The Mother-Child Health Record Book is a small book issued to all pregnant women by the Japanese government. The actual records go in the first half, which is set by the national government, while the second half, written by the local government, contains additional useful information for parents-to-be. The book covers the time from becoming pregnancy until the child starts elementary school at six, and has been part of the Japanese system for years; Yuriko’s mother had one for her, for example. I suspect that the content has changed, however.
It tells the mother when she should go to see the doctor during pregnancy, and when the child should have check-ups afterwards. It also contains a list of questions about the child’s development, which includes questions to check for hearing and visual problems early on, something I gather from one of the books I read is very important. There are graphs for recording the child’s height, weight, and head size, showing the mid range and with notes about how far outside the normal range the child needs to be before you start worrying. It also covers vaccinations, and dentistry.
The second half includes basic advice on raising a child: breastfeeding is best, the father should be involved, discipline should not involve hitting, friends are good. It seems pretty uncontroversial stuff, and generally supportive of families with two involved parents. It does, however, seem to assume that situation, which tells us something about the social situation in Japan. Basically, it’s probably still reasonable to assume that children will be raised in a two-parent family here, although I’m not sure how long that will remain true.
The book is issued by the local government when the woman goes to tell them that she’s pregnant. At least in Kawasaki, it also comes with a stack of other literature, which I haven’t read yet (although Yuriko has). This includes information about the government financial assistance for mothers. All the obstetric clinics, I believe, tell women to get their record books very early, because it includes vouchers for some free examinations.
I think this is a brilliant idea. It gets the necessary basic information into the hands of every mother, and I think most, if not all, women read it. According to Yuriko, when she looks in maternity sections of shops, there are lots of cloth covers available for the book; it seems to be a fairly important part of child-bearing culture here. I don’t know whether anywhere else does something similar, but if they don’t, I think they probably should.
After all, children don’t otherwise come with a manual.