Motherhood & Parenting in Japan

Pregnant In Japan? Here’s What You Should Know

Last Updated on 2024-02-15 by Teni

Being pregnant is a life-changing event. And being pregnant in Japan? Here’s what you should know: You’ll discover that you knew absolutely nothing about Japan and Japanese culture by the time your tenth month is up! (Just kidding…kind of.)

Take comfort the fact that you can eat all the sushi that you want, because everything else is off the table (again, just kidding… kind of...)

Wanna wear cute flat sandals when it’s 32C out? Dame.

Wanna go to driving school? Dame.

(Seriously. I think it’s an insurance issue mixed in with a heaping of “women are more emotional when pregnant.” Here’s more about my experience going to driving school in Japan.)

Welcome to being pregnant in Japan.

Since this post was first published, it’s become of the most popular posts here on The Wagamama Diaries. I’ve since updated it to add useful items, clothing, and books that I used throughout my pregnancy.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic and ongoing restrictions at medical facilities, some of the information presented in this post be not be applicable.

Confirming Your Pregnancy in Japan

At-home pregnancy tests (妊娠検査薬 | ninshin kensa yaku) are sold in Japanese drugstores.

There are two types, the First Response-type tests used the day of an expected period and tests that can be used a week after a missed period.

The tests that can be used a week after a missed period provide discretion as you simply take the box off the shelf, go to the register, pay, and leave.

Do Test and Clear Blue are two popular brands you’ll find here.

On the other hand, First Response-type tests (早期妊娠検査薬 | shouki ninshin kensa yaku) while also found on the shelves, are merely a display of an empty box.

You must take the empty box to the pharmacy, fill out your name and address(!) to receive the pregnancy test. If there is no pharmacist on duty at the moment, you will not be able to make your purchase at that time. This is because these type of pregnancy tests are classified as “pharmacy drugs” (薬局医薬品) in Japan. (FYI: the same holds true for some kinds of cough syrups and even eye drops!)

HOWEVER, you can order First Response pregnancy tests online via Amazon Japan! Most Japanese women avoid them (or are advised to avoid them) as the directions are not in Japanese and they are not manufactured in Japan therefore BAD.

Blood tests (血液検査 | ketsueki kensa) and urine tests (尿検査 | nyou kensa) to confirm a pregnancy can be done at a hospital or clinic.

Pregnant For 10 Months

Pregnancy in Japan is a 10 month affair. However, as I discovered, its a 40 week long event.

Yet here, those 40 weeks become 10 months of 4 weeks each. Those ten months are further divided into three trimesters:

First trimester: 0 to 15 weeks (初期 | shoki)
Second trimester:16 to 27 weeks (中期 | chuuki)
 Third trimester: 28 to 40 weeks (後期 | kouki).

Anteiki (安定期) is a special word for the second trimester. It has no direct English equivalent but signifies the period in which the risk of miscarriage is less.

In the US, this period is after 12 weeks, but in Japan, it is at 16 weeks. Thus, pregnancy announcements in Japan are often made at the 16th week/5th month mark, which also coincides with Inu no Hi (戌の日) A Shrine Visit for Pregnant Women

Maternal and Child Health Handbook

After confirming your pregnancy, it’s time to go to city hall to register your pregnancy. Only then will you receive your 母子健康手帳 boshi kenkou techou (boshi techou for short, Maternal and Child Health Handbook). This book will be used throughout your entire pregnancy until your child enters elementary school.

They are available in English (other languages may vary by city). But, as each book/child is assigned a number, you can’t have a Japanese one and English one.

I want to point out one important thing: even though the book says “maternal,” it’s not an attempt to exclude fathers. The first pages simply contain all information about health of the mother throughout her pregnancy.

Clinics and hospitals in Japan record the results of your child’s physicals and dental checkups in the Maternal and Child Health Handbook as well.

In fact, the stickers on vaccine vials are affixed to the appropriate page so you’ll instantly know that vaccines your child has already taken.

Your child’s very first health entry will be the birth weight and length, and this book will be used up until your child is 6 years old. It’s a really fantastic journal of your child’s development which also has pages that parents can fill out.

I was a bit nervous having all of my child’s vital information in one place (what if I lose it?) but now I appreciate the convenience. I even carried my daughter’s boshi techo when we traveled abroad as it contains all of her health information.

Japanese mothers often purchase special boshi techo cases to store their handbook, hospital cards, insurance cards, cash, and other relevant items.

Pregnant in Japan — Maternity Badges

You’ll get one maternity badge when you register your pregnancy at city hall. I liked having extras so I didn’t have to worry about switching my badge when changing handbags.

They’re given out to help pregnant women find seats on public transportation. They go on handbags etc. with the idea that persons sitting will notice the pregnant woman and kindly offer her a seat.

The badges also serve as a means of communication for women who are too nervous or shy to speak up and request a seat.

My advice is, if you really want to sit down, don’t be afraid to ask!

I don’t know if it’s people pretending not to see a pregnant lady or that they’re really just that oblivious to their surroundings. But please don’t make yourself suffer! For tips on getting around town see this post: Navigating Tokyo While Pregnant Or With A Baby.

