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Support services on rise for Japan’s new moms

Kyodo

New mothers in Japan can now seek help with household tasks as well as pre- and postnatal care amid a growing number of support organizations.

One such group, Sai-Mama, was started by Mika Okada, a midwife who also runs Sakura Maternity Center in Saitama Prefecture.

Established in October 2014 in an alliance with homemaking service providers, it started sending staff in pairs to new mothers’ homes last June.

On an afternoon in late January, Okada, 49, is preparing healthy dishes such as vegetable soup, boiled yellowtail with radish and fried hijiki seaweed at the home of a 39-year-old woman who had given birth to a boy just 2½ months earlier.

Okada also gives the woman advice on what clothing to put on the baby while he sleeps.

“I’m so grateful because it has been such hard work going out with this little baby,” the mother said. “It’s amazing that I can also have so many kinds of tasty dishes.” It is her fourth time using the service.

In conventional postnatal care, a mother may need to travel to a designated facility and if a midwife visits, it is only to advise her on how to look after her baby.

Other specialists, such as health care workers, nursery staff and dental hygienists, are also available for support, but on a case-by-case basis.

Under Sai-Mama’s service, guidance on meals and massages for babies are also offered if needed.

A first visit costs ¥8,000 ($70), including the initial membership fee. From then on, visits cost around ¥2,000 per hour.

“I would be delighted if our service helps make mothers feel more relaxed and confident in taking care of their babies,” Okada said. “We will look to offer other services that will make both parents and children happy.”

Experts say that new mothers today often feel isolated and obliged to take care of their children without support from grandparents or relatives, and that they are looking for diverse care support after their baby is born.

Tokyo-based organization imacoco sends postnatal care specialists called “nursing doulas” to families with new babies.

Also providing similar services is BeautiClue Co. in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, which sends trainers to help mothers exercise and regain physical strength following childbirth.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said about 150 local governments across Japan are scheduled to have set up maternity centers by the end of fiscal 2015.

The centers offer comprehensive care support during pregnancy, delivery and child-rearing.

“It is desirable that either local governments or private-sector organizations provide more support that responds to each regional situation,” a ministry official said.