7 things you need to know about having a baby in Japan

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!

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November Update – We’re pregnant!

Obviously this post should have been posted a long time ago (back in November even!) but as life got in the way it got pushed back. I have decided to post it now anyway because it captures how I felt at the time.

Woohoo!  After all my worrying and preparing it wasn’t nearly as hard as I expected and before long I started to have suspicions that Ruby/Liam was on her/his way! Of  course it may all have been psychological but I imagined that my sense of smell was working overtime (that cat litter – phew!!), I felt a bit queasy from time to time, things I love (like chocolate and mocha frappucinos) suddenly didn’t taste too good, etc. But we had friends staying and I knew that if I was pregnant we needed to deal with finding that out when it was just the two of us. While our friends were here I counted the increasing number of days I was late and wondered if it could be true – whether it really could have happened that quickly!

So, a day after our friends left, which also happened to be our second wedding anniversary and the day after our eleven-year first date anniversary, I got up early and took the test – and it came up positive! When I told Yuji his first reaction was to rub the sleep out of his eyes, look at me like a dope and say, “Already?” I am tempted to tease him but that was basically my reaction too. I expected this to take a lot longer. After all Yuji is almost 40 (!!) and neither of us are health freaks or gym nuts. We tried to digest the news as we got ready for work and in the end we decided to ditch the train and drive – so that we could deal with the whole thing privately for a bit longer I guess. On the way we talked about how, even though this was what we wanted, we hadn’t expected it to happen quite this fast. Then Yuji freaked me out by saying, “Wow – you know it’s lucky we were so careful all these years, otherwise we could have had a 10 year old kid by now!” Scary stuff!

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We’re Trying…

Well we are finally at the stage where we can actually start trying to conceive! It’s about a year since I went off the pill, 8 months since I started taking prenatal vitamins, and 3 months since I had my mumps vaccination. The mumps vaccination is what really slowed us down but now that 3 months have passed since I got jabbed there is nothing stopping us. It is exciting but also very scary, and there are all sorts of tricky things to deal with that I hadn’t given much thought to.

The trickiest thing for me so far is not drinking. It’s not that I crave alcohol (I promise!). The problem is that I am known as someone who enjoys a drink and now that I have stopped drinking I am finding it awkward to have to explain why I don’t have a beer or glass of  champagne in my hand on social occasions. Since I am not actually pregnant yet and just in the trying stage I know that I could still drink, but there a few reasons why I have chosen not to. The first and most simChampagne and Cheeseple is that if I am trying to get pregnant I will likely be pregnant for a while before I find out – in which case I may have been drinking while pregnant. I realise that a couple of drinks at such an early stage are not going to hurt my baby but I still find it makes more sense for me to draw the line earlier than that – back before there is a possibility I could be pregnant. The second reason is that if I keep drinking until I know I am pregnant and then suddenly stop drinking everyone will know that I am pregnant straight away. As you can probably gather by the fact that I am writing this blog I am not the secretive type, but even so… I do not want to be in the position where everyone knows I am pregnant straight away. My worst nightmare is then having to tell everyone of the 600 or so people at work that I have miscarried if something goes wrong.

I do not, however,want to give the impression that I am one of those superhuman women who, whether pregnant or not, wears only clothes made from organic bamboo fibres,  does pelvic floor exercises from noon to night, and never eats chocolate (!!) because I most definitely am not one of those women. In fact, I must confess that what was supposed to be my very first alcohol free social occasion turned out to be a disaster as far as abstinence went! After having had a weekend where I said farewell to many of the things pregnancy would not allow me to enjoy: soft cheeses, champagne, and straight perms; I resolved to drink no more and to be careful about what I ate. Monday went well, as did Tuesday, but on Wednesday night all my good intentions went out the window at a work dinner. It was a small work dinner organised to celebrate the end of a particularly tough project at work and the organisers had invited us out to a beautiful little French restaurant in Hiroo. My resolve started to waver as soon as I walked in the door and saw the tables set with champagne glasses and multiple wine glasses at each setting. By the time the waitress had filled my glass with champagne any intention I had of not drinking was long gone. In the end I am glad I drank that night. It turned out to be quite a finale – and I was happy with my decision even before they opened a bottle of exquisite 1978 red wine (seriously though – when am I going to get the chance to drink 1978 wine again?!).

