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More women and couples are considering “preconception care,” the concept of improving a woman’s chances of conceiving a child, having a healthy pregnancy, and giving birth to a healthy baby even if she doesn’t plan on getting pregnant just yet.

Many hospitals and clinics are offering health checkups with these goals in mind. And in July, the southern Japanese city of Fukuoka started subsidizing medical fees for blood tests that check ovarian health. The city hopes the test will become an opportunity for younger people to detect medical issues early while raising awareness about health and pregnancy.

“This is not meant to say that women need to bear children,” said Fukuoka Mayor Soichiro Takashima in June, referring to the preconception care. “It’s meant to design your life on your own.”

During the fiscal year through March, the city is sending coupons to women turning 30 years old that allow them to take an anti-Mullerian hormone test, which estimates the number of eggs a woman has in her ovaries. Normally a single test costs between ¥6,000 and ¥10,000, but those eligible in Fukuoka can now take it for ¥500. The city is also considering classes on the topic at schools in the future.

A flyer on 'preconception care' in Fukuoka | KYODO
A flyer on ‘preconception care’ in Fukuoka | KYODO

With the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encouraging preconception care, more doctors in Japan are promoting the effort. Earlier this year, the health ministry asked experts about how to create a framework to encourage preconception care.

In 2019, Kasama City in Ibaraki Prefecture became the first municipality to subsidize preconception care packages — including blood tests, consultations and health checkups for infectious diseases — for ¥5,000, or less than a quarter of the actual cost.

“When women find out about a pregnancy, the physical basics of the fetus are already complete,” said an official at Kasama city. “It’s important to take care of yourself before you get pregnant.”

Fumitoshi Koga, a doctor who runs a women’s clinic in Fukuoka city, agrees.

“Many men and women lack the knowledge of fertility. Society as a whole should understand the characteristics of a woman’s body, including the fact that there is a suitable age for being pregnant,” said Koga, who has witnessed numerous patients who regret not getting tested earlier.

The National Center for Child Health and Development in Tokyo established a preconception care center in 2015, treating about 200 patients to date.

“Many women don’t get medical attention even if they have irregular periods,” said Naoko Arata, chief of the center’s treatment department. “Understanding your body is crucial in making life plans.”

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