Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Breastfeeding in Japan

I have been reading lots of parenting blogs and forums lately. I happened to stumble on one where a few non-Japanese people were wondering about breastfeeding in public in Japan. They wanted to know if it was legal, if people commonly did it, and if they could conveniently travel around or live in Japan with a young, breastfed baby.

I was very surprised to read replies along the lines of:

2007/3/24 08:45
Why would you breastfeed publicly anywhere? Its not that is bad, because, you know, you have to love him and take care of him, but its not... right. If you wouldn't expose yourself without out a baby, you shouldn't expose your self with one, it's not an excuse. Breastfeeding should be practiced only at home, in privacy. But that's what I think, its just my opinion, you don't have to take my word for it.

how to breastfeed in public
2007/3/24 09:54
Breastfeeding can be done in public, and is accepted by many people in Japan. The baby can't possibly wait until (s)he gets home!
But as a courtesy to people :) you can ask around for private rooms to breastfeed your child. For example, department stores and airports almost always have breastfeeding rooms. Shinkansen trains also have breastfeeding rooms nowadays, but if not, the conductor can surrender his room while you breastfeed.

2007/3/24 12:33
i think you'll get discusted looks ANYWHERE no offense, but it's just not something you should do in public anywhere.

2007/3/24 12:34
if your baby can't wait to eat baby bottling your breat-milk would be best.

it is okay
2007/3/24 13:34
Unlike some of the posters here, most people are mature and sensible and will prefer that you see to the needs of your baby. Babies need to be fed often and you do not need to hide at home simply because you are breastfeeding. If someone is offended, think of it as their problem, and pity them for not understanding what the real purpose of the breast is. Usually the same people who are inclined to complain about breastfeeding in public are the very same individuals who are likely to object to a baby's crying.

2007/3/24 13:36
you're right. i don't like babys crying in public, i dont like babys that much. i think a mother should know it's rude not to keep her child calm.
oh i am evil *rolls eyes*

2007/3/24 13:56
In my experience, it is extremely rare to see mothers breastfeeding in public in Japan, and when you do, it is often foreign women.
As many places do seem to have baby-feeding rooms these days, I suggest you do what the Japanese do and use these where possible.

I asked my Japanese friend about laws specifically regarding breastfeeding in Japan, and she said that she couldn't find any concrete info about laws.  She said that the previous generation was much less squeamish about public breastfeeding.  She mentioned seeing a photo of her aunt feeding her cousin without covering up and no one was bothered by it, so much so that she didn't even (obviously) cover up for the photo.  

My baby is now seven months old and she still breastfeeds. We decided to breastfeed her because I have the ability to do so and the facts show that it is unequivocally the healthiest choice for the baby. Besides that, it is convenient (when I'm out with the baby, there are no hassles about washing bottles, carrying formula, finding warm water), eco-friendly, and free. Now that I am working full-time, it has become a much bigger hassle, and it would be a lot easier to switch to formula. I have to lug my breast-pump to work and back with me every day on the crowded bus and every time I get a spare moment I have to go lock myself in a room and hook myself up to a pumping machine like a cow. I usually have to pump two times to get enough for one feeding, because the pump is not as effective as a baby at getting the milk out. In fact, if I didn't know that it was the best choice for our baby, I definitely would have given up pumping milk in the second week of work. I really hate pumping. For someone to suggest so cavalierly that if I want to go out with my baby on a Saturday afternoon, I should wake up at 3:00 am to hook myself up to the pump (I can't just pump breast milk during the baby eats everything I make.) is a pretty clear sign that they have never pumped. The other people who suggest (so blasé, like they're the experts) that breastfeeding should be done at home have obviously never been new parents.

My husband and I used to love going out on the weekends, going to parties, movies, playing soccer in the park, and camping with groups of friends on the beach. Guess what? We STILL love doing those things. Having a baby is an intensely isolating experience. You're tired more often than you ever were before. You're worried and stressed out more than you ever thought possible. Going out becomes a logistical nightmare of organizing the baby's nap time with the bus schedule and weather report, packing the baby's diaper bag, grabbing an umbrella (just in case), a blanket, a baby carrier, and some people have strollers and car seats too. It's hard enough getting out of the house, and I should have to add the stress of pumping milk and putting it in a cooler and bringing that with too? Perhaps to avoid offending these people's delicate sensibilities, I should simply stay home all the time? Perhaps baby and I should never travel farther away from home than 20 minutes so we can make it back home and eat?

The idea that someone would be offended by public breastfeeding is pretty ridiculous anyways. The baby's mouth and head covers the nipple, and you can see less of my breast than many ladies who are wearing even a slightly low-cut top.

As for Japan, this is my experience. My baby was born in October, but it was December before I ever had to feed her in public. I didn't want to leave the house very often with her before that, and when I did, it was only short trips to the grocery store and back. (re: isolating experience) In December, my husband and I had to travel to a nearby town. I decided I was going to feed the baby on the train. It was a much bigger hassle than I thought it would be. The blanket wouldn't stay over my shoulder, the baby kept wiggling and I couldn't see if she was comfortable or eating right with the blanket in the way. However, we figured it out and I have since fed her everywhere. There are often nursing rooms in public buildings and department stores, so that is convenient, and I sometimes use those. When there isn't one of those, I usually use a blanket to cover myself up. The baby bag gets so full with diapers, wipes, toys, bibs, spare change of clothes, burp towels, and etc, that sometimes I forget to pack a blanket. I wear nursing tank tops, so when I pull my shirt up, and my tank top down, everything is still covered and you really can't see anything. There's been plenty of times that people have come up and wanted to see the baby or talk to me and didn't even realize that she was eating until I told them. As it gets hotter out, I'm using the blanket less and less. The baby doesn't really like it and spends her time trying to pull it off rather than eat. It gets pretty hot under there pretty quickly.

