My sister had her baby ten days before Jack was born, and based on our experiences I’d like to share what I see as the differences between Japan and UK in terms of pregnancy and delivery.
First of all, the finance. In Japan, pregnancy and delivery are not covered by national health insurance and it’s all at your expense. Although the local council has a fund to support residents, it still costs about 2,000yen every time you get checked at a hospital. You usually have about 12 to 15 check-ups during your maternity period, and if you also have monitoring and blood tests, you’ll have to pay for them too – usually between 3,000yen to 10,000yen each time. So during your maternity period, you’ll end up paying several tens of thousands of yen.
You are recommended to visit the hospital every fortnight during your early pregnancy, once a month between 12 to 35 weeks, and every week after 36 weeks. You always have scans and are able to check the growth of your baby / how the baby is doing every time you visit the hospital.
On the other hand, in the UK, there’s the NHS (National Health Service) and medical care is basically free. Of course, pregnancy and delivery are no exception.
Although everything is free (except for the transportation to see the doctors or midwives), you can only get scan check-ups twice at 12 weeks and 20 weeks after registering with a GP. That’s to say that you can get the minimum care that’s needed on the NHS.
In my sister’s case, she had two scans and some counseling with a midwife.
Of course, you can get better persinalised care if you choose a private hospital, which will cost quite a bit of money.
It became a popular topic of conversation in Japan when Princess Kate left the hospital a day after she gave birth (it’s common in Japan to stay in hospital for five days after birth), this is same for everyone. As it’s free in the UK, you need to give the bed to the next person if you have no medical problem.
The food you get at a hospital is also very different – i.e. you only get some toast and tea (of course it’s not decaffeinated!). Very British!
Anyway, the hospital I stayed in this time, in Saitama, is quite well known and very popular. It’s close to the station and the building itself looks quite posh. You also get your own room with en-suite toilet and shower. Since it was popular, it always took about three hours for my checkups (lots of waiting). I always took my computer or a book there to maximize my time.
I have already spoken about how the delivery went in my previous blog (Japanese only). You get 420,000yen financial aid for the delivery if you’re registered with national health insurance. However, the actual cost differs hugely between hospitals. Generally, central Tokyo is quite expensive, with you having to personally pay between 100,000 to 300,000yen in addition to the money from the government fund. On the other hand, if the hospital isn’t too expensive the fund can pretty much cover the entire cost, and if the cost was under 420,000yen, you can keep the remainder. This was one of the reasons why I decided to have our baby in Saitama this time.
During my stay, the food served was varied. Three meals a day plus a tea time snack! The night before we left the hospital, there was a celebration meal where you gather with other mums who had their babies on the same day and enjoyed the meal together.
It’s only natural that the medical system differs from country to country, but I also found out that the policies of the individual hospitals are also very different even inside Japan.
I felt that the biggest difference between the hospital I had Ricky at and the hospital I had Jack was their attitude towards breast feeding.
Ricky’s hospital was very much focused on breast feeding and the baby stayed in the same room as the mother after birth. If you went to the breast feeding room, there was always a midwife who would support you in breast feeding your baby. Feeding with a bottle was strictly restricted as some babies find the bottles easier and they stop getting milk directly from their mothers. Even when they fed the baby with “Vitamin K syrup” (usually injected in the western countries) or expressed milk, they used a spoon instead of a bottle.
With that experience, it was a huge shock for me when I was told that I had to feed Jack with formula milk with a bottle every time after I breast fed him! I went in thinking I would only breast feed the baby and I didn’t even prepare a bottle or formula milk for Jack’s arrival. So this “compulsory formula milk time” every three hours was quite a pain for me. You’d have to tell the nurse how much (in ml) the baby has drunk, and if it wasn’t enough, then you’d get told off or your baby would be forced to have the formula milk…
One time, when Jack didn’t have much formula milk, the nurse came around, woke him up and forced the formula milk just like she was feeding a goose which is destined to be a “foie gras”! It was so traumatic…
For that reason, I was looking forward to leaving the hospital!
Of course, the nurse advised all the mothers to feed their babies with formula milk every three hours at home as well. However, when I was handing in all the documents for leaving the hospital, the nurse who took them asked me “Are your breasts producing milk?”. I said “Yes, I only breast-fed my first child”. She replied “well then, breast feed him.” This was a great relief for me. The nurse of course knew the hospital policy, but she was encouraging all the mothers who she could talk to to go the natural route. If I hadn’t talked with her, I might have bought a bottle and formula milk on the way home…
It’s obviously not bad to bottle feed babies, and some babies do need formula milk. It’s also natural for the hospital to bottle feed all the babies in order to keep them all fed and make sure that they all gain enough weight by the time they leave the hospital. But we as parents decided to only breast feed him right after we left the hospital.
In the UK, you’d just breast feed the baby to start with. A midwife will then visit you within a week and three weeks after the birth, check how mums and babies are doing (and the baby’s weight) and they decide whether the mums need to bottle feed or not. However, lots of mums go back to their work a few weeks after the birth and they also have liquid “ready-to-use” formula which is very easy to use, and there’s research showing that only half the mothers are breast-feeding their babies after six months.
Additionally, we are told to bath the baby everyday, but in the UK, my sister was advised to only bath the baby once a week so as not to wash off baby’s embryonum (baby varnish?) too much.
I was lucky to be able to hear my sister’s story almost in real time to understand that the “common sense” is different in different countries, and I had a very different experience when I had Ricky, so you do not need to be too sensitive about the ‘right way’ when it comes to child-raising.
Many mums follow exactly the advice they’re given, especially if the baby is their first, but the babies grow somehow regardless of the approach! That was the big lesson I learned through this second maternity and delivery.