I really want to stress the point of speaking up, (not being sassy, mind you, but speaking up for what you need.) Because you will need to use your voice to be your child’s advocate in the future!

Maternity badges are available for free at public health centers and some train stations. Pregnancy magazines often have specially designed maternity badges attached as a bonus gift with purchase. You can also get them when checking in at airlines, and of course on Amazon Japan.


After registering your birth at your local municipal office, you will receive a set of vouchers for every checkup until you give birth.

Vouchers will help subsidize the cost of tests while vouchers for three ultrasounds free of charge are provided. Even with the vouchers you can expect to pay between 500 yen to 10,000 yen depending on the tests.

From 4 to 10 weeks, checkups are 2-3 weeks; From 12-23 weeks, checkups are every 4 weeks, then from 24 to 35 weeks, checkups are every 2 weeks, From the 36th week of pregnancy, checkups are weekly, and once you past the 40 week mark, check ups are twice weekly.

At every appointment, they’ll take your blood pressure and weight, and a urine sample. The doctor will check your ankles for swelling, measure your growing bump and check the baby’s heartbeat as well.

Pregnant In Japan? Here's What You Should Know Pin

Pregnant in Japan — Checkup Schedule

The following is my hospital schedule to use for guidance. Please consult with your healthcare provider in regards to your pregnancy and needs.

2nd Month (4-7 weeks)

  • Confirmation of pregnancy
  • Transvaginal ultrasound

3rd Month (8-11 weeks)

  • Transvaginal ultrasound
  • Blood test
  • Cervical cancer screening

4th Month (12-15 weeks)

  • Ultrasound if necessary

5th Month (16-19 weeks)

  • Quad screen test (voluntary, done at 15 weeks)

6th Month (20-23 weeks)

  • 4D ultrasound

7th Month (24-27 weeks)

  • Glucose challenge test

8th Month (28-31 weeks)

  • 4D ultrasound
  • Blood test for anemia
  • ATLA screening

9th Month (32-35 weeks)

  • Gestational diabetes, chlamydia screening
  • Medication and retest for those who tested positive for chlamydia

10th Month (36-40 weeks)

  • Ultrasound and fetal measurements
  • Blood test for anemia
  • HPL screening
  • Non-stress test

Pregnant in Japan — Weight Gain

There is an adage in Japan, 小さく生んで大きく育つ “Chiisaku unde, ookiku sodatsu,” which means to give birth to a small baby so that they will grow to adulthood. Perhaps this is why Japanese women don’t gain much weight. (Or because doctors can be a bit strict here!)

You can forget about “eating for two” in Japan, but at least you won’t have to give up sushi!

My advice is: don’t let the doctors bully you or make you feel bad for the “excess” weight you again. I worked while pregnant, up until going on maternity leave in December.

My appointments were always in the afternoon, after work. I’d be there, 2 meals full, dressed in winter clothes, without a single care. I knew what the scale said in the morning, anyway!

Prenatal vitamins (プレナタルビタミン | purenataru bitamin) and folic acid (葉酸 | yousan) aren’t really suggested as doctors will encourage you to get nutrients through your diet.

However, if you have anemia (貧血 | hinketsu) like me, you’ll likely be prescribed iron supplements (鉄剤 | tetsuzai). I have a list of 10 Japanese Drinks Rich in Iron if you need the extra boost!

Pregnancy weight gain in Japan is based on BMI. For reference, please look at the following guidelines, which are from a handbook provided by my hospital. Please check with your healthcare provider on their weight gain guidelines.

Japan BMI & Pregnancy Weight Gain Guidelines

Underweight/BMI 18.5 and under: Suggested weight gain: 10-12kg

Average/BMI 18.5-25: Suggested weight gain: 7-10kg

Overweight/BMI 25 and over: Suggested weight gain: 0-5kg

Hospital Reservation

After confirming your pregnancy,  look for a hospital or clinic where you want to give birth and reserve a spot as quickly as possible. Seems excessive, but popular places “book out.” I’ve heard of women booking their stay as soon as they received their boshi techo!

Keep in mind that some places may charge a deposit at the time of reservation, which can be used towards the final balance of your hospital stay.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a hospital. For example, distance and ease of attending appointments is a major factor. You may prefer a doctor who can speak English/your native language, as well as your level of comfort around staff. Your reasons for choosing your birth clinic/hospital are the only ones that matter.

In my case, I was already a patient at the OB/GYN where I gave birth, but I briefly considered changing hospitals.

What prompted me to stay was familiarity with the staff and facilities. Also, I planned to work up until maternity leave, so I needed a hospital within commuting distance from my home and kindergarten, as well as open on Saturdays.

Think about your birth plan (バースプラン |basu puran) but be aware that hospitals and clinics may be unable to accommodate your desires.

Other questions to consider are:

Will my partner and/or children be able to attend the birth? (立ち会い出産 | tachi ai shussan)

Does the hospital give epidurals? (無痛分娩 | mutsuu bunmen)

Does the hospital provide private rooms? (個室 | koshitsu)

Will my partner and/or children be able to stay with me? (お泊り | otomari)

As it will be your birth, think about the facilities and services that best match YOUR needs. Don’t let any doctors or nurses push you around. Be the best advocate that you can be for you and your child.

