Breastfeeding in Public in Japan – An Honest Guide

So, let’s get into this. One of the most common questions I hear from parents who are new to Japan, or just new to parenting in Japan, is: Is it culturally acceptable to nurse in public in Japan?

My answer, yes, but also no. It’s been my experience that breastfeeding is generally accepted and supported in Japan. You will not get anyone looking at you in a weird way  or trying to shame you for breastfeeding.

However, Japanese culture is generally very private and there is not a cultural movement of nursing without a cover in Japan like there is in other countries. Covers, in many different forms, are quite common, but in places such as restaurants, shopping malls, or sports games, I have actually never seen a Japanese mom breastfeeding without a cover.

BUT I think that is due to a lovely invention…the nursing room! Nursing rooms or baby rooms are incredibly common in Japan, especially in big cities like Tokyo. Nearly every department store or shopping center has one (or multiple) and almost all kid-focused places will as well. You will almost always find another parent using the space because they are clean, quiet, and eliminate distractions while feeding. From what I’ve seen, most breastfeeding parents in Japan (myself included!) prefer to take their baby to a nursing room versus feeding in public with or without a cover.

Riding the shinkansen? There is a “multipurpose room” available on most shinkansen! Ask your service attendant and they should be able to unlock it for you. It’s a private room and perfect for nursing.

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Baby Room at Tokyo Midtown Hibiya
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Changing Tables

Not sure where the nearest nursing rooms are? There’s actually an app for it in the iTunes store. (Click here to download MamaPapaApp) Also many bloggers such as The Tokyo Chapter, share baby room locations within their itineraries.

Prefer nursing without a cover and don’t have time to find a nursing room? Don’t sweat it! Trust me, no one is looking and no one is going to say anything to you either. I’ve always felt comfortable nursing coverless in parks, baby friendly restaurants such as Chanoma in Daikanyama, mama and me fitness classes, and pretty much anywhere where I have other breastfeeding parents around me. I also had to nurse on the street in Shinjuku once!

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Nursing a distressed Asahi on the streets of Shinjuku

Here are some more tips:

There’s strength in numbers! Especially as a new breastfeeding parent. When everyone is doing it around you, it’s not a lot of pressure just on you. If you were to be approached and told to stop for some reason, the person would have to tell a whole group of people versus just one, which makes it a lot less likely.

Nursing in the baby carrier was also a game changer for me. You really can’t see anything, especially in carriers with a cover, such as the Ergo Baby, or a wide stretch of fabric, such as the Pikimama sling. I recommended wearing two layers on top, your shirt with a tank top underneath, so you can pull your shirt up to expose the breast but still have your stomach covered by the tank top. This is the easiest way to nurse in public in general!

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Be flexible! Babies change so much in such a short amount of time. One day they might be fine with the cover, the next day they are tearing it down! In the early weeks, I found the cover convenient since Asahi would nurse for 30-40 minutes at a time and that was a long time to be locked away in a nursing room, especially if we were out to eat! But once he got a bit older and more efficient with nursing, I was fine going to the nursing room for 15 minutes or so. At that point he was too distracted by everything around him to nurse in a busy, noisy restaurant anyways!

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Practice first! If you are anxious about nursing in public, practice in front of a mirror so you can see just how much skin is showing to the outside world. This is also useful for nursing in the baby carrier. Practicing at home first can make you much more confident when you go out.

When baby needs to eat, baby needs to eat! Too many times I waited until Asahi was screaming on the train to finally nurse him because I was too anxious to do it in public. Guess what? No one cares! You are feeding a baby and babies don’t only get hungry at home! I know I will definitely be less anxious the second time around.

What has your experience been like nursing in public in Japan? Good experience? Bad? I want to know!

4 Comments

  1. i love Japan’s nursing rooms. It gives the kid and i some respite among the crowds and a comfy place to rest as he nurses. Though they can really be quite stuffy during summer!

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    1. Yes I love them too! But I agree they can be stuffy. I nursed in one in Karuizawa that was basically a curtain pulled around you but still open to the air. Good thing it was winter! I wouldn’t want to use that in summer!

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  2. I’ve been living in Japan for 8 years, but never seen anyone breastfeeding in public… I have an impression that moms with young infants don’t go out that much. I also didn’t go farther than park until the first vaccination and will keep avoiding central Tokyo until the first measles vaccine.
    I had to ride shinkansen at 2 months though, and breastfrd in the room for disabled passengers. When it was not available, they opened some tiny room for me (i think it was resting room for staff).

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    1. Thanks for your insight! The multipurpose room on the shinkansen is so useful and one of my favorite tips! I should add it to this list, thanks for the reminder! I also agree I think people tend to not take young infants out that much here, or maybe they stay around home. I have however, seen parents breastfeeding in public but not so often.

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