Still, I did worry that my failure to withstand temptation would be repeated at the next event, and fretted that my resolve would fail me again when it mattered, when we had actually started trying and there was a chance I could be pregnant. So, on Friday night I headed out to a summer party at the Australian Embassy with a group of mates, determined to be strong – and it was fine! I had a sprite, and then a coke, and then a bottle of tea, and I was done. It was a very cheap night but apart from that it was much the same as it would have been with alcohol. I still had fun, I still talked too much, I still nearly didn’t make the last train…! Since then I’ve been strong in the face of sushi, soft-boiled egg, and cold meats. I even made a recipe out of my Yummy Mummy cookbook on the weekend – and thoroughly enjoyed it!

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Books for Kids

I realise that I am getting WAY ahead of myself with this post but my niece was born last Sunday (welcome to the world Emma!)  and whenever a baby is born I like to give the parents a great book or two that the baby will hopefully grow up to love.  For Emma I found the greatThe Harry Potter Books boxed set of Harry Potter books in this picture. It got me thinking and I couldn’t resist writing this post about one of my favourite topics: books for kids!

 I have always been an avid reader – in fact my very first memory is of reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar at kindy! I am determined to do everything I can to encourage my children (when I have them!) to grow up to be readers. There is plenty of research out there to tell you why it is advantageous for your children to read – how it will boost their vocabulary, help them in their studies, etc., etc. But the reason I want my kids to be readers is because I want them to know the pure joy of sinking into a great book and disappearing into a different world… again and again and again! Books have come with me around the world – making long flights and train trips something to look forward to, rather than something to be endured. These days I read a crazy number of books during my commute into Tokyo and back everyday. And I have a confession to make:  I still read children’s books. I don’t read them for research or so that I will be familiar with some of what my children read, although that is part of it. The real reason I read them is because children’s books are awesome! It is great to get away from the recurring topics of novels written for adults: sex, coming of age, adultery, romance, war, etc., etc.  and read about, for example, the trials and adventures of the poor Baudelaire children in the wonderful A Series of Unfortunate Events, or to be privy to the private thoughts of a teenager who has recently discovered she is, in fact, a princess, in The Princess Diaries.

I’m sure that it is possible to look deeply into the field of  children’s literature and find out all kinds of wonderful facts about the intricacies of getting children to read. I could look into what level of vocabulary is appropriate for a three year old, read about the pros and cons of different book lengths, genres, and even font sizes! But I know my Mum didn’t do that – and somehow I still grew up to be an avid (and somewhat obsessive!) reader. I have a feeling that a big part of the picture is good books. This post sets out some of the information I have found that can help lead you to good books for kids. 

Let me start with the wonderful Paul Jennings.  As a child I loved every single one of Paul Jennings’ books (still do!) – they are funny, they are quirky and they get stuck in your head. So when I saw his book on getting kids to love reading on a recent trip back to Australia I had to pick it up . I knew that Paul Jennings knew what he was talking about because he writes books that kids love. The Reading Bug… and how to help your child catch it was even better than I expected.  It turns out that Paul Jennings is not only a writer of brilliant and funny children’s books – he also used to be a special-education teacher and knows a lot about helping children learn to read. There are a lot of great tips throughout the book, but the thing I reThe Reading Bugally took away from it is that if your child is reading something they want to read it won’t be a chore. This brings us back to the importance of finding great books for kids! The book contains a twenty-nine-page list of “brilliant books,” including many old favourites, but also introduces plenty of more modern titles. Some of my favourite books recommended in The Reading Bug are: John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat, the Hairy Maclary books, and (for older readers) Goodnight Mister Tom. The other great thing about this book are the very clever cartoons throughout – I embarrassed myself time and time again by bursting out laughing in public places because of these!

Getting recommendations from people you know and trust is a great place to start when looking for good books for kids. Friends, family and colleagues are great sources of information. Recently, one of the lawyers at work posted a list of his favourite picture books on our in-house website, which was great because I needed an introduction into the world of Japanese children’s books.  I haven’t tested them out yet but some of the books he recommended that intrigued me were おしり (oshiri), which features the bottoms of various different animals, and いないないばあ (Inainaiba), apparently the top-selling picture book in Japan and meaning something similar to “peek-a-boo” in English. I am excited about discovering all the awesome Japanese children’s books out there – but I think my husband will have to do the reading aloud part unless we want our kids to grow up with dodgy gaijin accents!

Another slant on the idea of getting recommendations from people you know and trust is my favourite way to look for good children’s books at the moment. I like to see what books my favourite bloggers recommend. My favourite blogs at the moment are  blogs on getting to where you want to be in your life  and at first glance they don’t seem to be good places to go looking for children’s book recommendations… but at least two of my favourite bloggers have written great posts on this topic. There are a couple of  really brilliant things about finding out about books for kids this way. Firstly, you can usually just click through to more information about the book, or even just go straight to Amazon and grab a copy. Even better, the comments section following the blog post usually offers even more suggestions. Leo at Zen Habits wrote a post on this topic titled Best All-Time Children’s Books a while ago and with six kids I assume he knows what he’s talking about! If you don’t find anything you like among his recommendations you’re sure to find something good among the 138 comments the post attracted! Another blogger I’ve recently discovered also did a great post on books: Annabel Candy at Get in the Hot Spot.  Her post was a bit broader, as it was a reading list for writers, travelers and parents but it included a great selection of books for kids and apparently it is a work in progress so it can be expected to grow in the future.

