Emotions during pregnancy and childbirth run the gamut, from excitement and trepidation to joy and even fear. Foreign women who find themselves pregnant in Japan may experience additional stress as they cope with cultural differences, language issues and being away from their own families. Add in talk of no pain relief typically being offered during labor and it is enough to make an expectant mother want to jump on the next plane home.

However, while some aspects of Japanese maternity and obstetric care may seem confusing, Japan is actually a great place to give birth, says Brett Iimura, an American childbirth educator and founder of the Tokyo-based Childbirth Education Center. Since 1997, CEC has been helping expectant couples navigate pregnancy and birth in this country. "Japanese maternal and infant mortality rates are among the lowest in the world, and you have a wide variety of options here," Iimura stresses.

Broadly speaking, these options can be divided into three main categories: the OB-GYN department of a large hospital (which may be private or public), a smaller specialized maternity clinic, or a birthing center with midwives.