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Tips for How to Breastfeed Easier in Japan

Breastfeeding in Japan has its challenges, but I want to share some of the ways I’ve found that can make it easier. Whether you’re in the privacy of your own home, out shopping, or even traveling, breastfeeding can be a struggle or source of stress for you and your baby.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can make breastfeeding in Japan less of a hassle and more worry free!

Breastfeeding at Home

Nursing cushion make holding the baby much easier.

The nice part about breastfeeding at home is that you can take your time fumbling around and making mistakes until you figure out what works for you and your little one. You’ll get a good idea of what feeding positions your baby likes and how often your baby will want to eat.

Being at home with your newborn is very exciting but tiring in the beginning. It can be hard to hold your baby up in a comfortable position in the wee hours of the night when you’re exhausted from the lack of sleep.

A nursing cushion really is a lifesaver when it comes to breastfeeding. It gives your arms a much needed break by supporting them and helping you keep the baby’s posture upright with minimal effort.

I suggest getting one with a removable cover that’s easy to clean such as a Boppy Nursing Pillow. It slips easily onto your waist and can also be used by your partner for bottle feeding!

Ways to Prevent and Remedy Painful Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can be downright painful when you’re first starting out. All of those images of mothers staring down at their babies lovingly while feeding them can be misleading for new moms.

If your experience is anything like mine, you may be wincing, gritting your teeth, and possibly even crying out a bit in pain when your baby latches on.

READ: My Labor and Delivery Story in Japan

It takes time to get your baby to latch on properly, and even longer for your nipples to get used to it—especially if they’re sensitive. Here are some things that will help prevent painful breastfeeding and recover sore nipples:

Nipple Shields for Extra Comfort

Nipple shields help make breastfeeding less painful.

I first tried to use nipple shields during my stay in the hospital after having my baby. A nurse gave me some Medela Contact Nipple Shields during my breastfeeding lesson when she saw that my nipples were still very flat and hard for the baby to latch onto.

These come in different sizes depending on the measurements of your nipples. Medela has a sizing guide that you can use to select the best fit for you.

Nipple shields provide a thin protective barrier between you and the baby that helps make latching on more comfortable and less painful. They’re BPA free, and very easy to clean and sanitize.

The Medela nipple shields also come with a carrying case that makes them easy to store and take with you when you’re on the go. I ended up using them for the first month of breastfeeding my daughter until my nipples were finally sticking out enough for her to latch onto without them.

Nipple Cream to Soothe the Pain

I used this cream every day until my nipples healed.

Cracked, dry, and peeling nipples are no fun at all, but are very common for women who are breastfeeding. I remember pulling bits of skin off that were barely hanging on while I was in the shower. I’m sure that’s beautiful imagery!

When your nipples are sore, anything that touches them will cause them to hurt—water from bathing, moving your nursing bra, brushing up against anything, you name it!

The Purelan 100 Nipple Cream helps to replenish moisture and soothe sore nipples. What’s really nice about it is that it’s safe for the baby so you don’t have to remove it before feeding.

Just apply a thin layer as often as needed and you’ll notice your nipples will start to hurt less and begin to heal over time. One of the large tubes goes a long way, and might be all that you’ll need!

Nursing Bras That Fit Just Right

It’s very hard finding bras that fit right even if you aren’t pregnant or nursing in Japan. The ones that were given to me at the hospital either had a bust size that was too big, or a band size that was too tight. I ended up not being able to use them.

I recommend avoiding nursing bras that hook in the back, because your muscles will be very sore after giving birth, and it’ll hurt to reach behind you to put them on and take them off.

The ones that I tried that hooked in the front didn’t offer enough support, and my breasts were constantly slipping out. That might sound sexy, but it wasn’t at all!

This bra is so comfortable and easy to breastfeed in!

After a bit of research online I decided to go with nursing bras that are designed like sports bras, and I’m so glad I did. They’re so much more comfortable to wear and hold the breasts firmly in place.

I also found the sports bra type to be better at keeping nursing pads from moving and slipping around.

I suggest checking out the Medela Nursing Bra for Sleep and Breastfeeding that has a crisscross front and racer back. This makes it so easy to just slip one side down to feed the baby and pull it back up when you’re done. Not once have my breasts made a surprise escape out of one of these!