I hope these suggestions lead you to some brilliant books for kids – enjoy!

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Pregnancy Books – What to Expect When You’re Expecting

As I have said before I have been doing a lot of reading up pregnancy and babies, so I thought I would discuss some of the books I have been reading. I am not going to give a comprehensive review of these books but I plan to briefly introduce some of them in a series of short posts. First in line is the first pregnancy book I ever looked at and the mother of all pregnancy books:

What to Expect When You’re Expecting

This is massive book that covers just about everything you could possibly want or need to know about pregnancy plus a lot of stuff you do not want or need to know! It is not the kind of book you read from cover to cover but is basically set out by month of pregnancy so I have started at the beginning and have been working slowly through the whole thing, skipping the parts that don’t apply to me, such as information on vegetarianism and pregnancy, eating disorders, etc.

It is worth noting that I have found some gems in this book that I had not seen elsewhere. For example, it was in this book that I read that drinking large amounts of green tea can affect your body’s ability to absorb folate! As a result I have dramatically cut down on my daily green tea consumption. After all, what’s the point of spending all that money on pregnancy supplements if the folate in them is not being absorbed?

Should you read it?

If I want to find something out, like when the first trimester ends and the second trimester begins, I look here first and in that sense it is inavaluable. But it is not something I read for entertainment – it is very dry and my eyes often start to droop after 15 minutes or so! In that sense I would say it is good for dipping into in short bursts.

Where can you get it?

This book is so well known that it won’t be hard to track down a copy. I got mine at Maruzen but Amazon would definitely have been a better deal. Also, the edition available here is the U.S. edition so if you’re looking for a less American perspective I would suggest looking online or picking up a copy in your home country. If, however, reading the U.S. edition is not a problem you may be lucky enough to track down a second-hand copy at Good Day Books, Book Off, or the Blue Parrot. I even found a copy at my local library, the Saitama Central Library in Urawa!

Unfortunately I was not able to download an image for this book but the What to Expect When You’re Expecting website is well worth looking at!

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Pre-Conception Health Checks

Well it’s been a while but I am finally ready to report on my pre-conception health check experience. This is how I went about it:

First I went through some of the many books on pregnancy I have been dipping into (I’m planning to write a post about information sources soon where I’ll provide more information on these) and made a list of all the things I thought I needed to be tested for. Then I looked online, in dictionaries, and in the Japanese pregnancy magazine I bought to see if I could find the appropriate Japanese terms for all of the items I had listed.

The best Japanese source I found was the magazine, even though it didn’t have anything about pre-conception health exams! What it did have was a list of the tests to have done after you find out you are pregnant. I found most of the terms I needed in their list.

From what I’ve seen a lot of English books do this too, but if you are having a planned pregnancy it makes a lot more sense to me to have these tests done in advance. After all, if you only get tested for immunity to rubella after you are pregnant there is nothing that you can do if it turns out you are not immune, except hope that you don’t catch german measles during your pregnancy. I realise that the chances of catching german measles are low, but the possible ramifications for your baby if you do are terrifying. So, being the cautious person I am, I made up a list much like the one below and made an appointment with my gynaecologist.

STD tests クラミジア検査等
HIV/ AIDS
Pap smear 子宮ガン検診
Blood test 血圧測定
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) antibodies サイトメガロウイルス抗体検査
Toxoplasmosis titer トキソプラズマ抗体検査
Rubella 風疹(風疹抗体)
Mumps おたふく
Chickenpox 水疱瘡
Anemia 貧血
Hepatitis A,B, & C型肝炎検査
Ultrasound 超音波検査

If I didn’t already know my blood type I would also have added the following two items:
Blood type 血液型
Rh factor Rh因子

When I confronted the doctor with this list she was somewhat taken aback and I could tell she thought that I was being overly cautious. But once she had established that I was not going to say, “Oh alright then, let’s not bother!” she pulled up something called a ブライダルチェック (Bridal Check) and added a few of things off my list. This is when I got the rather shocking reminder that my national health insurance doesn’t apply to pregnancy-related doctor visits: my tests were going to cost somewhere in the vicinity of 30,000 yen! I decided to spread the tests over two visits to make it a bit less painful and the doctor agreed. We decided that I would have the internal examination that day and come back when those results were ready for blood tests.

