Breastfeeding In Public On Okinawa

CONTRIBUTED BY HEATHER GELORMINE

My daughter was born when we were stationed in Germany, and I always felt grateful that the society we lived in was not only accepting but encouraging of mothers who chose to breastfeed their babies. No matter where we went, it was easy to find special “Mother Rooms” in public locations, but at the times when I wasn’t able to find such a private room, I found that it wasn’t looked down upon when I sat on a park bench or covered myself with a blanket in a restaurant. When it came time to nurse my newborn son in the US, I found that my previous experience and comfort in doing so made nursing in public less uncomfortable for me.

However, when we moved here to Okinawa my son was already past the age where we nursed anywhere outside the home, and I never had the opportunity to find out what the common opinion is when it comes to breastfeeding in public. I’ve seen the cushy “baby rooms” at Toys R Us, the aquarium, and in the airports, and it seems as though breastfeeding itself is a common occurrence among Japanese mothers.

But what kind of reactions have you breastfeeding mommies encountered when nursing your babies outside the home? Have you felt supported, or did it feel as though you’d broken an unspoken rule? How has the experience of nursing in public here on Okinawa compared to other places around the world in which you’ve done this? Do you have any tips for new mothers who want to give breastfeeding in public a chance?

[Editor's Note: This post is not meant to be a debate between a mother's choice to breast or bottle feed a baby, but rather to be an informative conversation about past experiences pertaining to this topic. Thanks!]


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14 Comments
  • June 28, 2009

    Hello. I am a native okinawan girl. Please forgive me for bad English. I don’t say that breathfeeding in public is not acceptable, but it’s unusual for Japanese people. Most of Japanese women carry baby bottles if they think they need to nurse in public. I think that is an unspoken rule.
    Some of American moms would encounter negative reaction if did it in public.
    My American friend covers her body part with a blancket while she is breathfeeding, but she doesn’t do that in crowded places( such as Jusco, San-A, Starbucks). And when she does, she asks a store clerk if it’s ok. I think it depends on when,where and how. Thanks.

    Papaya
    Reply
  • June 28, 2009

    I’m surprised to see the 1st reply. Most of my female friends here are from Kyushu and other mainland locations, but they all have breastfed their babies in front of me, or in public without the slightest hint of embarrassment or shame.

    They simply covered their breast with a blanket or towel and continued on.

    Paul
    Reply
  • June 28, 2009

    Just so you know, there is also a great breastfeeding/baby room on the bottom floor at the Wonder Museum at the zoo.

    And I’ve used the more conservative environment here as an excuse to buy more of those gorgeous nursing covers that they sell at places like the Kid’s cottage on Lester!!

    Joelle
    Reply
  • June 28, 2009

    Well, I guess I should have been paying more attention. But I really never noticed anyone giving me weird looks or anything when I breastfeed my daughters. I did use nursing wraps (busybabywraps.com) which fully covered everything, so I figured there shouldn’t be a problem. However, once when I was about to feed my duaghter at a restaurant, as I was getting ready and putting the nursing wrap on, one of the waitresses came over and shooed the waiter away who was bringing us our drinks. That was the one and only time I thought “hmmm, maybe Okinawans don’t like women to breastfeed in public”

    Veronica
    Reply
  • June 28, 2009

    I have nursed two babies on this island and have yet to have any negative reactions. I like to think of course its because no one would know if I was actually nursing or the baby was just asleep! You get really good at being super sly after two babies in a row.

    Erin
    Reply
  • July 2, 2009

    Thanks for the info. I am PCSing there early July with a 3 month old that i choose to breastfeed.

    ValerieB
    Reply
  • July 2, 2009

    In my own personal opinion, I think if the establishment provides a special room for you to do your breast feeding, then you should always use it. Especially considering the first comment, you should always be discreet, as the Japanese culture is a polite and discreet one. I highly doubt that you would ever get a dirty look from a local national because generally speaking, they don’t do things like that. I’ve lived here for 5 years and I have never seen a mother breast feeding in public, so I think that should speak for itself.

    Keri
    Reply
  • July 3, 2009

    I have breastfed my son in public here, and I’ve never gotten any looks. I also chose to cover up (in the states as well) and be discreet, and usually that means it’s really not obvious at all that I am nursing. It looks like my son is sleeping and I am holding and rocking him to sleep.

