Despite all odds, I am about to survive my first year of being a mom – and I had to do it in a foreign country (during the time of COVID-19) to boot! While I’d like to believe that I did it all on my own, I know for a fact that it has been made possible through a combination of supportive people in my life, countless hours of googling what on Earth is going on with my baby and of course, genius products that made it seem like I’m not as clueless as I actually am.
In this blog, I am not necessarily covering every single thing that I use for my baby but just specific brands or items which I think you should check out if you are a new mom in Japan.
- Baby Helmet
I suggest you get one of these as soon as your baby starts rolling over. My son’s motor skills developed pretty early and now at 10 months old, he’s already walking quite well. We had to worry early on about how to protect his head because he was rolling over like a maniac by 4 months old and though we carpeted his space, he still kept hitting his head on the floor and the walls. At first, I bought the popular type of head and back protector which babies can wear like a knapsack and although they’re cute, I found those utterly useless.
First of all, they are only supposed to protect the back part of the head and your baby is guaranteed to bump his forehead and the sides and top of his head as well. This protector also tends to slide to the side when your baby hits the floor. So again, utterly useless.
We ended up buying two helmets. The first one (priced at around 1,500 yen) has more cushion but the strings were pretty annoying and my baby always found a way to undo them or he would not stop fussing when he couldn’t undo them.
Still, we were able to get a lot of use out of this helmet. What I did was just tie the strings at the top so they’re not left hanging and then have baby wear it like a hat. It worked out well for the most part but since there’s nothing securing it in place, the helmet would often come off.
So, I decided to get another one and this time I went for the one shaped more like a typical helmet (for biking and such).
This cost me around 2600 yen from Amazon. The strings are less intrusive and hold the helmet in place better.
The cushion in this helmet is thinner, though so it had me worried at first.
That said, I didn’t think it made much difference to my baby after all. Even if he did hit his head while wearing this ‘thinner’ helmet, he did not seem like he was in pain. Even though he rarely falls now that he’s walking well and has better balance, these helmets are still useful. I would have him wear it so he doesn’t his head on table tops and such.
- Akachan Honpo Wet Tissue
A definite must-have with a baby in the house, it’s not surprising that the number of options for wet tissues is dizzying. Let me save you the trouble of trying out the many choices though and just go ahead and order these ones from Akachan Honpo.
Be sure to get the 厚手 (thick) type because Akachan Honpo has a very similar looking ‘regular’ product – the performance of which leaves a lot to desire.
Of all the products that I have tried, and believe me I have tried a lot, these are the thickest, biggest and strongest (does not easily fall apart) ones. The sheets don’t stick together once you pull them out of the package and my baby’s skin has not had any negative reaction from it. Of course, considering the quality, they are not the cheapest option out there. Once you do the Math, it would work out to about 3 yen per sheet and there are others like Pigeon, the ‘regular’ Akachan Honpo type and GOO.N which you could get for 1 yen per sheet. However, those tend to be very thin and you would need more pulls to get the job done. For the same price as my recommendation, another good contender is from the ever trusted brand Pampers. However, from my experience, their wet tissue has a slight smell of chemical to them which I do not like when it comes to products for my baby. You can’t order this particular wet tissue from Amazon but you can get them from Akachan Honpo’s online site (delivery would be 3 days to a week). A box of 16 packs (60 sheets per pack) would cost you 3,121 yen including the tax but not yet taking into consideration the delivery fee.
- Uniqlo Travel Blanket
This padded travel blanket from Uniqlo is very handy during the cold months. Seriously, the only bad thing about it is that every other baby-toting parent you will meet is using the very same product (I swear!).
On one side it has a padded, waterproof surface while the opposite surface has a fleece-like texture which is comfortably warm for baby.
The best thing about it is that because of its straps and snaps, you can attach it to your stroller as well as your baby carrier.
The snaps on the lower portion also make it possible for the blanket to fold up providing the perfect space for your baby’s tiny feet to keep warm. Once folded and rolled, it also does not take up much space and you could easily slip it into your baby bag when not in use.
It also comes with a hood which is a great addition for when you are using it with the baby carrier and is detachable when it’s not necessary.
Another convenient feature are the pockets in the front, the primary purpose of which is to warm your hands while carrying baby but I also find them useful for storing light things such as our house key and some paper bills or credit card (just be very careful not to drop them). This blanket comes in five colors and priced at a very reasonable 1,990 yen.
- Pigeon Milk Bottles
Back in the Philippines, the gold standard when it comes to baby bottles is the brand Avent. So, naturally, that’s the first brand I searched for. Shockingly enough, they are not at all popular here. If you really wanted to, you could get them, for sure, but the options are not as many and you are limited to buying them online (which means that you don’t really get a feel for them before buying). In addition, despite the fast delivery service in Japan Avent bottles would take longer than usual (a couple of days) to deliver.
