Monday, March 11, 2013

Pregnant in Japan - Zounds, practical information!

My pregnancy is winding down, it's past my due-date, and I am stuck at home, just me and my braxton-hicks contractions, hanging out. So to kill time and do something useful, I thought I would try posting some helpful information about how to go about being pregnant in Japan.
Wow, am I actually going to try to post something informative and not just amusing to my later self? Yes, yes I am. Since this is one of the first times to attempt such altruistic bloggery, no promises shall be made as to your personal outcomes when following this amazing advice.

Ok so here goes. First a description of my personal first hand experience of what it's like being pregnant in Tokyo (ie what I did about it).

After taking the drugstore pee-on-a-stick tests, the first thing you should do is to find a clinic where they will give you an official exam. This initial exam is not covered by any kind of insurance (although they will ask you for your insurace card), and it will set you back about 6000 yen. They will tell you to take folic acid supplements and schedule your next checkup in a month (a month! it seems impossibly long at this phase, because you're not getting any feedback from the baby as to how it's doing besides maybe morning sickness), and also because this is the part where you're at highest risk for miscarriage. Some clinics will schedule you for less than a month and not give you official test results yet for this very reason.

Depending on the clinic you use, you may or may not be told to go to your prefecture (or city) office and register the pregnancy before the next visit. I live in Nerima-ku, they do not require any sort of certificate or test result in order to register. When you go, bring your ID and have a bit of time on your hands, fill out a paper (it asks you which clinic you're using), and voila, they give you a handy packet of stuff including -city provided insurance health check tickets. Not sure how to describe these, they are basically small carbon copy forms that you give to the clinic which makes your visits much cheaper. (just for a point of reference, using these vouchers, depending on the tests I was given, the visits would cost anywhere between 800 and 5000 yen out of pocket).

The packet also included the handy-dandy maternity seal you can put on your bag, which you dangle in the priority seat section of the train in hopes that someone will give you their seat. Note: you can't 100 percent rely on this working though, for me it only worked about half the time. If you really don't feel good and need to sit down you should work up the courage to tap someone on the shoulder and ask. (Tokyo has a pretty tough attitude and is very strange to ask for something to someone you don't know, so good luck mama!)
There was also a list of numbers for people to call if you need help after you give birth,
a free voucher for a dental checkup during pregnancy, and last but not least the mother-child handbook 'boushi techo'. This is one of those very Japanese booklets (like the pension plan booklet) that they expect you to take very good care of and never, ever lose. You bring it to the clinic for every checkup and the doctor will write down test results, but apparently you also bring it to the pediatrician for the monthly, yearly checkups and vaccinations until your child is in their teens. Hope you're good at hanging on to stuff!

Next, here is a list of terms that came in handy during when visiting the clinic for checkups:

Early checkups
pregnancy 妊娠 ninshin
pregnant woman 妊婦 ninpu
ultrasound 超音波 cho-onpa
uterus 子宮 shikyuu
morning sickness つわり tsuwari
swelling/edema むくみ mukumi
stretch marks 妊娠線 ninshinsen

high blood pressure 高血圧 kouketsuatsu
miscarriage 流産  ryusan
'safe period' (4-5 months into pregnancy when miscarriage rates fall): 安定期 anteiki
folic acid 葉酸 yosan
iron 鉄分 tetsubun
calcium カルシウム carushiumu
vitamin ~ ビタミン(B12), etc 

Later checkups
birth canal 産道 san-dou
cervix 子宮口 shikyu-kou
placenta 胎盤 taiban
braxton-hicks contractions 前駆陣痛 zenkujintsuu

labor 分娩 bunben
birth 出産 shussan
contractions 陣痛 jintsuu
mucous plug / show = おしるし oshirushi
water breaking 破水 hassui
induce labor 分娩の誘発 bunben no yuuhatsu
episiotomy 会陰切開  ein-sekkai
epidural: 無痛分娩 : mutsuu-bunbenn
birth plan: バースプラン ba-su puran
C-section 帝王切開 teiou-sekkai
breach 逆子 sakago

What are some things that came in handy for me? First of all if you go to any large department store (like Aeon), they will have a section for babies and this will often contain maternity clothes.
I really liked the 'cross rib' brand maternity jeans and shorts, and by the end was pretty much living in my maternity jeans.

Another few handy items (especially if you have your last few months in the winter like me) are 'hara-maki' = belly bands. it's just a circular band of fabric that fits and stretches around your waist, they're great as shirt extenders when you get too big, and also for smoothing over unzipped pants and skirts around months 4-6.
I bought about three of them. also, normal tights will be too tight in the waist, so it's good to get a few pairs of maternity tights.
Another great item: maternity girdle! I loved this. Inu-jirushi brand sells a belly-band/girdle combo which is a little pricey, but warm and great for supporting your belly when it starts getting heavy after month 5. (I slept in it nearly every night with it wrapped over my pajamas. )

This store (milk tea) has some really cute clothes. I bought my maternity coat there - it has a removable panel in the front you can use for covering a baby held in a sling on your front or back, so I'll be able to use it next year as well :)

what to do for pre-natal supplements? If you go to a clinic in Japan, you may find (like me) that your doctor/obgyn  recommends concentrating on a getting the nutrients you and your baby need through healthy diet instead of relying on supplements, which is probably sound advice. Of course if you read anything online from US sites, even suggesting not taking pre-natal vitamins is akin to blasphemy!
Most of the nutrients in prenatal vitamins are certainly present in a normal (healthy) japanese diet, but if you're worried about getting the nutrients you need, please refer to the section above for vocabulary. You can find supplements anywhere they sell maternity goods, like Aeon or Babies-R-us.
I just ate as healthy as possible, and on the occasional off-day when I realized I had only eaten like, a pizza and some bananas all day, I would take a multi-vitamin. I would also recommend having fortified lowfat milk, and a personal favorite brand of drinkable yogurt: iron, calcium and folic-acid fortified drinkable yogurts you can find in convenience stores: (called ichinichi bun no tetsubun nomu-yogurt, which means 'a day's worth of iron drinkable yogurt').
I tried one once before I was pregnant and thought they tasted too metallic or something, but they taste great while pregnant! I guess your body tells you what it needs.
Also, I used to hate natto, but my belly made me love it! ;) there is definitely some Japanese blood in that kid influencing my taste buds. ^^

What if you don't speak any Japanese and you need to go to an English speaking clinic?
First of all, you should join the Tokyo Pregnancy Group on facebook.
They have lots of moms and moms-to-be in the same boat as you. From what I can tell, a lot of the ladies go to Seibo hospital and see Dr. Sakamoto for their primary english speaking care-giver. But not me, so don't ask me any questions about him as I won't be able to answer! ;)
If you're in Nerima and speak Japanese at at least a passable level, I can recommend 桜台マタニティクリニック, (sakuradai maternity clinic), as they've been taking great care of me. I will let you know how labor goes... if this baby ever comes out!

xoxo and good luck to you ladies having your baby in Japan! <3 nbsp="" p="">Kyra


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11:30 AM  

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