Pregnancy and birth around the world

Why are Japanese women pregnant for 10 months? How come so many Dutch mums have their babies with no pain relief? Why are there no midwives in American hospitals? And why do Ugandan women have their aunties with them while they're in labour? Read on and meet four mums from around the world to find out how similar – or different—their experiences are from ours.

Women in Japan are considered to be pregnant for 10 months, with the 40 weeks of pregnancy divided into 10 four-week 'months'.
Chikako Iizuka, 37, works in personnel and lives in Tokamachi, Japan, with husband Toshiyuki, 42, a motorway patrolman. They have one daughter, Mitsuki, who is 14 months old

'I had all my antenatal appointments at our local hospital. Normally all Japanese women have free maternity classes, too, but I didn't have any because the hospital was badly damaged in an earthquake recently.

'In Japan, pregnant women traditionally start wearing a special maternity support belt on a particular day, known as the Dog's day, in the fifth month of pregnancy. The idea is that, like a dog, you will have lots of babies and they’ll be easily delivered, so that's what I did.

'In Japan we are very careful about our weight during pregnancy. My doctor warned me that if I gained too much weight, it could make the birth harder for me and my baby. It scared me so I was very careful what I ate and walked a lot. By the time Mitsuki was born I had only put on 2kg (4lb 8oz).

'I had Mitsuki in hospital. My waters broke, but I didn't get any contractions so I was induced. Normally Japanese women stay in hospital for five days after having a baby, but I had some swelling around my stitches so I stayed in for eight.
'Soon after she was born, my mother, mother-in-law and I took Mitsuki to be blessed at the Shinto shrine . She wore a special ceremonial dress and, as is traditional, we lay her on the floor and made her cry. People say that babies who cry at the shrine will have a beautiful voice.‘

The Netherlands
The Netherlands has the highest homebirth rate in Europe: 33 per cent of women give birth at home . The Dutch concentrate on giving support to the mother during labour, and pain relief isn’t widely used.
Marja Jonker- van den Bout, 35, from Almere in the Netherlands is a full-time mum married to Martin, 38, who works in finance. They have four children: Matthijs, eight, Eveline, seven, Ard, four, and Leon, nine months

'Like many Dutch women, I've had all my children at home. You have your first midwife appointment at about 12 weeks, then every four weeks after that, and finally every week towards the end of pregnancy. If there are any complications, the midwife refers you to an obstetrician and gynaecologist and you stay under their care.
'If you have medical complications, you have to deliver in hospital. Otherwise it's up to you where you have your baby, but many women choose to have their babies at home. It's safer, you're in your own environment, and you get really good support from the midwives. And if you do need it, there's always a hospital nearby.

'In the Netherlands, women aren't quick to ask for pain relief. Having a baby is painful, I know, but you can get through it with good support from midwives and birth partners. If you have your baby in hospital you are usually discharged after a few hours.

'One special thing about having a baby here is that new parents get assistance after their baby is born. For 10 days a maternity care assistant comes every day to help care for mother and child, giving practical information about breastfeeding and babycare. She also takes care of all the housework.

'Leon's birth was very special because we had a very close friend there as my birth partner. She looked after all our visitors and gave them "mice biscuits", a sweet delicacy decorated in pink and white for a girl and blue and white for a boy. They're a traditional gift for people visiting a new baby in the Netherlands.

'Many Dutch women choose to breastfeed, but it's also considered OK to bottlefeed – it’s not frowned upon. The important thing is that you feel happy with your choice.‘

The United States
In the US, maternity units are staffed by doctors and nurses -- most midwives practice independently outside hospitals. The caesarean rate in the US has risen rapidly in recent years and is now around 29 per cent.

Anne Davies, 43, a freelance graphic designer, is married to Grahame, 42, a sound engineer, and lives in Arlington, Virginia in the United States. They have two daughters, Mercy, five, and Maria, two
‘Over here, you see an obstetrician and gynaecologist in hospital regularly throughout your pregnancy. My obstetrician was an excellent doctor, but I'd only actually get to see him for about two minutes.

'I had two baby showers: one at work and one with friends and family. The great thing about baby showers is that people club together to get some of the expensive stuff like car seats. Normally you only have a baby shower with your first baby - after that you're on your own!

'Mercy was two weeks late. They scanned me almost daily and, in the end, I was induced. Because of this I had to be hooked up to a monitor. I felt I could manage my contractions as long as I kept moving around. The doctor said I could move around, but as soon as he left the nurses said I had to lie down because they had to monitor me.

'I was in labour for two days. I ended up with all kinds of interventions - epidural, episiotomy and ventouse. Thankfully, Mercy was born a healthy XX kg (8lbs 8 oz).
'Because I was so unhappy with my hospital birth, I decided to have Maria in a midwife-led birth centre. Grahame and I also went to natural birth classes for couples. This time, my midwife appointments lasted around 20 minutes each.

'My waters broke on the way to the birth centre and I wanted to push before we even arrived. I was surrounded by women who spoke soothingly and led me gently to a birthing room . What a difference! Maria weighed in at xxkg (9lbs 10oz) just one hour after we arrived.

'I wouldn't recommend the American way of giving birth. The trouble is that our hospitals are run as businesses. Doctors and their interventions not only make money for the hospital (you get your maternity care through health insurance, so if doctors carry out lots of interventions thay can charge the insurance company more), and the interventions also help to avoid lawsuits.

It's getting harder and harder to find midwives. Meanwhile, the demand for doulas (experienced birth partners) is exploding as women look for better support as they endure their hospital deliveries.'
In Uganda, women have an average of six children, and more than 60 per cent are married by the age of 18. Thirty per cent have no midwife or doctor with them when they give birth – they are on their own. Modern maternity care is available in Uganda's cities, but only for those mothers who can afford it.
Joy Baligwa, 31, is a publicity officer for Plan, an organisation that helps children in the developing world. She lives in Kampala, Uganda, with her husband, Michael, 33, an estate agent, and their 15-month-old daughter, Kirabo

'Kirabo's full name is Kirabo Rebecca Najjemba Baligwa. Both Michael and I are from the Muganda tribe and traditionally the father's father chooses the baby's name. These days there's a bit more flexibility so Michael and I chose the name Kirabo, meaning "gift", ourselves.

'My pregnancy was quite straightforward. I saw an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Mulago Hospital in Kampala every month. I was lucky -- it's not always easy to find good doctors here, especially if you don't have the means, but I felt very comfortable with her.

'According to Muganda tradition, it's taboo for men to touch their mother-in-law or even enter her house atall. The relationship between husband and mother-in-law is very formal.

“When I went into labour I had Michael and my "senga" with me. A senga is a special aunt, often on the father’s side of the family but sometimes on the mother’s, who is there to teach you about life, marriage, raising children and so on. I’ve been close to my senga all my life, and she’s been very helpful. Part of her role is to give advice to my husband, so Michael felt very relaxed with her too.

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