Maternal Health in Japan and Sweden

Japan and Sweden have some of the lowest rates of maternal and infant mortality in the world, and yet, their cultural practices and behaviors vary widely between the countries. While both nations encourage mothers to stay at home with their families after giving birth, there seems to be a lack of choice for mothers in Japan compared to Sweden. As Ugochi mentioned in her presentation, only 3% of mothers take pain relieving medications and are told that it is not appropriate to scream out during labor. I feel like telling mothers that they have little choice in reliving their pain, whether through medication or screaming, is not a healthy cultural behavior. While it seems that Japan is beginning to incorporate more paternal involvement in the birth process, their inclusion of fathers doesn’t seem to compare to the Swedish model.

How then are both countries so successful in maternal outcomes when their practices seem to vary widely? Do you think encouraging mothers to not take any pain reliving medication is a healthy practice?

2 thoughts on “Maternal Health in Japan and Sweden

  1. As I’m sure you all have noticed I’m pretty against claiming any one cultural practice is better than another. I think the line between cultural belief and what’s healthy is drawn by Westerners to condemn the practices of everyone else. I think that there was a very good point made in class that America tends not to look on itself and the problems we have here. This is not to say that we should neglect the plagues around the world be we are not perfect and how are we to say that another culture’s practice is harmful?
    I think that America has been hyperpolarized in our healthcare. We have overshot what is healthy and done it so much that it is just as unhealthy as where we were before. For example, we were so afraid (even if rightfully so) of infectious diseases that we sanitized ourselves into a supergerm corner. Additionally, we have become so industrialized and commerce based that our lifestyles are severely lacking activity leading to many lifestyle diseases like heart disease and diabetes. I say this all to say that one culture’s practices are not paramount. Perhaps we have conquered infectious disease but at the expense of having millions plagued with diseases of sedentary lifestyles. Recognizing this, we have attempted to put in measures to depolarize and return to a neutral ground.
    Other nations, like India, that are following this American model have also seen increases in lifestyle diseases especially diabetes. Taking this back to Japan, I do not at all think it wrong to discourage women from taking pain medicine or screaming, especially not any more wrong than I think it is to encourage women to do so. Both are simply cultural beliefs. I cannot think of a negative outcome that would come about from not taking pain medication or holding in screams but i can certainly think of several things that could go wrong in taking an epidural.

  2. I agree with Stella’s point of view. There is not certainly “right” or “wrong” way when it comes to cultural practices, even with female genital mutilation, as discussed in class. When we deem something “right” or “wrong” we are using our American perspective to judge the culture of interest. I am not Japanese so I cannot speak for the society as a whole but from what I understand, their culture prides in introversion. So screaming out loud would be an outwardly expression, which is not prized within society. Such as within our society, it is the exact opposite. Our society values extroversion and people who are particularly quite are not. I do not believe in one society’s ability to judge another with what they are doing correctly. It seems ridiculous to me since there is such a drastic cross-cultural difference, it is impossible to impose judgment.

    In regards to whether or not it is “healthy” to discourage the use of pain medication, do you think the high rate of pain medication here is healthy? It might not be whether it is healthy but rather pain tolerance. In the US, we simply might have a lower pain tolerance than women in Japan. Or it might just be culturally, Japanese women feel that the pain of childbirth is part of the process and should be endured by the mother. It is difficult to judge whether or not the practice is a healthy one. By doing so, it is imposing our cultural standards on to a different society. Simply stating, it is similar to comparing apples to oranges.

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