How to Have a Baby (and not a Nervous Breakdown) in Japan

If you've been following the Pregnant in Japan series here on SiJ, then today's guest post from Erica of Expatria Baby may provide you some reassurance if you've just discovered you're pregnant and planning to give birth in Japan. Definitely check out Erica's blog as well for more of her adventures raising a baby in Japan. 

- Ashley


While Ashley is off enjoying her new little love, I thought I’d bring you a few tips on having a baby in Japan while holding onto your sanity.

Babies are stressful. So is making them. But having a baby in a country where you don’t understand the health care system and can barely speak the language and cannot find BPA-free baby bottles even though I’m going to breastfeed OMGPANICGAH!

So, all you Japan-living pregnant ladies, I know you can’t take a chill pill, or even have a glass of wine, but you can read this post and put your feet up. So do that.

Accept The Fact That You Are In Japan And That Isn’t A Bad Thing

You are having a baby in Japan. Therefore, prenatal care will be different than what is typical in your home country. Now, get over it.

Yes, the health care system is unfamiliar and prenatal care advice may be strange (keep that abdomen warm, ladies! You don’t want baby to catch cold while he’s in there!) However, keep in mind that Japan has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world (among developed nations, and far lower than that of the US) and a reputation for excellent outcomes for both mother and baby. You’re in good hands here.

Find A Doctor You Trust. Then Trust Her.

Find a doctor who makes you feel comfortable. I saw two doctors before I settled on one I really connected with. I suggest trying to find a doctor who has either worked or studied in the West (or at the very least, understands the cultural differences). While this doesn’t guarantee Western-style care, at least your crazy foreign ways will not seem so crazy or foreign.

Once you’ve found your doctor, trust her. Your doctor may not follow Western notions of informed consent. And it is probable that standard tests and procedures in your home country will not be performed here (for example, to my knowledge, I was never tested for gestational diabetes). But, these doctors know what they are doing, and their primary objective is to deliver a healthy baby to a healthy mother.

So, let go. Trust your doctor. Stop worrying. You’ll feel so much better.

Birth Is The Easy Part, Prepare for What Comes Next

Having a baby away from home is no walk in the park. Being away from your usual support networks might increase your risk for PPD (postpartum depression). Language barriers can make getting help for things like breastfeeding more difficult. Invest some time pre-baby learning all you can about postpartum recovery, baby care, breastfeeding, and PPD. La Leche League has a few chapters in Japan. A good breastfeeding resource can be found here. Tips for avoiding PPD are here (PDF).

DO NOT Order a Crib from the US. You Are A Crazy Person For Even Considering This Option.

The industrial baby gear complex will have you believe that you need every baby thingamabob under the sun. This is a lie. You don’t yet know what kind of kid you’re going to get (A swing baby? A bouncy chair baby? An Ergo baby? An arms only baby?), so investing in a ton of baby gear that may or may not be used is crazysauce.

The few things you DO need are (for the most part) readily available in Japan. And if you simply MUST have a Western-style crib, for goodness sakes, get one from Ikea. Renting a car for the weekend to drive to your nearest Ikea-equipped city will be MUCH cheaper than attempting to import a crib from home. Oh, and by the way, North American crib mattresses are about 10 cm longer than Japanese ones. Ask me how I know that. I dare you.

Stay in The Hospital For As Long As Possible

In Japan it is typical to stay in the hospital anywhere from 4-7 days (or more) after birth. I used to think this practice was nonsense: whatever! I’m tough; I’ll go home with a new baby and resume my normal life! Ironing! Cooking! Vacuuming! Walking everywhere! Also, I am a crazy person. Failing to get adequate rest post-delivery will result in a case of lady-part-ouchies + mastitis + OMG THE TIRED + weird eye infection.

Stay the week in the hospital (or clinic). Rest. Take advantage of it. Then go home and don’t get out of bed for another week.

So there you have it. My tips for having a baby in Japan. I know. It’s totally scary. And overwhelming. And crazy. BUT it is also awesome. I speak virtually no Japanese. Nor does my husband. Our daughter was born here 14 months ago, and my experience was perfect. Doctors, nurses, midwives were so gracious and they all went out of their way to help me. I’ll always be thankful to Japan for this.


Erica is a mother, blogger, freelancer and nomad currently based in Kyushu. As a Canadian married to a Swiss, with a daughter who was born in Japan and two Chinese cats, she believes firmly that the key to familial success is ensuring that every family member is born in a different country. You can find Erica at her interwebular home, Expatria Baby or on Twitter at @Expatria_Baby.

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