Getting Pregnant in Japan – Part Six: Finding a Baby-Friendly Hospital (BFH)

Breast feeding at a Baby Friendly Hospital in Japan
Breast feeding at a Baby-Friendly Hospital in Japan

Has your wife already chosen her Obstetrics & Gynecology (Ob/Gy) Doctor in Japan? Have you met him? (I use “him” as unfortunately the vast majority of Ob/Gy’s in Japan are males) Did you go along to help scrutinize him? Call me paranoid but we went and interviewed 4 different doctors before we decided on who we wanted to deliver our baby. It’s astounding how different one Doc’s perspective can be to the next.

This is the sixth installment in a series about my personal experience of being pregnant in Japan (or perhaps I should say, of my Japanese wife being pregnant). I decided to start writing this series when I realized that there must be a significantly large population of gaijin dad’s out there who are making all of the mistakes that I have and wished there was a bank of information somewhere to save them some of the pain. In that respect, this installment might be most relevant to Dad’s who haven’t even gotten pregnant yet or are in the early stages. If you’re too far along in the pregnancy, it’s likely that your wife has already decided on which hospital she wants to use. That could be fine, but I don’t want you to overlook how important such a choice can be. With a bit of balanced information from an international perspective you might want to rethink your priorities. There doesn’t seem to be very many independent, balanced sources of information for Japanese people, let alone gaijin parents so hopefully I can shed a little more light on the Japanese hospital situation here. If you haven’t already, you might like to catch up on the first, second, third, fourth and fifth installments of the series before reading on.

Although it might seem painfully obvious, choosing the right hospital is a very important decision in your wife’s pregnancy. Most people just focus on the size of the room, the kind of food that is served and the price but there are a whole lot of other things that you need to take into consideration when choosing a hospital for delivery. Although the private health system is almost non-existent in Japan, Ob/Gy is one of the few areas where you have a pretty wide choice and certainly don’t have to rely on the large scale 総合病院 (general hospitals / Sogo Byoin) if you don’t want to. There are thousands of tiny Obstetrics & Gynecology clinics (called 産婦人科 / sanfujinka) dotted around the country which specialize in nothing but pregnant mothers. Many of them have a limit on the number of patients (often a single digit one) and so can provide a very personal service compared to what you might have expected if you have ever needed emergency treatment at a regular hospital in Japan.

Although you often have to pay up front in cash for Ob/Gy services in Japan (remember, credit cards generally aren’t accepted in Japanese hospitals at all), the Japanese government will give you a cash payment of 350,000 yen per child as long as either you or your partner are working in Japan and paying some sort of government insurance. (While it’s nothing to celebrate, you are actually even eligible for the cash in the case of a miscarriage as long as the fetus reaches 85 days or more!). While most clinics structure their fees so that you are charged spank bang 350,000 yen, some in remote areas with aging populations are proactively charging less (so that you can profit from the birth) in order to attract young couples from the cities. By the way, if you’ve recently had a baby and you haven’t applied for the government subsidy, it’s called “出産育児一時金” (Shussan Ikuji Ichijikin) and you can apply for it up until 2 years after the date of birth of your child.

Check out the price. Check out the size of the steaks they serve you to celebrate the birth of your child, but more importantly check out the philosophy and policies of the doctors, nurses and midwives. And this doesn’t just refer to being organic or having/not having an epidural. If you need a list of questions to ask, there is a great template in the book, “The Expectant Father” that I introduced in part two of this series (it is still my favorite book on this subject matter by the way). But if you’re hoping to breast-feed your baby exclusively, I recommend that you add the following few questions for Japan:

  • What percentage of children born in your hospital last year drank formula at least once?
  • Under what circumstances will a baby be fed formula? (especially focusing on if nurses ever feed babies formula without consulting the parents)
  • Do you have, or can you recommend a lactation consultant?
  • If the mother is deemed to have a low supply of milk or the infant is not putting on weight fast enough, what countermeasures do you recommend and after how many weeks?

One of the big problems is that although many hospitals claim that they are all natural/back to basics, or that they encourage breast feeding, this often means little more than them giving private breast massages to your wife for the few days after her delivery. The reality is that many of these doctors were educated a long time ago and aren’t up to date with the most recent academic thought and they are more likely to trust what they hear from the visiting salesmen from the major pharmaceutical companies (who also, strangely enough, leave plenty of samples of their products). Hell, it is so hard to keep a hospital profitable in Japan that you don’t have time to do your own extra research.

