A midwives' group in Japan has been offering free online parenting lectures to expectant mothers and their spouses to ease concern amid the cancellation of face-to-face classes due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The online classes, which substitute for lectures usually provided by local health authorities, will be available until April 19. The midwives' group, Josanshi Online, started offering the service after pregnant women contacted it, expressing concerns about contracting the virus and going for hospital checkups during the pandemic.

"Expectant mothers are more anxious than usual," said Kanako Sugiura, 35, representative of the group based in Aichi Prefecture that runs the online advice platform.

Each lecture is 90 minutes long and reservation based. The lessons cover topics related to the first through third trimester and parenting, and consultation classes for the parents of newborns are also offered.

Participants are able to consult midwives and exchange opinions with each other via online conferencing platform Zoom Video Communications Inc.

About 20 people logged on to an online class on Thursday for second trimester pregnancies. The lecture, which covered the various signs of childbirth and labor, also provided time for participants to break into groups to interact.

A participant commented it was "difficult to manage weight because it is hard to go outside," while another felt "anxious as family members will not be allowed to attend the birth" because of the risk of infection with the virus.

"We want to avoid a situation in which mothers are isolated and the number of child abuse or postpartum depression cases increases," Sugiura said. "We hope that interacting with midwives will alleviate some of their worries."

Groups representing obstetricians and gynecologists in Japan have urged pregnant women not to make unscheduled visits to their parental homes to give birth at local hospitals, in order to avoid further spread of the virus.

They have also said the time between pregnancy checkups may be extended and ultrasound scans of fetuses could become less frequent. If there is a chance that a mother has contracted the virus, she is asked to consider changing her childbirth and infant nursing plans.

Meanwhile, the health ministry said last Thursday it would relax the age limit for couples receiving state subsidies for infertility treatment for this fiscal year, allowing wives under 44 years old to receive financial aid instead of those under 43 years old.

The measure was announced as infertility treatment could be postponed during the pandemic.

Japan has been subsidizing in vitro fertilization and micro insemination for couples who together earn less than 7.3 million yen ($67,700) annually.

The Japan Society for Reproductive Medicine has been asking for infertility treatment to be postponed until the pandemic is over and medicine is available for pregnant women infected with the virus.

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