Interview about breastfeeding in Japan

Special interview today with two new mums about their breastfeeding experience in Japan and advice for expecting mums.

Thank you so much Anna and Rachel for sharing your experience!

Anna and Rachel with their babies in Shibuya 

Thank you Rachel for holding my baby & rocking him to sleep so I could film (^^)!

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Japanese Breastfeeding Video

If you are going to be giving birth in Japan, here is a video that might help prepare you for breastfeeding. It is made by a Japanese hospital and gives advice on breastfeeding in 10 simple steps. The advice is very similar to what the midwives taught me last year when my baby was born, and although I don’t follow all of the steps, I thought I would share it with you just in case you’d like to see what some of the midwives in Japan recommend. There is a lot of wonderful information available on the internet about breastfeeding, so you don’t need to follow the advice in this video of course, but sometimes it is good to see in advance what the midwives in your Japanese hospital might recommend. I know I personally wish that I had seen this video and done more research before my baby was born to prepare myself:)

Click here to see the video on YouTube:
Hello Baby – Japanese video on breastfeeding advice

Below is a rough translation of the explanation of the steps, listed in the same order as they appear in the video. My additional comments are based on my own experience of learning to breastfeed in a Japanese hospital after my baby was born. I am not an expert, and everyone has very different experiences, so please understand that this is just my own interpretation☺! It is important to research as much information as possible on breastfeeding before your baby is born, and hopefully this video will help too to give an image of what you might be taught here in Japan. As I mentioned above, I didn’t follow all of the steps that the midwives advised me, but it helped to be aware of the breastfeeding techniques available and compare them with those in my own country, and then I could make an informed decision on how I wanted to breastfeed my baby.

  1. Change nappy
    • So baby feels fresh and clean before breastfeeding
  2. Measure weight of baby
    • Not necessary to do this every time, but handy if you want to check how much your baby is drinking.
    • My experience – I only did this when I stayed in hospital for the week after birth. There was a special breastfeeding room in the maternity ward, and all the mums would go there with their babies several times per day to weigh their babies before and after breastfeeding. There was also a midwife there 24 hours to help with breastfeeding and to answer any questions we had. Some mothers went to this room every time they breastfed, particularly if they were having trouble with their baby latching on, whereas others only went a couple of times per day to check the volume of milk their baby was drinking. I personally only went there about twice a day, and sometimes in the middle of the night. When you are exhausted and trying to learn to breastfeed, it was nice to have the company of the other mums! Even if we were too tired to talk, it was nice to have the company☺
  3. Wash hands
  4. Clean nipple
    • My experience – When I was in hospital I noticed all the other mothers wiping their nipples with an alcohol swab to sterilise the area before breastfeeding. I personally didn’t do this, as I thought the nipple was clean enough for breastfeeding and I didn’t want to dry it out.
  5. Breastfeed your baby
    • There are various positions for breastfeeding your baby to suit different breast sizes and types.
    • My experience – Personally I use the same way as shown in the video, and I also do the football hold at least once a day to help drain both sides of the breast. It is not very practical to do the football hold while outside during the day, so I usually do it in the morning when I wake up.
  6. Burp your baby after breastfeeding
    • My experience – Sometimes I found my newborn baby didn’t burp, no matter how long I patted his back or jiggled him on my knee! I was so exhausted from lack of sleep, that it was sometimes hard to wait for my baby to burp. In this case, I would lie him down in his crib and then pick him up again a few minutes later or after a little sleep and try again. Usually this would help to bring up the burp.
  7. Measure baby’s weight after breastfeeding
    • Weight after – weight before = amount drunk
    • The video explains that you don’t have to worry too much about the volume of milk drunk. As long as your baby is gaining weight healthily, then it is fine. Sometimes it is helpful to monitor how much your baby is drinking, for example if your baby is not gaining weight.
  8. Massage the breast before breastfeeding
    • Before breastfeeding, massage the breast by lifting it inwards and upwards (cupping your hands around where a bra underwire would sit). This is said to help improve the flow of milk when your baby is breastfeeding.
    • My experience – When I was in the hospital, the midwife also recommended doing this each time before breastfeeding. I had blocked milk ducts and my breasts were a bit hard around the edges (under my arm pits), so this was recommended to improve the flow of milk from these areas. I did this breast lifting technique for about 2 months after my baby was born, but I haven’t continued it since then. To be honest, I keep forgetting to do it and I just remembered when I saw this video!
  9. Massage the nipple
    • My experience – I personally don’t do this, but the midwives in my hospital did show this nipple massage to some mothers if their nipples were quite hard. The massage was recommended to soften the nipple area to make it easier for the baby to latch on and suckle.
  10. Express a little milk before breastfeeding
    • If your breasts are too full and hard with milk, it can help to express a little milk before breastfeeding. This will help to soften your breasts (so easier for baby to latch on).
    • My experience – I sometimes express a little milk before breastfeeding. For example, if my baby sleeps longer than usual, my breasts fill up with milk and become very hard (sometimes it feels like they’re going to burst!). My hospital taught me to express a little milk onto a towel to soften the nipple area before breastfeeding (not necessary to express into a bottle unless you want to keep it for later).
How was your experience learning to breastfeed in Japan?