Pregnant in Japan – Useful Items

Here’s a very basic list of items that I found useful during my pregnancy and after giving birth:

I’m anemic, but the nutritionist at my OB/GYN swore up and down that I could meet the necessary daily intake of iron with a balanced diet.  (She also told me to stay away from fruit because of all the sugar content, but anyway… #pregnantinjapan ね!) Well, I ended up needing to take iron tablets and even then, it wasn’t enough. I took 2 of these Pigeon iron-calcium-folic acid tablets daily, and I also kept citrus-flavored folic acid & iron lozenges in my desk at school.

These days, I still rely on supplements to boost my iron levels. These berry-flavored UHA iron and folic acid gummies are my favorite!

Compression Socks

These compression socks are designed with the needs of pregnant women in mind. Wear at home or in the office to soothe your legs of tension, restlessness and to prevent/relieve swelling.

Kyusoku Jikan Leg Sheets

I add these herbal scented leg sheets on nearly every Japanese beauty must-have/self-care list that I write because they work! I’ve used them since I was pregnant and still use them after a long day or when traveling by air. I apply them on my calves and on the soles of my feet. They have a cooling sensation and a wonderful lavender-ish scent that is so relaxing.

Nursing Camisole

I wasn’t sure if I would breastfeed or not, but purchased several of these tops just in case (and also because regular bras just weren’t cutting it any more!). I found these useful in the summer because I could layer them with jeans or a midi skirt and cardigan and be out the door. Available on Amazon Japan.

Maternity Underwear

I didn’t pay heed to the “keep your belly covered!” superstition, but as my bump grew in the winter months, so I really appreciated these high-waisted panties. I continued to wear them even after giving birth, too! Available on Amazon Japan.

Maternity Bras

I liked these maternity bras because they are simple and provide support without irritating sensitive breasts. I tended to wear nursing bras instead of nursing camisoles when sleeping.

Maternity Girdle Set

As I discovered, maternity girdles are less about looking slim and all about helping you maintain correct posture and realign your body’s center of gravity. The girdle can be used by itself in the first trimester and combined with the girdle belt in the third trimester to support the growing weight of your bump.

Maternity Jeans

My sister-in-law had some of her maternity clothes in storage and she gave me a pair of these stretchy maternity jeans! I worked up until going on maternity leave, and these held up well in the classroom and on field trips (like potato digging!) Available on Amazon Japan. Winter version (with a warm, fuzzy lining) available here.

Postpartum Underwear Set

These look like regular nursing bras and high-waisted maternity panties at first glance. But, the panties have a Velcro crotch so you’ll be able to change your maternity pads and go to the toilet with ease. Definitely worth having a few pairs of these in the weeks after delivery! Available on Amazon Japan.

Postpartum Sanitary Napkins

I got several packages of these Dacco postpartum sanitary napkins from my hospital. They measure 41cm long, are very absorbent and have large wings to keep them in place. Regular sanitary napkins are not enough for the postpartum discharge, not even the extra flow ones, so do yourself a favor and stock up accordingly!

Nursing Pads

Along with the Dacco postpartum sanitary napkins, I also got a package of Dacco nursing pads, but I eventually switched to these fluffy, “silky touch” nursing pads by Pigeon. After 6 months of childcare leave, I went back to work and continued breastfeeding. I tried cloth pads, but I preferred to have these in my bag and in my desk to replace when I had any leaks in public. I continued breastfeeding/comfort nursing until last summer and still used these!

Postpartum Girdle

These look super intimidating, and I clearly remember the midwife strapping me into one after delivery. This belt has several major roles: to ease the uterus, organs and muscles back into place; to relieve back pain; to ease postpartum discomfort.

For baby registry inspo, check out this post: 20 Best Amazon Japan Finds For Babies and Toddlers

Pregnant in Japan — Reading Resources

These are the English and Japanese books that I used throughout my pregnancy. I supplemented the information in English books with real-life experiences/vlogs, etc. online. And, I used a Japanese pregnancy book so I could follow along during checkups and prenatal classes.

What To Expect When You’re Expecting

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth


Pregnant In Japan? Here’s What You Should Know

Good luck on your journey! Please check out the following related posts on being pregnant in Japan, giving birth in Japan, taking maternity leave and daycare information:

Birth in Japan: Natural or Epidural?

Birth In Japan: Hospital Stay

Maternity Leave, Childcare Leave, and Paternity Leave in Japan

The Cost of Giving Birth in Japan and How to Pay For It

Japanese/English Baby Names For Boys and Girls

An Inside Look At Daycare in Japan

And, take a peek at some of the Japanese celebrations that await your little one:

Omiyamari: Baby’s First Photo Shoot and Shrine Visit

O-kuizome: An Elaborate Feast for Baby

Hatsu Sekku: Momo no Sekku and Tango no Sekku

Pregnant In Japan? Here’s What You Should Know


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