So, I ask you this question? Who do you trust more? The quack down the road from you who operates a small scale clinic that is only viable because of government subsidies and strategic bribes from pharmaceutical companies? Or the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF? Yes, there is a better way of judging how reliable your Ob/Gy really is.

It turns out that WHO and UNICEF have developed a global criteria for what they consider to be a Baby-Friendly Hospital (BFH), under the BFHI (Baby-Friedly Hosptal Initiative), which encourages and recognizes hospitals and maternity centers that offer an optimal level of care for breastfeeding babies, which includes protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding.

The BFHI Ten Commandments of Breastfeeding
The BFHI Ten Commandments
of Breastfeeding

The concept stemmed from the fact that (almost) all Mothers use a hospital when giving birth to their baby and almost all of those Mothers are heavily influenced by the practices of that hospital and the teachings of their Ob/Gy and/or midwife that delivers their baby. If the hospital is so focused on the bottom line that they skimp and cut corners when it comes to education or even worse give misinformation to their customers due to a lack of continual independent education then there can be serious repercussions for the long-term health and welfare of the babies born there. Pretty simple, eh. Well WHO and UNICEF have now designated over 20,000 hospitals in 152 countries as being Baby Friendly Hospitals. How many do you think exist in Japan? 48. Yep. Japan has less than one quarter of one percent of all of the BFH’s in the World. What are the criteria that the WHO and UNICEF use to judge hospitals? It turns out that they have 10 simple rules for becoming a BFH and they center on making your birth natural and giving your baby the best chance it can have for a healthy birth and to reduce the probability of allergies and other medical risks developing in later life. They cover everything from giving the child a chance to bond with it’s mother on the breast immediately after the birth to not accepting free or low-cost substitutes for breast milk (ie. Powdered milk). You can read the details for yourself on their official website entitled, “The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative” which also has a link to all of the 10 commandments of breastfeeding. Perhaps most interestingly, it gives you an insight into what so many of the world’s hospitals are messing up.

Perhaps you might think that BFHs aren’t for you, but please let me try one more time to convince you. We were lucky enough to find a BFH that also met our other needs (including geographical) and I’m convinced that it made a huge difference in terms of emotional support and acceptance (from the midwives to my wife and I) and was key to a flawless entry to the world for my child. Before you finalize your hospital, please see if there are any Baby Friendly Hospitals near your home. If there is one, give them a visit and find out how they’re different to your current hospital. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Below is a list of all of the BFHs in Japan (as at July 2008). As far as I know, this is the only English language list of Japanese BFHs. As you’ll notice, the biggest problem is that there just aren’t that many BFHs to choose from (Damn, even Burma has more!) but by spreading the word to your local Ob/Gy you might be able to help change that. If there are any readers out there who have actually been to one of these BFHs, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section (at the very bottom) so other gaijin parents can benefit, too.

List of Baby-Friendly Hospitals (BFH) in Japan:

(Click on the Japanese name to jump to the homepage of each one):

Hospital Name (English) Hospital Name (Japanese, click for link to homepage) Post Code Address Tel
Kin’ikyo Sapporo Hospital 勤医協札幌病院 003-8510 北海道札幌市白石区菊水4条1-9-22 011-811-2246
Kitami Red Cross Hospital 総合病院北見赤十字病院 090-8666 北海道北見市北6条東2丁目1 0157-24-3115
Asahikawa Medical College 旭川医科大学医学部付属病院 980-0803 北海道旭川市緑ヶ丘東2条1-1-1 0166-68-2483
Memuro Hospital 公立芽室病院 082-0014 北海道河西郡芽室町東4条3-5 0155-62-2811
Kurokawa Ob/Gy Hospital 黒川産婦人科医院 020-0013 岩手県盛岡市愛宕町2-51 019-651-5066
Tohoku KoaI hOAPIRn 東北公済病院 980-0803 宮城県仙台市青葉区国分町2-3-11 022-227-2211
Yamagata City Hospital Saiseikan 山形市立病院済生館 990-8533 山形県山形市七日町1-3-26 023-625-5555
Kensei Hospital 津軽保健生活協同組合
036-8511 青森県弘前市野田2-2-1 0172-32-1171
Hirosaki Hospital 国立病院機構弘前病院 036-8545 青森県弘前市富野町一番地 0172-32-4311
Japan Red Cross Medical Center 日本赤十字社医療センター 150-0012 東京都渋谷区広尾4-1-22 03-3400-1311
Utsuno Clinic 宇津野医院 304-0068 茨城県下妻市下妻丁373-15 0296-45-0311
Yokohama City University General Medical
横浜市立大学医学部附属総合医療センター 232-0024 神奈川県横浜市南区浦舟町4-57 045-261-5656
Ishii Daiichi Sanfujinka Clinic 石井第一産科婦人科クリニック 434-0042 静岡県浜北市小松4468-5 053-586-6166
Sugita Sanfujika Clinic 杉田産婦人科医院 400-0046 山梨県甲府市下石田2-7-17 055-228-8334
Takada Clinic 高田医院 503-2305 岐阜県安八郡神戸町神戸468 0584-27-2015
Nishikawa Ladies Clinic 西川レディースクリニック 507-0054 岐阜県多治見市宝町3-98 0572-25-3800
Obstetrics & Gynecology Yamada Clinic 山田産婦人科 445-0813 愛知県西尾市若松町38 0563-56-3245
Gokiso Ladies Clinic こぎそレディースクリニーク 466-0027 名古屋市昭和区阿由知通3-10 052-732-9733
Ueda City San’in 上田市産院 386-8601 長野県上田市常磐城5-6-39 0268-22-1573
Awano Clinic あわの産婦人科医院 939-0626 富山県下新川郡入善町入膳229-3 0765-72-0588
Toyama Prefecutural Central Hospital 富山県立中央病院 930-8550 富山市西長江2-2-78 076-424-1531
Takaoka Saiseikai Hospital 済生会高岡病院 933-8525 富山県高岡市二塚387-1 0766-21-0570
Kasamatsu Sanfujinka 笠松産科婦人科・小児科 599-0211 大阪府阪南市鳥取中192-2 0724-62-0202
Okamura Clinic :岡村産婦人科 590-0114 大阪府堺市槇塚台1丁11-3 072-292-2800
Shiratsuka Clinic, Tsu Health Coop 津医療生協白塚診療所 514-0101 三重県津市白塚3568-4 0592-32-0749
Mie Chuo Medical Center 国立病院機構三重中央医療センター 514-1101 三重県久居市明神町2158-5 059-259-1211
Kakogawa Municipal Hospital 加古川市民病院 675-8611 兵庫県加古川市米田町平津384-1 0794-32-3531
Maizuru Kyosai Hospital 国家公務員共済組合連合会
625-8585 京都府舞鶴市字浜1035番地 0773-62-2510
Palmore Hospital パルモア病院 650-0012 兵庫県神戸市中央区北長狭通4-7-20 078-321-6000
Okayama Medical Center 国立病院岡山医療センター 701-1192 岡山市田益1711-1 086-294-9911
Sun Clinic サンクリニック 703-8205 岡山市中井221番地1 082-275-3366
Umeda Hospital 梅田病院 743-0022 山口県光市虹が浜町3-6-1 0833-71-0084
Tottori Prefectural Chuou Hospital 鳥取県立中央病院 680-0901 鳥取県鳥取市江津730 0857-26-2271
Yoshino Clinic 吉野産婦人科医院 699-0624 島根県簸川郡斐川町上直江3091 0853-72-7470
Kubokawa Hospital くぼかわ病院 786-0002 高知県高岡郡窪川町見付902-1 0880-22-1111
St. Mary’s Hospital 聖マリア病院 830-0047 福岡県久留米市津福本町422 0942-35-3322
Morishita Maternity Clinic 森下産婦人科医院 812-0025 福岡県福岡市博多区店屋町8-10 092-291-0328
Aiwa Hospital 産科婦人科愛和病院 811-3101 福岡県古賀市天神5-9-1 092-943-3288
National Hospital Organization Nagasaki
Medical Center
国立病院機構長崎医療センター 856-0835 長崎県大村市久原2-1001-1 0957-52-3121
Inoue Sanfujinka 井上産婦人科 858-0913 長崎県佐世保市新田町707-5 0956-48-4800
Kumagai Obstetrics & Gynecology くまがい産婦人科 870-0254 大分県大分市横塚2-4-5 097-592-1000
Yunohara Women’s ゆのはら産婦人科医院 860-0812 熊本県熊本市南熊本5-9-3 096-372-1110
Kumamoto San’in 熊本市立病院熊本産院 860-0821 熊本県熊本市本山3-5-11 096-325-3259
Kumamoto Municipal Hospital 熊本市立熊本市民病院 852-8505 熊本県熊本市湖東1-1-1 096-365-1711
Uchino Clinic 内野産婦人科医院 840-0054 佐賀県佐賀市水ケ江2-4-2 0952-23-2360
Kume Clinic 産科婦人科久米クリニック 896-0001 鹿児島県いちき串木野市曙町25 0996-32-7663
Kamiya Hahatoko Clinic かみや母と子のクリニック 901-0301 沖縄県糸満市阿波根1552-2 098-995-3511
National Kyushu Medical Center 国立病院機構九州医療センター 810-8563 福岡市中央区地行浜1丁目8番地1号 092-852-0700

