Home Birth in Japan

I’ve written about home birth before (see here and here) but I thought it was time to write about it again as I currently have a couple of clients I’m supporting who’ll be having home births here in the near future.

First of all, it is an option!  Not many non-Japanese women here know that home birth is a possibility.  Secondly, it’s possible to have an English-speaking midwife to support you (particularly if you’re in Tokyo).  Shoko So san of Matsugaoka Birth Center is one such midwife.  She runs a midwife birth house in Tokyo’s Nakano-ku (another option for birth here) and also supports women with home birth in their own homes, too.  She speaks English and is a very open and calming presence. Pregnancies of course need to be low risk to even be possible for home birth (which means that women with various “complications” including those who have rhesus negative blood are not able to have a home birth here, even if everything else is normal) which means that it’s not possible for everyone, but the best person to talk to about it to find out would be So san herself.

With home birth, throughout pregnancy women have check ups regularly with So san (or one of her other midwives) at Matsugaoka, at home, and also a check up 2-3 times during pregnancy at one of her associated clinics/hospitals (for blood tests, detailed ultrasounds and so on).  Essentially, the doctor will need to give the official go ahead for home birth and So san is associated with supportive doctors this way.

If you have a check up at Matsugaoka, it really is like being in someone’s home.  There is  “bone therapist” who helps to adjust your body to have a hopefully smoother birth experience, and also reflexology and aromatherapy are options.  There are also classes related to nutrition (they advocate for a more macrobiotic way of eating, avoiding wheat & gluten, dairy and so forth to minimize inflammation in the body), birthing exercises, and breastfeeding.

If you have check ups at your home, you have the luxury of not needing to go anywhere, being relaxed in your own environment, and okyu treatment (moxibustion) and massage with aromatherapy oils are a wonderful addition that you never get at hospitals here.  The midwives will also check your home layout for home birth and if you are hoping to use a birthing pool they will see if it’s a viable possibility.

At all of these check ups, they also discuss other interesting cultural aspects related to pregnancy and childbirth, such as keeping your ankles and abdomen warm (to help your circulation, encourage baby into a head down position, and reduce the risk of post-partum hemorrhage) that we don’t hear so much about in the west.  These points may sometimes be met with curious/questioning looks but these kind of alternative/more eastern medicine philosophies around childbirth come with hundreds (or thousands) of years of history behind them and can be quite ingrained culturally.

When it actually comes to the labour itself, once things seem to be getting established 2 midwives (with possibly a trainee midwife) will head over to you.  From that point on, you’ll labour entirely according to what feels instinctively right for you physically.  There are no restrictions, not continuous monitoring or other inhibiting measures, and not having to worry about when to go a hospital is a huge plus.  Being in your own environment, surrounded by everything that is personal and meaningful to you can really make a big difference with labour – it can definitely help you to relax.  There is also no separation of mother and baby after birth – baby is immediately placed on you, checked on you, and the important connection is left unbroken (this doesn’t often happen in hospitals). Together with experienced midwives (and a doula for the emotional, physical and motivational support), it can be a very empowering birth experience.  You are not “one of a number” of women and everything is all about you and what works for you.

When I was pregnant with my own first child, the idea of a home birth never crossed my mind.  But after seeing and supporting some women in home births over the past few years, I’ve come to really appreciate it as an option.  So if anyone is considering the idea of a home birth, please get in touch!

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So san and her fellow midwives during a prenatal check up at a client’s house

Home Birth Testimonial

You might remember that I had my first home birth experience as a doula back in April.  My client has very kindly given me a testimonial and I’m sharing it with everyone 🙂  You can find more testimonials here!

“Stephanie attended the birth of our third child (first one to be born in Japan) and she was a vital part of the team. Prior to delivery, she was available to answer questions about the different birthing options in Japan and provide examples from some of her experiences at different hospital settings. We chose a planned home-birth with midwives from Matsugaoka and together, I was able to have a happy and healthy birth. While the midwives did checks throughout labour and provided massage, Stephanie recommended different positions to labour in for comfort and to help move things along. Though she is not a translator, she did explain to my husband and I what was going on as the midwives spoke among themselves. She was also a positive voice when the day became long and I became tired. I highly recommend Stephanie as she was very professional and provided peace of mind throughout my pregnancy, labour and delivery.”

