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Neglected art of midwifery is national asset

Dear Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoko Komiyama,

I recently visited Japan to learn about traditional midwifery and Asian medicine. I was fortunate to be able to spend two days at a traditional birth house in the Tokyo area. As president and founder of the Chicago birth network, my goal was to be able to share what I learned with practitioners in the U.S.

My experience was amazing and wonderful! I learned that there are 24 birth houses and 23 home-birth midwives still in existence in the Tokyo area. In the U.S., home birth and birth-center birth are increasing in popularity.

The dedication and care the families received from the birth house midwives and cooks was the perfect union of modern and traditional. The midwives are able to spend a great deal of time with the families they serve. The prenatal visits were a long happy family affair. They often included a traditional meal as part of the visit.

The basis of the care is nutrition, exercise, rest and relaxation. Principles of Asian medicine were employed during every visit. Often the mothers received massage or husbands were taught how to give massage.

Japan has a model for childbirth that is unique, yet most parents have no idea it exists. There is a long history of organized midwifery that began in the 1800s with the founding of the first midwifery institute. The majority of births in Japan were home births until the 1950s. Today, most midwives practice in hospitals and function primarily as a nurse assisting doctors.

Traditional midwifery is a national treasure. It is an art that has existed for centuries. The tradition of the birth house was also as a safe house for women. Breast-feeding support is also offered.

The majority of mothers qualify for midwifery care. This kind of care should be a model for other countries as the quality of care is exceptional. If there is a problem, during pregnancy or the labor, mothers are transferred to medical care. Hospitals and doctors collaborate with the midwives.

Loving, supportive care of normal physiological birth is the best possible care. When mothers are nurtured while pregnant, they are relaxed and confident when the time comes to give birth.

The sense of accomplishment gained from giving birth without medications can have a profound impact on parenting. For most mothers there is no need for medical intervention of any kind from conception through the postpartum period.

Perhaps if more families knew about home birth and birth house options they would chose to have more children. This could help reverse the problem of negative population growth in Japan. When families are healthy and happy, the positive impact on society in general is unlimited.

The World Health Organization states that families have a right to have a choice at birth of hospital, birth center or home. Parents deserve to know this information so they can make the best choices for their families.

Ms. Komiyama, informing parents can be as simple as including information that describes all the birth choices families have in their birth registration packet.

I hope your department will find many ways to promote all birth choices.

JO ANNE LINDBERG
President, Childbirth & Family Wellness
Evanston, Illinois

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