12 thoughts on “Getting Pregnant in Japan – Part Six: Finding a Baby-Friendly Hospital (BFH)”

  1. Thanks for putting this together! We just found out and so this was really helpful info. Unfortunately here in Hokkaido there are only three and none are close to us. Seems like a lot of things here in Japan have quite modernizing. Thanks

  2. Yes, thanks a lot for this. We just found out too, and pleased for the reference. Good series, sad to see it finish.

  3. I am enjoying your articles on a foreigner fathers experience with pregnancy in japan. I, too, am a very pregnant foreigner here in rural Japan, come to deliver and hand over a Japanese man’s baby and this is the hardest and loneliest experience i have ever gone through in my life. No one in my hospital speaks a word of English and I, having just arrived in japan two weeks ago, speak a very limited amount of Japanese. most of the time i feel more like an inanimate incubation unit than a human being. but its nice to follow your story and i wish you and your wife the very best of luck.

  4. We have had 2 babies here and 1 in Australia, and now expecting our 4th. The first hospital in Saitama, Japan (new miyaharacho stn if anyone is in the Omiya area) was fantastic – I think the name “Kino Sanfujinnka”. All about Kangaroo care, and having the father involved as much as possible. The 2nd, our 3rd son, in a hospital in Nagano was horrible. I wasn’t allowed in the room until a few seconds before brith, then promptly asked to leave. Our son was put in a crib next to the bed for a few minutes then moved to another room for hours. There was extremely little time spent with our boys mother in the next few days. I kept calm (which is rare for me!) to keep my wife happy. Thankfully, that hospital is no longer operating! Let’s hope the next one is somewhat better.

    To put things in prosective, the Aussie birth process was great. My wife was free to choose how she gave birth and I was in the room during the whole labour and brith. The only problem was that she was sent home after 2 days! It was a public hospital.

  5. Thanks for the series. I am not sure if you are having/had a boy or a girl, but did you research where to get baby boy’s circumcised? I know this is not common practise in Japan, but do want to have our baby boy done.

  6. The reason even Japan doesn’t do it anymore is because it was discovered that there is no reason to brutally disfigure you child’s penis! Come on…even Japan that takes decades to catch up has woken up to this, surely you can too! Nothing wrong with being a little different to your child.

  7. Hey it looks as though they’re going to raise the “出産育児一時金” by 4 men from the middle of next year. Good timing if you’re thinking of having a second! That will mean 42 men per child.

  8. Hi, Thanks for the good information!
    I am a US citizen living in Japan but my husband and I work in here.
    I wanted to ask you(if you know) about government subsidy system in Japan.
    Does it only apply to Japanese citizen? also, I’m planning to have my baby in USA but do you think I can still get some support from Japanese government after I come back with my baby when she’s 2 months old?

    I still cannot speak nor read Japanese so that’s why I decided to go back to USA to give birth…
    Thanks in advance!

  9. Hi Hyo,
    Yes as long as either you or your husband has a visa and officially register in your local ward office then your child will be treated like any Japanese child in regards to health treatment and costs. Make sure you go to a hospital within your prefecture though because the Japanese subsidies are different from ward to ward and there is very reciprocation amongst prefectures (and sometimes even wards)

  10. Im using iucd,last period 12.5.2011,on 9.6.2011 i got my period but little,is there Any chance to get pregnant?awaiting for reply. Thank you doc

  11. Whats up! I simply want to give an enormous thumbs up for the good information you might
    have right here on this post. I can be coming back to your blog for more

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