's a normal thing to have relatives of the new mom stay in the hospital with her. It's not uncommon for the new dad to set up camp right there in the hospital room, as well. That's sort of the reason for the numerous fold-out couches and chairs in hospital rooms. You'll often see sheets and blankets tossed in the corner of the hospital room because relatives tend to stay a night or two.
In Japan, this doesn't happen. Most hospitals just don't allow it.
Although having a baby is a family affair, the first few days are strictly about the mother and her new baby. Only mothers and babies are allowed to stay in hospital rooms both before and after birth. Relatives can visit, but only during special visiting hours.
At first, many Western mothers found this to be somewhat isolating. Most of these mothers changed their minds later and realized the Japanese were right about this approach being more convenient in many way. Not only does medical staff focus on the care of mother and baby, but the new mom has more time to rest and feels less obligated to visit.
3 You Cover Belly And Feet During All Seasons
One thing about pregnancy is that sporting a baby bump seems to invite a lot of advice. And it doesn't matter which country you live in, this fact remains true. The advice you receive in the United States is usually old wives tales, opinions from personal experience, and just hearsay. Most of the time, you just either smile and nod or just tell the advice-giver that your doctor has you covered.
It's not that much different in Japan, but some of the advice is a little strange.
For instance, most pregnant women are advised to always, always, always cover up their belly and extremities to keep them warm no matter the season. Often, women are scolded when they don't follow this extreme covering advice. So, in the heat of the Japanese summer, you'll see women wearing socks and extra covering around their bellies.
The reason behind this odd advice is that many Japanese believe that if the belly cooled off the baby would catch a cold. Also, the socks are to cover up the pressure point above the ankle that connects to the uterus so that the blood flowing is kept warm. Some women don't actually believe in this advice, but get fed of with the scoldings. So, they carry a pair of socks with them and slip them on at times to avoid getting scolded for the millionth time.
2 The Baby Can't Leave The House For The First Month
Walk into any grocery store and you're going to see teeny-tiny babies being rolled along in grocery carts. Usually sound asleep, these little babies are fresh from their mama's belly. Seeing babies this small out and about isn't uncommon in the United States. Though most doctors still advise a month or two before taking baby anywhere there might be germs that could make them sick. We live such a fast-paced life or are simply wearing too many hats, many moms still have to keep the household running. So, baby goes grocery shopping.
In Japan, taking baby out for the first month is a big no-no. In fact, most new moms stay with their own mothers for the first month. If the new mom needs to go run an errand or go out for any reason, the baby's grandmother watches the baby.
Moms who do choose to take baby out before the first month milestone end up dealing with harsh scoldings. Apparently, Japanese women are not shy at all about scolding new moms because it seems to happen pretty frequently.
The Japanese culture tends to hold tight to their beliefs and standards. For instance, keeping the baby housebound is simply their way of protecting a fragile newborn and allowing mom the chance to rest and recover. So, even amidst intense scoldings, most Japanese have good intentions.
1 The Little Wooden Belly Button Box
Did you save your baby's umbilical cord stump? The consensus seems to fall on both sides of the fence with this particular subject. Some women don't think much of their baby's umbilical cord stump and have no problem tossing it in the garbage. After all, it isn't the loveliest of baby souvenirs. Other women like to keep the umbilical cord stump in a special place. Some even create decorations or ornaments that include the stump.
Since most women in the United States aren't in the hospital when their baby's cord stump falls off, they end up keeping a watch for it at home. But Japanese mothers stay in the hospital for several days longer than those in the United States. Most times, babies born in Japanese hospitals lose their umbilical cord stump during their hospital stay.
Medical staff likes to practice the sentimental cord-saving tradition. They even go as far as putting the cord in a little wooden box. This box is called a heso aka belly button box and presented to the parents as a souvenir of their baby's birth.
Although the United States and Japan are very different in many ways, they each do what they think is best for both baby and mama. It just looks different from the outside looking in. And that's okay. Your just have to know what you're getting into when you choose to have your baby in another country.