Home Birth in Tokyo

I recently had the exciting opportunity to attend a home birth.  It was my client’s 3rd baby but her first birth in Japan.  She’d had a previous home birth back in Canada and wanted to have another one here.

A lot of English-speakers in Tokyo don’t even know that home birth is an option  – mostly because of the lack of information in English about it.  I will share what I have learned about it over the past  little while.

Midwife-run birth houses are often able to support home births.  There are 2 birth houses that I know of who have midwives who can speak enough English for English-speaking patients:  Matsugaoka Birth Center and Mejiro Birth House.  I’ll put the links for these at the bottom.  There may be other birth houses that can support home births with some English-speaking midwives but I personally don’t know of them.

My client chose to be supported by So-san from Matsugaoka Birth Center.  She’s a lovely lady and very, very experienced.  My client was offered 3 options:  a birth at the birth house, a birth at a hospital but with only the midwife So-san as the care-provider during labour, or a home birth.

With the home birth option, my client had most of her appointments directly at the birth house with only 2-3 appointments at the back-up hospital (in case of emergency) so that she was registered there as a patient and for the more detailed 20-week anomaly scan etc.   The back up hospital with who So-san was connected with was Nisseki in Hiroo (the Japan Red Cross hospital).    I attended one of my client’s appointments at Matsugaoka Birth Center and So-san was very supportive of me being at the labour as a doula – apparently it would be their first time to work with a doula.

When my client was in labour, So-san, another midwife who was able to administer antibiotics via IV as my client was GBS positive, and a trainee midwife were there along with myself.  I can honestly say it was one of my most favourite birth experiences so far in almost 4 years.  My client had absolutely no restrictions placed on her on what she could or couldn’t do and it was as free as it gets with birth being completely patient-led.  With myself and the midwives all there together, there wasn’t a time at all where my client wasn’t being massaged or helped with positions, breathing or comfort.

For me as a doula, it was a great experience and I learned a lot.  It also made me wish I’d had that experience personally, too.

There are a lot more details to go and far too much for me to write, so if anyone has any questions I’d be more than happy to discuss through email or perhaps at a Doula Cafe get-together.

Matsugaoka Birth Center:  https://matsugaoka-birth.com/english/

Mejiro Birth House:  http://www.birthhouse.com/en/

January Births Done!

January ended up being one of my busiest months birth-wise!  I was at 5 births overall – which I think is the most I’ve done in one month before!  All of the babies were delivered at Aiiku hospital with either Dr Sakamoto or Dr Sen, and, as expected each labour was very different.

Dr Sen continues to impress me with each labour I’m at with her.  She is definitely natural-labour-minded, allowing the woman to labour at her own pace and it seems to me that less women who have her as a doctor end up with an epidural – partly because she has to call Dr Sakamoto or another back up to administer it if a patient wants one, which puts a barrier in front of getting an epidural in the first place, but mostly because of her encouragement and approach to labour in general.  While she can’t spend all labour with her patients (that’s my job as doula when I’m there), she is hands on when she can be.  She often gives massages, stimulates pressure points and so on during labours which is a really nice thing and comforting thing for an OB to do.   She is also great at making sure women don’t have episiotomies.  I think I’ve only seen her do one once in the various labours I’ve been in with her.

My next labour so far will be a home birth, all being well.  My client will be using So san from Matsugaoka Birth House as her home-birth midwife.   I met her today and she’s lovely.  She can speak English well-enough and is very reassuring.  With Matsugaoka Birth House, you can choose to give birth there (with a midwife), at Nisseki in Hiroo with So san, or in your own home with So san.  Of course, conditions apply and they can’t take on women with any complications, but for those who are looking for a very natural labour, this is a great choice – an experienced English-speaking midwife with the back up if needed of an extremely well-respected hospital.  I’m looking forward to this labour very much!