Create environment where women can give birth with peace of mind

There are many pregnant women who need support for various reasons. An environment where they can give birth to their children with peace of mind must be created.

According to a survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun, the number of pregnant women receiving support from local governments due to isolation, illness or other reasons totaled 56,725 in 98 municipalities, including government-designated large cities, prefectural capitals and Tokyo wards. This is one in seven pregnant women.

As reasons for initiating support, many municipalities cited a lack of people pregnant women can rely on for support or talk to, physical or mental illness, and unwanted pregnancy.

In cases where it is thought women may have difficulty caring for their children after birth, possibly leading to child abuse, the central government encourages municipalities to designate those who need more intensive support, in line with the Child Welfare Law.

However, the reality is that there are many pregnant women who need support even if they are not designated as such, and it is thought 90% of those who receive support are specified based on their local government’s own judgment.

Even when mentally unstable due to worries about raising a child, many pregnant women tend keep their troubles to themselves because their husbands are busy with work and they cannot rely on their elderly parents.

If a helping hand is not extended at an early stage, they may become even more isolated and the problem may become more serious. Local governments’ willingness to provide support to such women is commendable.

As for the measures, many of the governments offer home visits and telephone counseling with public health nurses and others. There are also cases such as a program in which midwives and other professionals meet with all pregnant women in a municipality, introducing them to housework assistance services and groups of people discussing child rearing, and accompany them to prenatal checkups.

It is desirable to provide seamless support until after the child is born.

However, there are differences in local government responses, with some providing support to only a small percentage of women. Some people have also complained that they became unable to receive the same services as before because they moved to a different municipality.

In the city of Yamaguchi, when notification of pregnancy is received, the city first conducts a survey asking about matters such as the availability of prenatal and postpartum support and the woman’s physical condition. If there are multiple concerns, public health nurses and others interview the women and provide special support.

It is hoped that the central government will consider more effective measures based on the efforts of each municipality. It is important to ensure that no one slips through the safety net.

Some people may find it difficult to reveal their concerns to administrative bodies. An environment must be created in cooperation with private organizations and local communities in which people can express their need for help.

Administrative bodies need to work closely with medical institutions and social welfare councils to address the concerns of pregnant women.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 19, 2022.