The internal examination included a pap smear test and an internal ultrasound and she also took a sample to test for any bacteria. She was able to tell me immediately that the ultrasound had not picked up anything problematic but I had to wait until the next visit for results on the pap smear and the test for bacteria.

A week or two later I went back and was informed that everything was fine and had blood taken to test for everything else on my list. When I got the results of the blood tests a couple of weeks later I was once again informed that everything was fine, except… I wasn’t immune to mumps! She asked me what I would like to do and I said that I would like to be vaccinated. She made it clear that she thought that it was a bit over-the-top and explained that I would have to wait 4 weeks before trying to conceive. When I still said I would like to have the vaccination she went along with it though.

The next time I spoke to my sister I told her what had happened and as soon as I said that I had had the vaccination she said, “Oh, so now you have to wait 3 months before you start trying!”

3 months? But my doctor said 4 weeks!

After doing some research it seems that common wisdom in Australia is that you should wait 3 months but in the U.S. and Japan people are instructed to wait 4 weeks. I still haven’t been able to find out why there is this difference but for my own piece of mind I am going to wait 3 months, just in case.

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Starting Out

Where we’re at!

My goal for this year is to get us sorted for the huge adventure of parenthood. Before I go further I would like to make it clear that I realise that many people out there will probably think I’m going overboard and I know that many people have completely unplanned pregnancies and everything turns out fine. I also know that most people take a few fairly simple steps and they are okay too. However I feel that in my case it is best to prepare quite carefully for a number of reasons, which I will outline below.

1. I am living in Japan.

 

I live in a foreign country where I don’t know as much about the language or the systems as I would if I were  at home in Australia. I feel much less able to wing it! Also from what little I understand they do a lot of things quite differently here and if I don’t know how I want to approach things I will just have to go with whatever the doctor says – in which case my family and friends in Australia will probably point out how different it is to what they are doing and I will be left wondering which way is better. I will probably do things a mixture of the Australian way (whatever that is!) and the Japanese way (ditto!). However by reading up and finding out about stuff in advance I’ll be able to make more informed decisions!

2. My Mum lives in a different country!

Despite the wonders of skype, etc. I don’t get to talk to my Mum as much as I would like. She is a busy woman, working full-time in Australia and flaked out in front of the TV by 8:30pm (no, I am not exaggerating!). This makes it hard for me to call her whenever a question comes up. This point extends to other family as well. My aunty, sisters, cousins, etc. are all in Australia. Also, since both of my parents-in-law have passed away, my on-site help and advice will have to come from other quarters. I have host mothers who I’m sure will help out but they are (quite rightly) caught up in their own grandchildren.

4. Knowledge is power!

Being informed should help me to make good decisions, as well as to justify my decisions to others when they offer advice I don’t want to follow. Also, things have changed a bit since my Mum and most of the other people I am relying on for advice, did this! I need to study up so that I don’t end up using out-of-date methods.

5. I am lazy!

Particularly when it comes to money stuff I am really lazy! I am not going to go from store to store making comparisons of different products and I am not going to sit down and work out how many cents per nappy I would save by switching to cloth/ hemp/ Costco disposables etc. I would prefer to ask  you guys about tyour experiences and learn from the wealth of knowledge out there! When I hear of a good deal or learn something valuable I will definitely pass it on too!

Anyway, as this is my first post I would now like to fill you in on where I’m at.

What I’ve done So Far!

This is what I have done/ am currently doing to prepare for pregnancy:

I have gone off the pill.


My research tells me that you should do this before you start trying to conceive but different sources give different time spans. One book I read said you should go off the pill 3 months beforehand, another said a month. As it happened I ran out of supplies and went off the pill in August so I’m already up to about 8 months!

I am taking supplements.


pregnancy-supplements

This is not something I have heard much about over here but at home the first step for most people seems to be to start taking supplements. I relied on my sister here (due on the 19th of August!!) and got her to stock up on what she has been taking and send them over with Dad when he visited over Christmas. I am taking the Nature’s Own Pregnancy Platinum multivitamin pictured here and I have my husband taking a men’s multivitamin as well.

I am trying to organise a pre-conception health check

This is proving a bit trickier than I expected. It seems that the idea of having tests done before you get pregnant is a bit unusual here. So, after doing some research and trying unsuccessfully to book an appointment for a pre-conception health examination I have decided to approach it like this: I am going to make an appointment for a pap smear and some questions and go armed with a list of tests I think I should have and see what my gynaecologist says. Wish me luck! I’ll be sure to report back and let you know how I go.


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