Congratulations! You’re pregnant! But you’re…in Japan. Now what? Bringing life into the world is intense enough, let alone doing it outside your home country. If you’re anything like me, you turned to Google to help you find a caregiver and you probably got the same result as I did…Aiiku Clinic and Dr. Sakamoto! Although this is a great option, it’s not the only one. Here’s my break down of questions to ask (yourself and your caregiver!) to choose a caregiver in Japan so you can make an informed decision. I’ve also created a list of mom and baby friendly caregivers around Tokyo, so be sure to check that out after reading this post.
But before we get into that, you should join Tokyo Pregnancy Group and start getting connected with other moms to be. TPG is a free Facebook group and email list as well as an in-person support group. They hold two meetings per month in Tokyo with various speakers presenting on pregnancy related topics. It’s a great way to connect with other women who are at a similar stage of pregnancy as you, and it often is the foundation for future playgroups! Go to the TPG website to find out how to join.
Now on to the questions!
Do you have any foreseen medical circumstances that require a special facility?
This is maybe obvious but it’s something to consider. If you are a high risk pregnancy or you know you will have a cesarean delivery, then you will want to choose a caregiver who has an adequate facility to perform any procedures. Hospitals can perform surgical procedures and so can some clinics.
Do you need English support?
This is a big one in Japan. In Tokyo, there are several places that cater to English speaking mothers, for example Aiiku Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital, and Tokyo Mother’s Clinic. However, you may find that even though your doctor can speak English, the other midwives/nurses in the facility might not be able to. Generally, if a caregiver has an English website they should be able to offer at least some English support.
Do you need access to an epidural?
The second big decision maker is this question right here. Unlike in America (my home country), where every hospital has access to an epidural, Japan is not like that. If you are 100% sure you want an epidural, then I recommend choosing a hospital that offers 24/7 access to one, such as Aiiku. You can read my Aiiku Hospital tour here if you’re interested. Many hospitals offer epidurals only during working hours ( for example, between 8am and 6pm Monday-Friday) which may or may not coincide with when you go into labor. However, it seems that most hospitals do offer epidurals with a scheduled induction. The majority of caregivers in Japan support unmedicated birth since they believe epidurals can slow down the labor process and cause complications. If an epidural is not necessary for you, you will have many more options from hospitals to maternity clinics, to birth houses. If you need some inspiration for your own unmedicated birth, you can read my birth story here 🙂
What type of birth do you want and how do you envision your recovery going?
This may sound vague, but it’s important to realize that things that might be a “given” in your home country with regard to birth, may not be the norm here. For example, many facilities do not allow the husband to stay over night, something I didn’t know when I first got pregnant. It can also be difficult to know what type of birth you want when you are only just pregnant. Questions to ask are:
- Do I want skin to skin after birth as long as their are no complications?
- Is my husband, doula, or family member allowed at the birth? (Some facilities only allow one person or only the husband and no other family)
- Can my husband stay overnight after the baby is born?
- Does the facility promote breastfeeding and provide support after the birth?
- Does this caregiver promote delayed chord clamping? (Not common in hospitals)
- What is the episiotomy rate of this caregiver? (Episiotomy rates are still high in Japan even though it is usually not necessary)
How much is this all going to cost?
Most facilities accept Japanese national health insurance, however pregnancy is not considered a medical issue so many checks are not covered by insurance. There is a great disparity in the costs of caregivers. For example, we ended up paying about 1,000,000yen for the birth at Aiiku Hospital (no epidural and 3 night stay in a private room). Comparably, Mejiro Birth House does not accept insurance but only charges 500,000yen for the birth. Most caregivers will clearly state their pricing on their website so please look into it.
Is the location convenient for me?
I traveled about 40 minutes on the train to all of my appointments and that was about the longest I would want to go. When you are 40 weeks pregnant you don’t want to be that far from home if you suddenly go into labor! That being said, the importance of location is completely personal. I know some people who traveled an hour and a half for their hospital because it was the best fit for them! Generally, closer is better but I don’t think location should make or break your decision. However, if you have other children or your husband cannot stay over night, you may consider a closer location so traveling back and forth is easier for family.
I think that’s about it! Now that you’ve read this, please check out my curated list of mom and baby friendly caregivers. Facilities tend to get booked up fast so it’s beneficial to make an informed decision early on in your pregnancy and not risk a last minute switch. Thanks for reading and let me know if you would add anything to this list!
Want to know about the facility I chose for my first birth? Read about what it was like going to the OB at Aiiku Clinic here