Having a newborn is hard anywhere, but for those of us living in a foreign country without a support network, it can be a lot harder. No grandparents to babysit, the medical system is foreign and everything is in a language we may not understand. Luckily, Japan does have several systems in place to offer help and support to new parents. I will outline some below, along with my experiences having a newborn baby in 2018.
After about one week in the hospital, you and your baby will be discharged (providing you are both healthy). From then, you are on your own. It was definitely a huge learning experience for us, and a lot to take in all at once. As a new parent, I was constantly worried that something was wrong with my child – I spent a lot of time on Google searching for various ailments, many nonexistent! Luckily all children will have a checkup at the hospital they were born when they are one month old. They will check the health of your baby and can offer advice on things like breastfeeding. They did tell me how “difficult” it was that I was only breastfeeding, and strongly encouraged the usage of formula. So be prepared for perhaps a stronger emphasis on formula than in your home country.
In my case, due to having had high blood pressure during childbirth, I had to have an additional checkup at two weeks postpartum. This extra care is reassuring, especially as they did find another problem to deal with so I am glad they were cautious.
When your newborn is about two months old, the ward will schedule a home visit (shinseiji-houmon) with you. Some wards will drop by your house unannounced, while others will allow you to schedule it in advance. A nurse will come and check your home environment (casually) and conduct a survey to see whether you are managing with your new baby. It was all pretty informal – the nurse basically weighed and measured our daughter and gave us some advice. I pretty much left it to my husband to talk to her as at that stage I could still hardly keep my eyes open (our daughter was not a good sleeper!).
You will receive coupons for free health checkups (kenkou-shinsa) at 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and 18 months. You can do these at your local pediatrician. The checkup at three months is held in a big ward health centre, usually during a really difficult time when your baby needs a nap. You’ll spend several hours waiting for the checks and attending an info lecture. We can provide an interpreter or translator service for this if you need.
There are a number of jidoukans located in every ward of Tokyo (and elsewhere too of course). These are children’s centres, and can be a lifesaver when you need to get out of the house. They range in size – the one nearest to us has a large room with a ball pit, small slide and trampoline and several tricycles, then a smaller room with toys for toddlers, then a large tatami room with lots of baby toys. When my daughter was a baby we went there a lot so that I could interact with other mothers and my daughter was more entertained than at home. I used to bring my Japanese textbook and study while my baby would grab at all the toys. At home this was impossible, she constantly wanted to be held. So the jidoukan was great. And just going there can break up the monotony of staying at home with a baby when you’re too tired to do anything else.
They also have “mummy and baby” classes where they do songs and crafts, but they wanted us to commit to coming every week so we didn’t join in for very long. It is also a great way to practice your Japanese because other mothers usually don’t speak much English, at least in my experience! And maybe you can make some friends in your neighbourhood. When my daughter was 2 months old we met another mother there, and we kept in touch and from October 2020 when they were 2 years old, they ended up in the same hoikuen class! Try and find all the different jidoukans in your area so that you don’t get bored of always going to the same one. I found that after the kids turned 1 year old, many mothers went back to work and stopped going to the jidoukan, preferring to take the kids to the park when they have a chance. This was the same in my case, but I can’t recommend them enough for mothers of babies too small to go to the playground.
Hiring a Helper
Staying home with a newborn all the time can be very tiring, so a lot of mothers want to have some time to themselves, or someone around to help with household chores. There are four options:
- Hiring a babysitter or cleaner from an agency
There are many agencies in Japan where they will send someone to clean your house, or babysit your children. The ones that target Japanese families are cheaper than the ones that target expats, however they are surprisingly difficult to use. We registered for a babysitting agency and we had to have an initial meeting with them, pay a registration fee, fill out mountains of paperwork and so on. Then they wanted a yearly fee to continue! You might be better off trying some English speaking companies like Babysitters.jp https://babysitters.jp/en/service or Carefinder https://www.carefinder.jp/en or Chez Vous https://www.chezvous.co.jp/en/ or Poppins http://www.poppins.co.jp/english/.
2. Hiring a “helper”
Many expat families choose to hire a helper to perform babysitter or household duties. They often hire via word of mouth or through Facebook, generally using helpers from the Philippines. The going rate starts at 1,500 yen per hour plus transportation, though if you have more children you may decide to pay more.
3. Using your ward’s “family support”
The ward offers a family support service where you can hire someone to watch your child while you get a break. It’s a little complicated to register, first you need to go in and sign up for an information session which is only held once a month and can be full up. Then once you have completed this session, you will be a fully registered member and you can apply for a helper. They will ask their volunteers and if there is a match for you, you will have a meeting with the volunteer to check you are a good fit. After that you can arrange for them to look after your baby. They are not certified sitters, but people from your area who have free time. The good thing is that the cost is cheap, only 800 yen per hour (differs by area). We used this option a few times and it worked out well
4. Using the “silver service”
This is very similar to the family support service, but the volunteers are only elderly and retired people. You can hire them to look after your child or clean your house at a cheaper rate of around 800-1000 yen per hour. It is basically an initiative to keep retired people active in their community. Of course you cannot ask them to do heavy lifting or deep cleaning, but simple day to day cleaning is acceptable. We attempted to use this service when I needed to work evenings but were unable to find anyone who could do evenings.
Monthly Childcare Allowance
Depending on the income of the highest earner in your household, you may be eligible for the “jidou-te-ate”, or monthly childcare allowance from the government. If you are eligible, you will receive 15,000 yen per child per month until they are three years old. After that the amount is reduced, dependent on number of children you have (we have one child and when she turns three the amount will drop to 10,000 yen per month).
Free places to weigh/measure your baby
Surprisingly I have noticed a lot of people buying baby scales. This is very unnecessary as there are several places you can go to weigh your baby for free. Jidoukans all have scales and you can request to use them. Also many baby feeding/changing areas in shopping malls include a scale. If you find an Akachan Honpo store, these also include scales – I can vouch for the stores in Kinshicho and Kawaguchi, though there are many more.
This was my experience raising a newborn in Japan. If you have any further useful services to add, please comment below!