Birth Customs Around the World

Japan

Like Dutch and German women, the majority of Japanese women strive to give birth without the use of painkillers. According to Ai Azuma, a Tokyo native, this preference relates to the Buddhist perception of suffering: There is a belief among Japanese that labor pains act as a kind of test that a woman must endure in preparation for the challenging role of motherhood. This centuries-old belief endures despite the fact that a growing number of doctors in Japan are recommending epidurals for their patients, suggesting that they create a more peaceful birth experience. Although more women are beginning to exercise this option, centuries of tradition still keep many others from considering the procedure.

Japanese women deliver in hospitals, but it's not a given that the baby's father will act as the labor coach or even be in the room. Fathers are permitted to be present at the birth only if they have taken prenatal classes with the mother-to-be; if a c-section is performed, they must go to the waiting room. In general, hospital stays in Japan tend to be longer than in the U.S.; mothers can expect a minimum of a five-day stay for a vaginal birth and 10 days or more for a cesarean delivery.

Local custom: After leaving the hospital, mother and baby often stay at the mother's parents' home for a month or sometimes longer -- it is a cultural tradition that women stay in bed with their baby for 21 days. During this time friends may drop by to greet the new baby and join the family in eating the celebratory food osekihan (red rice with red beans).

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