Do you have any other advice for new mums learning to breastfeed in Japan?

I understand breastfeeding is a popular topic among new mums in Japan, and indeed in many countries, so please don’t hesitate to comment on this post about your own experience. The more we talk about it, the more we can learn and prepare ourselves for having a positive breastfeeding experience with our babies in Japan!

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Oketani Method of Breast Massage

Today my friend and I went to the Oketani Breast Management Clinic in Daikanyama, Tokyo. I had experienced blocked milk ducts after my baby was born, so was interested in the massage to make sure my milk was flowing well and to have a general breastfeeding checkup. It was a very positive experience. Here is some information about the consultation and massage, as well as the benefits that I noticed after the massage.

For information on the Oketani method and a list of clinics, see the Oketani Method of Breast Management website.

Daikanyama Clinic details:

Midwife: Ms. Mayumi Futakuchi
Address: 305 Dokken Daikanyama Heights, 7-8 Daikanyama, Shibuya-ku
PH: 03-6416-1518
Opening hours: 9am-4pm
Closed on Thursdays, Sundays and public holidays.
Cost: First time – 5000yen, subsequent visits – 3500yen

Making a reservation:

  • Reservations for first time need to be made by phone in Japanese. After that, you can make reservation by phone or online through the Daikanyama Oketani website.
  • Information required to make reservation – your name, phone number, your baby’s date of birth.

Consultation details:

  • You will be asked to feed your baby before coming, so baby is not hungry while you are having massage. After massage, the midwife will observe you breastfeeding your baby to give you advice, so try to time it so that your baby will be hungry enough to feed after the massage.
  • First consultation will take about 1.5 hours per person. This involves:
    • 30 min questionnaire and explanation about the Oketani method of breastfeeding management
      • If you don’t speak Japanese, it is good to have a Japanese-speaking friend go with you for the first consultation to help you answer the questionnaire. If this is not possible, the midwife Mayumi-san can help you fill in the form using her electronic dictionary. Some of the questions include – any complications at birth, how many times do you breastfeed each day, are you exclusively breastfeeding or do you also use formula milk, have you had any breast surgery, etc. 
      • Oketani method explanation included the following points:
        • Recommended to breastfeed baby at least 8 times a day (at least every 3 hours) to maintain milk supply
        • Eat healthy balanced diet
        • Drink plenty of water/fluids
    • 30 min breast massage
      • The massage is very relaxing and soothing. There is no pain or discomfort at all. Warm towels are placed on your chest, and then each breast is massaged. I couldn’t see the massage clearly as I was lying on my back, but it looked like the midwife was massaging around each breast with her fingers and gently pushing the milk out of each milk duct and checking the flow. She was so fast and skillful, it was quite amazing!
      • Note: you may notice your milk spraying out during the massage. Mine sprayed out quite alot.
    • 30 min breastfeeding advice
      • After the massage, you will be asked to breastfeed your baby, so the midwife can observe your breastfeeding technique and give advice, such as:
        • Different positions and holding techniques to drain both sides of the breast
        • How to encourage your baby to open his/her mouth wide when latching on to get a good mouthful of breast
What to bring:
  • Boshi Techo (Mother and Child Health Handbook) – the midwife will take notes from your book regarding the health of you and your baby.
  • 2 towels (30 x 80cm) to cover your chest and stomach during the massage
  • Plastic bag (as towels may get wet from milk)

How often do mothers go to have a massage?:

  • It was explained that there are 3 scenarios:
    • Once a week – if want to increase breast milk production
    • Once a month – if just want a regular maintenance massage and check baby’s progress
    • Only when a problem arises – some mothers may be too busy to have a regular massage, so may only go to the clinic if a problem arises with their breastfeeding
Key improvements that I noticed after the massage:
  • Entire breast became softer
  • Aureola and nipple became more elastic, making it easier for my baby to suckle
  • Improved flow of milk
  • My whole body feels relaxed!

Happy mums and babies after the massage.
Bed for breast massage. If baby is unsettled or wants to stay with you, baby can lie beside you on the bed.

Lounge area with chairs and pillows for breastfeeding, and futons on floor for baby.

This photo shows the entrance to the room and toys on the left for children to play with.

The clinic is located in the Dokken Daikanyama Heights apartment block.

Questionnaire and consultation at the beginning.

Items to bring – 2 towels, plastic bag (as towels may get wet from milk), and your Mother and Child Health Handbook (Boshi Techo).

You will receive the breastfeeding handbook and Oketani method towel.

Business card of the Daikanyama clinic. Open every day except Thursdays and Sundays. For the first consultation, need to make reservation by phone in Japanese. After that can make reservation by phone or online through the Daikanyama Oketani website
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