Prevent Leaks With Reusable Nipple Pads

At some point on your breastfeeding journey your breasts are going to become engorged and start leaking milk. We’re talking big noticeable wet spots seeping through the front of your shirt!

Breast pads will help you avoid embarrassment while also helping you to stay dry and more sanitary. You can simply swap out pads when they become damp with fresh clean ones.

These always get stuck to my boob. Ouch!

When I first started out I made the mistake of buying a large pack of disposable nipple pads that had adhesive on the back. I thought the sticky side would prevent them from moving. Instead, I ended up with one stuck to my breasts every time I fed my baby.

You know how tape feels when you rip it off your skin? Imagine doing that to your nipples!

Save yourself some cursing (and the environment) by getting some reusable cloth nursing pads. You can was them when needed and not have to worry about buying more every few weeks.

Take Some of the Pressure off With a Breast Pump

A breast pump is one of the biggest investments new moms make for breastfeeding. However, they make up for how much they cost by how much they’ll save you from having to fall back and rely on using formula.

A breast pump will allow you to build up and store a supply of breast milk for a later date. Milk can be kept in the fridge for up to 4 days, or in the freezer for 6 months! It’s perfect for when you have a day to yourself and go out while your partner or someone else takes care of the baby.

Frozen milk can be thawed in the fridge the night before, or in a bowl of warm water.

There are a couple of things to consider before getting a pump though: how active you are and how often you’ll use it.

Double breast pumps are a huge time saver!

If you’re someone who would like to sit down and pump while watching a movie or while doing something that doesn’t require moving around then I suggest getting a Medela Pump in Style Advanced.

Although single pumps are cheaper, they are a huge waste of time. You could get twice as much milk with a double pump, and won’t risk losing any of the milk from the other breast if it starts to leak while you’re expressing.

If you want to be able to move around freely while pumping (such as to clean the house), I highly recommend getting the Medela Freestyle Pump. It’s small enough to fit into your pocket and allows you to continue doing the things you need to.

Your free time is very limited and valuable when you have a small baby at home. I struggled to cook, clean, and pump milk while my daughter was napping. The Freestyle pump comes at a hefty price tag so maybe consider adding it to your baby registry if your family and friends won’t mind.

You’ll also want to look into getting a breast pump bra to go with it.

Hands-Free Bras for Breast Pumps Let You Keep Working on Other Things

It feels a bit awkward at first, but it’s nice to free up your hands.

When looking for a bra to go with your breast pump, you’ll want one with a zipper that’s tight and will hold the nipple shields firmly in place. It should be snug enough that you won’t need shoulder straps to keep it up.

I personally use the Easy Expression Hands Free Pumping Bra. I only purchased one of them, and it has been fine for how often I pump milk—roughly every two to three days. However, you might want to grab two of them if you’re someone who pumps breast milk more frequently.

Don’t Let Leaky Excess Milk Go to Waste

This is a great silent method for pumping milk.

This isn’t a problem I’ve had yet, but my sister warned me that sometimes your opposite breast will let down and leak a lot of milk while feeding your baby. Rather than letting all of that milk go to waste you can use a Haakaa Silicone Breast Pump to catch it!

The Haakaa can fit inside of your nursing bra and can be squeezed if you want to express more milk. You can do this while feeding your baby, and then store the milk in the fridge or freezer for later.

Freezing Your Breast Milk

Lansinoh bags are great for storing breast milk long term.

When it comes time to freeze your precious supply of milk, you’ll need clean and safe bags to store them in. The Lansinoh Breastmilk Storage Bags are hygenic and very easy to use.

All you have to do is open the bag, pour your breast milk in, and seal it shut. Then place the bag flat down in the coldest part of your freezer. It can be attached to most pumps so you can express milk directly into the bag and avoid dirtying bottles!

Just be sure to check if you’ll need an adapter or not to make it fit.

Cleaning Your Breastfeeding Supplies

Your nipple shields, breast pump, and bottles will all need cleaning between each use to stay safe and sanitary for the baby. Cleaning solutions that you normally use in your home may be too harsh and contain chemicals that could be harmful.

We use the Milton set to clean and sanitize our baby’s supplies.

We use the Milton detergent with a sponge brush to clean all of our baby’s supplies. It’s a mild and gentle formula that’s great for dissolving milk residue. It can even be used to clean vegetables!

