Whether you are already pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant there are a few things that you need to know if you are planning to have a baby in Japan.
1. You need to start taking pregnancy supplements and you need to cut back on the green tea
Ideally you should start taking pregnancy supplements 3 months before you conceive, but if that doesn’t happen just start taking them as soon as possible. Pregnancy supplements are important because they help you get the nutrients you need – in particular folate, otherwise known as folic acid. However, if you are a green tea drinker you need to be careful because green tea can block the absorption of this vital nutrient.
2. Be proactive – or get ready for some suprises
If you are commited to breastfeeding, if you know that you want an epidural, or if you have always dreamed of a home birth or a water birth you will need to actively make that happen. If you don’t find out what is possible at your hospital, or with your doctor, etc. then you need to accept that things might happen that you are not happy with. So many people assume that they will be able to have their partner in the room, that they will be fully supported in their desire to breastfeed, and that they will be able to get the pain relief they want as soon as they ask for it. They are then shocked when their partner is not allowed in the delivery room on the day, their baby is fed formula even though they think they would like to perservere with breastfeeding, or the doctor informs them that the clinic is not equipped to offer epidurals when they are hours into labour and hours from meeting their baby in person.
3. Get informed
If you don’t know what you want then you need to get informed. Not sure if you like the idea of a home birth? Like the idea of breastfeeding but also think you might like the freedom that formula feeding provides? Look into it! Read up, ask around – get informed. Make sure that you make decisions and don’t let your decisions be made for you and end up regretting the experience you end up having.
4. Stay away from sushi, and raw egg, and cheese… and much more!
There are lots of things you need to stay away from when you are pregnant and you might not hear about some of them living in Japan, because of language barriers, and because of differences in conventional wisdom. For example Japanese people have expressed their suprise when I asked them if they miss eating sushi now that they are pregnant. It turns out they don’t stop eating sushi when they are pregnant. But when you think about it not eating raw fish (or raw meat) makes sense!
5. Don’t forget to get your free money!
Because pregnancy is not a sickness (not that that means much to pregnant women everywhere who are dealing with nausea, constipation, anaemia, etc.) it is not covered by national health insurance in Japan. However help is at hand from a slightly different angle. If you go to your local ward or city office and register your pregnancy they will give you a copy of the mother and child handbook. This should contain coupons or vouchers to cover or help cover many of the tests and doctor’s visits you would otherwise need to pay for. The details seem to vary somewhat by area but it should constitute significant savings. You are also eligible to receive a lump sum payment following the birth of your baby that should roughly cover the cost of giving birth – depending on how you chose to give birth of course. This is another payment distributed via your local ward or city office.
6. Be prepared for a certain amount of culture shock – and try and enjoy it (or at least not let it get to you). I have to admit that I rather vainly thought I was beyond culture shock – after almost eight years in this weird and wonderful country. But already, and it is very early days yet, I have had a couple of things take me aback a bit. The first was when I tried to check about what cheeses were safe to eat. I had figured out that most of the milk was fine but I was confused about the cheese because soft cheeses (even blue cheeses) that I knew were taboo seemed to have the same labelling as hard, obviously processed cheeses. How was I supposed to figure out which ones were safe and which ones could contain listeria? When I asked my doctor she cheerfully informed me that in Japan they didn’t worry about that kind of thing. When I pressed on with examples – blue cheese!! – she smiled and repeated her answer. Okay – I’d worry about that one on my own.
7. Japanese people LOVE babies
My sister has just come to visit with my three month old niece and it is amazing how much attention such a little person can attract! Everywhere we go we are surrounded by echoes of KAWAII!! Noone minds when she spews, farts or expels other bodily fluids – and from what I’ve seen breastfeeding in public is not a problem either.
So enjoy the big adventure but expect some suprises along the way!