    There are times I will nurse him in the car before we go somewhere because I am not sure if there is seating for me to be comfortable, or it is a store. I do have a wrap I can put him in and nurse him completely covered up to walk around, but he’s beyond the age now where that’s needed (he can wait now or have water or something).

    I have to say, though, that the traditional tables are amazing for having small children while eating out. I find that I can feed my kids and enjoy myself a lot more…and they can REACH the table. I haven’t done it, but I can imagine nursing might also be a lot easier this way, especially covering-up.

    Sam
    Reply
  • July 3, 2009

    I guess I really don’t pay any attention at all when I have nursed my son. I think the only time I have noticed anything, was on the flight from California to Japan. I had a few guys wink and smile at me and some older ladies kinda gave me funny looks. I am normally a very shy person, so those little rooms that some places provide are great. Its kinda wierd though, from where I am from they encourage breastfeeding in public to show people that it is okay and natural. I feel if your gonna breastfeed in public, then just do it. (but cover up, unless you want some strange guy winking at you and smiling)

    Tara
    Reply
  • July 5, 2009

    I was at a dinner/show in Naha with a mixed group of guests where a Japanese lady was nursing her toddler in public. I dont recall anyone treating her differently. A mother who chooses to nurse in public is just feeding her baby. I think we need to remember that breasts are for feeding babies and not selling motorcycles. I think most people dont notice a nursing baby, because we cant see anything and the baby is content, not crying.

    Kelly
    Reply
  • July 5, 2009

    I gave birth to my son here in Okinawa and breastfed him in many places that did not have nursing rooms. I did always use the rooms in Jusco and such, because it was easier for me – but if I was in Starbucks and my son was hungry, he ate!
    I never got a funny look or anything. Personally, I had many older Okinawan women stop me to see my son and they openly asked me if I was breastfeeding. When I told them I did they said how great it was and went on and on about how chubby my little baby was. I have never had a negative reaction, and for that I am very thankful. My son tended to pull a cover off, so I did my best to cover my breast while I latched him on and then his body covered most everything anyway.
    I don’t believe that breastfeeding should ever have to be hidden, but for the comfort of those around me, I did cover up as best as I could.
    I have seen many Okinawan women breastfeeding in public places, restaurants and Starbucks and such.
    From my own experience, I would have to say that Okinawa, in general, is comfortable with breastfeeding in public.

    Sophia
    Reply
  • July 11, 2009

    Ive breastfeed both my girls over here. My oldest was 4 months old when we moved over here and my youngest was born here. I haven’t had any negative reactions. In fact people have been nothing but nice to me. Once I was trying to nurse my youngest and my oldest was getting antsy, a Japanese couple noticed and played with my oldest so I could finish feeding my youngest. The lady told me how great it was to see me breastfeeding and how she hoped to be able to when their baby was born (she as pregnant.)

    Heather
    Reply
  • July 14, 2009

    So, this is a really good topic to talk about, since I have had my second son while we were stationed in Oki. My husband had to deploy when the baby was 11 days old, so I was at “home” alone with the baby and my almost 4 year old. Soon after my husbands departure I went to pick my sister up at the Naha Airport, and it was the small, first terminal, where planes from Europe fly to and from. Not the big, main terminal. I waited there for my sister’s arrival, while I had to brestfeed my two week old baby. I hid there in the corner, because I didn’t feel the need to go to the restroom to feed my baby. I wouldn’t eat at a restroom myself. However, while wrapped up completely from my shoulder to my waist with my nursing baby underneath, an old man came in the front of me and SPIT AT ME three times. There was absolutely no skin exposed, my boys and I were in a secluded location, and this happened. The worst of all was that the airport security guard was looking at the man, people were passing by, and nobody did anything!!! Not even to tell him something. I was there, very vurnelable after my husband’s departure to Iraq, just had a baby and this happened. I hope this gives people an idea….I completely lost respect for that man.

    LADA
    Reply
  • August 22, 2009

    Dear Lada, Having lived on this island for ten years or so, the times I have been spat at (twice now) is because they thought I was American.

    I reckon that is why the old man was spitting at you, and why no-one did anything. Sorry to say these things but some terrible things that happened here are still remembered…and…

    lottiegwa
    Reply