After cleaning her bottles, pacifiers, and whatnot, we dump them all into the Milton Sanitizing Container with Solution for at least 1 hour. This ensures that any germs that might still be lurking are killed off.

We decided to invest in this when we saw it being used at the hospital I was staying in. The nurses gave me one to keep in my room to disinfect the parts to my breast pump, and they replaced the water in it for me each day.

Now whenever we buy a toy from the store, we use the Milton detergent and cleaning solution to make sure it’s sanitized before giving it to our daughter.

Increase Your Milk Supply

Many mothers worry about whether or not their body is producing enough milk. Stress, lack of sleep, and illness can all dwindle the amount of milk that your body produces. Before I left the hospital I was given some Milk Up Blend Tea to drink while I relaxed.

This tea supports better lactation and doesn’t contain caffeine.

It’s an herbal tea with a really light and smooth flavor. There’s no bitterness to it at all, and you can enjoy it on its own or with a meal.

It can be hard to find all of the ingredients to make lactation cookies and other sweets that are popular in the west. Plus those are usually full of sugar that you don’t need while trying to maintain a healthy diet and weight.

This tea is the perfect way to increase your milk production without increasing the number you see every time you get on the scale. Don’t forget to still continue taking a multivitamin along with iron and DHA!

Breastfeeding in Public in Japan

Despite the fact that most mothers breastfeed in Japan, it’s very rare that you see one doing so. It’s not that they refuse to breastfeed when they’re out in public—most choose to do so discreetly in nursing rooms.

You’ll find dedicated nursing and diaper changing areas in most shopping malls, airports, and other major public facilities in Japan. Most train stations will have a diaper changing table, but might not have a dedicated nursing room.

So how do you find the nursing rooms? Here’s how:

Nursing rooms in Japan are indicated by a bottle sign on floor maps and on signs hanging from ceilings. Changing rooms, on the other hand, are indicated by a baby sign.

Most shopping malls will have multiple diaper changing rooms on different floors, but a nursing room on only one. Check the floor guide maps carefully and find the one with the bottle sign if you want to breastfeed your baby.

Inside the room you’ll find a couple seating areas with curtains. If a curtain is closed it means that it is currently being used by another mother. It’s rare that all of the rooms will be occupied, but if so please wait patiently outside of one.

When you go into a nursing room there is usually 1 chair and 1 table to place your belongings on. Pull the curtain shut and then take your time feeding your baby. I recommend bringing hand sanitizer to clean your hands, and wet wipes to clean off your breasts and the baby’s face when you’re finished.

Overall, nursing rooms in Japan are very clean and safe to use. I’ve never felt rushed or stressed while breastfeeding my daughter in one. Just make sure to push the curtain all the way open when you’re done, and enjoy going about the rest of your day!

READ: A Discussion on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Child rearing in Japan with Kay

Breastfeeding Covers Help You Be More Discreet

If you’re out traveling or sightseeing, you might not be able to find a nursing room nearby. In that case, nursing in front of other people might be unavoidable, but fear not!

Nursing covers can provide you and your baby with some degree of privacy even in the most crowded areas. It takes a while to get the hang of using one, so you might want to practice at home a few times beforehand.

Nursing covers should be light, stretchy, and made of breathable material. You’ll probably still notice a few comments and stares, but I don’t think anyone will be rude to you or disturb you.

READ: How to Ride Japanese Buses With a Baby

Final Thoughts

I know that was a lot to cover, but remember that no one method is right for everyone. It’ll take a bit of trial and error to figure out what works best for you and your baby, but I hope some of these suggestions will make it easier.

Leave a comment below if you have any questions and I’ll be sure to get back to you! Best of luck!

LaShawn came to Japan in 2011 after earning her BA in Political Science at Morgan State University, and has worked as an English teacher at various public and private schools. She now teaches at a university and writes in her free time. LaShawn enjoys sharing parenting, lifestyle, and work related content. Her goal is to help expats and immigrants who are living in Japan, so that is why she created The Yokohama Life.

4 responses

  1. Keep it up, as you know it is the best for the baby, and while it was awhile ago, I breastfed all three of my kids and it was hard back then in the US, not sure about Japan, but I imagine you get some push back and nasty looks, even though it is the best. Keep it up!

    1. LaShawn

      Breastfeeding is challenging, but I am determined to stick with it, because like you said, it’s best for the baby 🙂

    1. LaShawn

      Thank you! 🥰 

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