Instead of buying them online, my husband and I decided to get our bottles when we went to Akachan Honpo’s physical store. We both had no idea what to look for so we thought it would be a good strategy to hold them in our hands and see which ones seemed right. I settled for the Pigeon bottles simply because they were the most recommended ones.
My husband, on the other hand, has a fascination for German brands so we also decided to picked up these ones from Nuk. Nuk is a German company which claims to have devised a remarkable technology when it comes to the shape of the nipples guaranteeing that it’s anti-colic. True enough, the nipple of the bottles look somewhat special but honestly, they’re not that impressive.
See, with the Nuk bottle, milk just continues to flow out whenever you tip the bottle forward. You would think that this is good because it means less effort on the part of your baby when drinking the milk. However, what it really ends up doing is just spraying milk everywhere and soiling all of your baby’s clothes. The Pigeon bottles, on the other hand, while there looks to be nothing at all special about the nipples, does not leak at all. Even if I shake it hard, milk will not come out because they need an actual sucking motion from the baby to do so. This is very convenient from the time your baby is a newborn and even until he starts to gain more control of his limbs and begins to hold the bottle by himself.
- Breastfeeding Cover
As someone who exclusively breastfed my baby for the first 6 months, this was an absolute life-saver. I talk more about breastfeeding in public in Japan in this article; but in a nutshell, outside of dedicated feeding rooms, it is not a common practice in the country. Since we spent some time visiting family in another prefecture during the summer, I was desperate to find a breastfeeding cover that would allow me to feed Ryuma whenever, wherever.
The more common type of breastfeeding covers are the ones that look like aprons but browsing through Amazon I came across this product and I’m glad it’s what I decided to get.
It’s a large piece of stretchable cloth with 2 holes. You stick your head out through one end while the other is around your hips so it’s covering your torso 360 degrees. It’s big but not too loose so baby and your breasts and snugly covered inside. It is also light and takes up very little space so it’s not a hassle to carry around. Additionally, it is stretchable enough that you can use it to cover the stroller or baby carrier. It even comes with its own pouch for easy storage.
For only 1,799 yen in Amazon, this purchase was definitely worth it.
- LILLEbaby Complete All Seasons Baby Carrier
Because they’re not cheap, I made it a point to research extensively about baby carriers before finally settling on the LILLEbaby Complete All Seasons. After I already bought one though, my mother-in-law gifted us an ergobaby Adapt Baby Carrier.
So, I ended up with two baby carriers. Despite being thankful for the present, I was at first upset for having two carriers because I felt like it was such a waste of money and I hate redundancy. I did not want the subject of baby carriers to take up more space in my mind and now I had to consider every single day which one I should use. Nevertheless, I ended up using both items to the same degree and seeing the merits of each.
I’m such a worrier and as a new mom, I would fret about the littlest of things like the posture of my baby inside the carrier so for the first few months I actually preferred the ergobaby because for some reason, he just seemed more comfortable with it while he would usually cry and fuss when I used the LILLEbaby. Once he passed the 4kg mark though, he started being comfortable with both baby carriers and I would use whichever I picked up first at any given day. I honestly thought any one of the two would suffice.
However, at this point, I would say that I would recommend the LILLEbaby Complete All Seasons and not just against the ergobaby Adapt but as your definitive baby carrier. The first reason for which is that you are living in Japan. The summers here are crazy hot and humid and that’s when this carrier’s zip-down front panel really helps.
We traveled a lot during the summer and once the temperature rose, Ryuma would start fussing but he would instantly calm down as soon as I opened the panel and revealed the breathable mesh.
Another thing that I love about it is that it lets you carry baby facing forward.
My son absolutely loves this position because he gets to not only see his environment better but also interact with it (you should see him smiling and babbling at every single person we meet while taking a walk outside). Nowadays, he even hates it when I carry him facing inward.
It does come with negatives but those are something which I’m willing to look past. First of which is are the adjustable seat straps at the bottom. One feature of this carrier is that you can adjust the seat to narrow or wide depending on how you want to carry baby as shown in the manual. For now, we usually use the narrow seat so that means there are two straps not being used. The company actually thought about what to do with these straps and you are supposed to clasp them together on the inside which means that baby will be sitting on top of them. However, because of the clasp and bulges, my baby is not very comfortable sitting on top it so what we are doing right now is clasping them on the outside. I think its a comfortable enough arrangement but aesthetically it’s very annoying because it’s just hanging there.
Another thing is that once you zip down the front to show the mesh layer, there is nowhere to place the head cover. Again, it just hangs there and really defeats the purpose of mesh so what I do is just tie it up – another not very aesthetically pleasing adjustment.
If you care a lot about how things look, I would not recommend it but if you are after functionality, I think it’s a good buy.
So these are six things of the things I found very useful during the last couple of months while I navigate the life of a new mother in Japan. Do check them out if you are still at a loss about which items to buy and let me know in the comments of anything else that you recommend for baby’s first year.