I've gone out often with my Japanese friends who also have infants and some of them only use the nursing rooms, while others have no problem feeding their baby anytime and anywhere. I have noticed women feeding their babies in restaurants and parks, too. The nursing rooms often have a large room with a couch for relaxing, and then smaller curtained off rooms for nursing. I've sometimes gone in and all the curtained rooms are full, so I feed the baby on the couch, but I've noticed women who come in and will wait until a curtained off room is free until nursing too.

As I have been writing this blog entry, I've been thinking a lot about the breastfeeding rooms. On the one hand, they are very convenient, and when I'm out alone with the baby, it's nice to be able to dump all my bags and things in the corner and relax on a comfortable couch to feed Cora. On the other hand, I'm rarely out by myself, I'm usually out with my husband or other friends. When I have a free afternoon to go out, I don't want to spend 40 minutes away from my husband or friends walking to the seventh floor of the nearby department store to feed Cora. If I'm alone on the train, I don't want to lug my suitcase through four rickety train cars to get to the breastfeeding room. What I want to do is stay exactly where I am and feed my baby. More and more often, that's what I do.  I haven't noticed anyone giving me looks and no one has said anything negative to me, but I can be pretty oblivious about that sort of that with a grain of salt. 

 Anyhow, that made me think, "What if the existence of these breastfeeding rooms are even more isolating than the absence of them?"  Do women feel pressured to go sit alone in them when they might otherwise stay in the cafe chatting with friends? Do people judge moms for breastfeeding in a restaurant and think, “There's a breastfeeding room just a few blocks away. Why doesn't she leave her husband alone by himself and leave her hot meal and go to the designated room to feed her baby?” I'm lucky that I have an extremely supportive husband who always helps me out when I'm feeding the baby (Or anytime). If it weren't for him assuring me that no one could see my boob, and that no one cared anyway, I might still be schlepping my things three blocks out of the way and missing out on lunchtime to feed Cora in a breastfeeding room rather than discreetly in the restaurant.  In the end, I think the breastfeeding rooms are nice, but as more time passes, I use them less and less.

Oh wait, actually, I mean, in the end, Japan is one of the more baby-friendly countries I've ever lived in and would be a great place to visit, especially if you have a breastfeeding infant.


Hilary and Eric said...

I can't believe you are pumping. You rock for continuing even though it sucks. And my personal thoughts on breastfeeding are probably similar to yours. I'm fine breastfeeding in public, but having a mother's room is awesome! (I'm assuming they are what breastfeeding rooms are like?) There is so much stuff about mothering (changing diapers, having a quiet and comfy place to feed or sit or whatever) that I think is just easier to do in a private area.

@lliE said...

You eyes seriously open once you have a baby that needs to be fed (NOW). People who've never had a breastfed baby, I have no doubt do not understand the need of the mother's sanity to fed their baby where and when she wants. I remember my friend telling me she nursed her baby at a resturant (before I had a baby) and I was saying to myself, "Oh, I would never do that."--- oh the many, many things "I'd never do" before I had children, that I totally do. We were actually given a card here in Indiana that explains a "Woman's Right" to breastfed Anywhere she wants-- I've never had the opportunity to use it-- ha, ha, and doubt I seriously would.

Here's my thoughts for me: If the situation arises and I can be discrete, I breastfed in public with a blanket over my shoulder and baby. If I feel uncomfortable or fear making others uncomfortable, then I try to go else where with baby-- without inconveniencing myself too much. I've nursed in Bathrooms with a chair, Dressing rooms (this is always a favorite), and more times than I can count in the Car.

For sure breastfeeding is the best-- Props to you for pumping-- which is a super big pain. I know Abby did the whole first year with Jane. I was super impressed.

Sara Hendricks said...

Thanks for the props, pumping IS a major pain! I'm looking forward to summer break when I can stay home with Cora and take a break from it for 7 weeks.

Sara Hendricks said...

Isn't this what always happens? I post about how no one has said anything to me for 7 months of breastfeeding and the very next week I get someone hassling me about it.

I went to a friend's wedding this past weekend and my baby got hungry in the interval between the ceremony and the reception. I was sitting in an out-of-the-way room with a blanket over myself and the baby with some friends and my husband. One of the venue staff came up and tried to get me to go in a private room. However, I was comfortable, I was chatting with my friends who I hadn't seen in months since I moved to a different city, and I didn't want to sit alone in a private tiny room. I said I was fine.

She didn't speak English and assumed that my husband and I didn't speak Japanese either, so she didn't try to speak Japanese, she just kept pointing towards the other room and saying, "Please, please, go, go." I kept saying, "No thank you. I'm fine. I'm fine."

At first we could pretend that we were both being polite, but after a few seconds, we both got really irritated with each other. She was angry I wouldn't move and I was angry she was trying to make me move. Finally she gave up and went away. But, oh how clearly we had each expressed ourselves through only 6 or 7 words.

Jon made sure to stay by my side in case she came back and tried to make me move again. The rest of my friends commented that the woman was being very strange and they noticed lots of women in many different situations feeding their babies without even a blanket to cover up.

Anyhow, she didn't come back and I fed my baby the rest of the night without any issues.

Anonymous said...

Have stumbled across your blog entry as am preparing for a trip to Japan with our little girl, who will be 8 months while we are there, and was concerned about offending the locals or overstepping boundaries when feeding her. Thanks for your insight into the Japanese culture and approach to breastfeeding!

Theresa Nesbitt MD said...

Sara... I would love to put this post in my digital newsletter/magazine Babies & Breastfeeding. It has no advertisements just support and info for new and expectant moms? Can you email me please