As I continue to meet with birth professionals and pregnant women here in Tokyo, I'm learning so much about the labor practices common in Japan. Here are some recent discoveries that I'd love to share:
1. It's most common here for doctors to begin a labor induction by inserting laminaria seaweed, or kelp, into the birth canal. The seaweed acts as a cervix softener, just like the synthetic prostaglandins that are more commonly used in the United States. This revelation prompted several western women to say "Only in Japan!" But I've heard of the practice occasionally being done in the States. (Side note: Were you induced with seaweed? I want to hear about it!)
2. Even though Japanese nurses are passionate supporters of breastfeeding, they often insist (yes, insist!) that infants have formula in the first few days after birth. If you're planning on laboring in a Japanese hospital and would like to exclusively breastfeed, you might find this insistence a challenge.
3. At many Japanese hospitals, epidurals are only available if you schedule and induce your labor. Anesthesiologists are not on call and they only work certain hours in the hospital. In nurse-midwife run maternity clinics, epidurals are not available at all. As a result, laboring with an epidural is far less common here than in the United States. Enduring the discomfort of childbirth has historically been seen as the necessary journey women must take to become mothers. I've noticed that because of this tradition, some women make positive associations with the pain of labor.