TOKYO >> Postpartum care services at a central Tokyo hotel are becoming increasingly popular among new mothers.
Last year Japan logged fewer than 800,000 annual births for the first time, and a survey showed that some women were deciding against having a second child due to the physical and mental strain of giving birth.
“Enhancing postpartum care is an effective measure to counteract the declining birthrate,” one expert said. “The national and local governments should expand such support.”
In early March several babies slept peacefully in cribs in a room at Hotel Metropolitan Edmont Tokyo in the capital’s Chiyoda ward. When one of the infants began crying, he was immediately soothed by nursery staff.
“Mamma Levata” is a round-the-clock service staffed by a total of 30 nurses and caregivers who bathe the babies and change their diapers. Mothers, meanwhile, are free to sleep in another room, go shopping or visit a beauty salon. The moms can also receive assistance on their breastfeeding technique.
Although pricey — rates start at nearly $455 per night — a total of 200 groups of women have used the service since it began in November, and reservations this month are fully booked.
Yoko Yamada, 31, of Tokorozawa in Saitama, stayed at the hotel with her newborn son and 22-month-old daughter.
“I had been so busy with child care, but (at the hotel) I was able to totally relax. I asked the nursery staff about the correct way to breastfeed and give baths, which gave me confidence and motivation for future child care,” Yamada said.
With the social shift toward nuclear families, many women are unable to call upon the support of their parents after giving birth.
In some cases, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible for women to travel back and forth to their parents’ homes, and the hotel service has become an alternative means to support.
With the physical strain of childbirth and the mental strain of sleep deprivation, 1 in 10 women who give birth is vulnerable to postpartum depression, according to a survey conducted in fiscal 2021 by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
In a 2022 survey by the Japan Women Foundation, which works to support reproductive health, 90% of approximately 6,500 respondents suffered post-childbirth symptoms such as lower back pain. Nearly half said they felt lonely and anxious for no reason. Because of such issues, 4.9% said they “gave up” on trying to have a second or subsequent child.
To help alleviate postpartum stress, the ministry launched a system in 2015 to subsidize 50% of the costs for postpartum care services outsourced by local governments to hospitals, midwifery centers and other facilities. According to the ministry, municipalities using the program increased from 4% in fiscal 2015 to 80% in fiscal 2021.
Meanwhile, more and more hotels are offering postpartum care services, including in Funabashi, Kawasaki and other cities. In December 2021 a dedicated hotel opened in Yokosuka in Kanagawa, overlooking the sea. Another hotel opened in Kyoto City in June. But according to the ministry, only a few municipalities outsource their operations to hotels.
“If holistic support is available after childbirth, more women will want to have another baby,” said Kaori Ichikawa, professor of maternal nursing at Tokyo University of Information Sciences. “The national government should secure midwives and nursery staff, and local governments should expand the number of outsourcing companies, including hotels. Another effective measure would be for companies to introduce (postpartum care) services as part of their (benefits) programs.”
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