Made In Japan 3

Food For Thought

“Keep That Baby Warm!” and Other Random Advice
I knew that pregnancy was probably going to alter my lifestyle somewhat, especially as I grew larger than life, so I started doing a bit of research into the changes I should be making, and found lots of good information about things I didn’t need to change right away, or even at all. I used resources like the baby book What to Expect When You’re Expecting and I also made sure to consult with my Japanese doctor and double-checked his answers with an American relative doctor. I found no significant discrepancies between the two.

I have a few trusted family members and friends who are my go-to people for advice and encouragement. Their input has been priceless. In addition, some people give me advice whether I ask for it or not. I was told I would get a lot of this in Japan, so when I finally started fielding recommendations to “Keep that baby warm!” and “Never pick up anything heavier than a pair of chopsticks!” I just smiled and expressed my thanks, knowing no one was out to make me feel bad, only that they cared about my wellbeing.

I’m not sure why it is that the Japanese have an obsession with keeping unborn babies warm. Really, how much warmer does it need to be inside of me? Still, it was by far the one piece of advice I got the most from friends and colleagues. Traditionally, Japanese women start wearing a supportive belt sometime in their 2nd trimester that is supposed to help with this. I was never pressured to wear one and barely anyone ever suggested it, perhaps because it is going out of style. I was however reminded by a coworker that in my delicate state, I should not only be wearing socks for ceremonies in the gym like everyone else, but slippers too. Actually, it was nice to have an excuse to bundle up a little bit more than everyone else at work, as our school doesn’t have central heating and winters can feel quite cold.

I was pretty active before hand, going to the gym regularly and biking to work everyday, so I was happy to learn that exercise is definitely recommended while pregnant. I was sure to tell my gym instructor early on about my changed condition and he happily adjusted my routine to something more suitable. As for biking, I asked my doctor if it was ok to keep riding and he said as long as I was comfortable and didn’t have any balance issues, it was no problem. However, my school was not exactly thrilled with this arrangement. They were terrified that I was going to fall or be hit by a car or over exert myself. Everyday, a new teacher would tell me how scary it was for me to still be cycling around town. I did my best to reassure them that I was riding slower and more carefully but it didn’t really help. Eventually, Matt started to get suggestions from his adult students who would see me cycling about, that I should stop. To everyone’s relief, around my 7th month, I did. We bought a car, and I spent one terrifying Saturday afternoon training my brain to drive on the left side of the road, wondering the whole time “Am I really safer behind the wheel of this car than on the seat of my bike?!” Now that I have the hang of it, the added convenience is definitely welcome, but I miss my bicycle and hope I will be able to go back to it at some point after the baby is born. The high cost of owning a car in Japan is something else I could rant and rave about forever, but I will keep those thoughts to myself for now.

As an aside, even in my smallish town there are prenatal yoga and aqua-fit classes offered to expecting mothers, but because they don’t work with my schedule, I ordered a prenatal dvd off the internet ( It’s very convenient to do my yoga routine from home anytime I want, and I can definitely feel the difference in my joints and muscles. I highly recommend it!

Onsen, or the practice of visiting a hot spring, is still practiced by pregnant women in Japan. Both my American and Japanese doctor said that if I chose to go to onsen, I shouldn’t stay in too long, but scrubbing down with the other ladies and then taking short dips should be fine. I’ve been about 3 or 4 times in the last 7 months. As suggested, I usually don’t submerge for very long, and often just sit on the side of the hot pools with my legs dangling in.

Fish, Liver and Coffee
When it came to nutrition, my doctor didn’t really go into depth about what I should or should not be eating. I received some nutritional pamphlets about balancing my diet, but they were all in Japanese, so I generally relied on information found online or through friends. I had been warned time and again that Japanese doctors are really strict about weight gain, but my doctor never put any pressure on me to watch my weight, probably because I was pretty slender to begin with and about a head taller than all his other patients. The average recommended weight gain in Japan is something like 15-17 pounds. Most mom’s I asked at my school gained about 20 to 22 lbs. While this might seem low to North Americans, you have to keep in mind that the people here aren’t very tall and sometimes they are downright tiny, so I can understand why their weight gain limit is on the low side.

You can find folic acid pills in the pharmacies in Japan, but I have yet to find prenatal vitamins anywhere, so I had a few batches shipped to me by family back home. Also, Japanese women generally continue to eat fish and shellfish throughout their pregnancy, both raw and cooked. North American women seem slightly more concerned about the levels of mercury and bacteria found in these, and I have heard that some people go cold turkey for a while. After doing my research I personally felt comfortable keeping seafood in my diet. I still eat tuna, but usually opt for salmon as it is supposed to have lower mercury level. High risk seafood, like mahi mahi, orange ruffy and shark are not the kind of fish you would normally find on your plate in Japan, so it’s easy enough to stay away from them. Because I trust the handling and freshness of food in Japan, I still occasionally eat sushi and sashimi, just like most of the women here do.

I steer clear of both raw and cooked liver, which is widely available in Japan. Liver is too high in iron and can be harmful to the fetus. I enjoy the odd cup of caffeinated coffee or tea, as it’s almost impossible to get decaf in restaurants where we live. At home and work I usually drink either Nescafe’s Instant Goldblend Caffeinless (カフエインレス), which can be bought at most grocery stores and pharmacies or Folger’s Decaf, which can be purchased online from the Flying Pig:

Alcohol and smoking are of course big no-no’s here for pregnant women, although more than one friend has hinted to me that an occasional sip is probably ok. This is apparently true, but I prefer to not take any chances. As much as I miss red wine, I’ve managed to abstain 99% from drinking. That last 1% was a liqueur filled chocolate I ate by accident on Valentine’s Day.

Ready to Wear
I don’t think I need to dwell on this section too long, but I wanted to make sure to quickly touch base on maternity clothes in Japan. I personally despise clothes shopping here. It comes with the territory of being 5’8″, which makes me taller than almost everyone, including men. There is only one store in town that I know of that sells maternity clothes, and I find their selection to be criminal. They are usually sack dresses and tops that look great on the women here, but make me look like a shapeless creature stuck in a tent. The quality is not the best either. I bought a couple pairs of maternity stockings, and the first pair tore as I was putting them on.

My sister sent me her Belly-Bands in the mail, and this helped a bit when I started to grow. I also used some pant-adapters lent to me by a local friend, and they helped me get the most use out of my normal skinny pants. By far though, the best gift I have received was a surprise box full of maternity clothes from my in-laws in the US. It arrived at the end of my first trimester, and they basically thought of everything, from jeans, to work clothes, stockings and even a maternity swimsuit. If not for these items, I would be pretty uncomfortable right now. If you aren’t built with a Japanese frame, do yourself a favor and purchase some key items online and have your family ship them over. Here are some sites I found useful: