Pregnancy in Japan: The Third Trimester, Maternity Photos, and Getting Ready for Birth
The final chapter in my series reflecting on each trimester of my pregnancy in Japan is finally here! I apologize for the delay. As you’ll read, the last trimester was incredibly exhausting and after the baby was born, I was so overwhelmed that I completely forgot that I had written the post and saved it on my computer! (The number of drafts I have for upcoming posts is… a black hole.) As I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to remember accurately how the last trimester was like, it was such a relief to stumble upon this draft and be able to complete the series.
Looking back almost seven months after Baby A was born, it’s so hard to believe that she used to be inside of me and now she’s here in the outside world, beginning to crawl, eating solids, and trying to talk. It’s truly amazing how much babies learn and grow in such a short period of time. I can also confidently say that I have a lot more energy now than I did during the third trimester. I hope reading about my experience during the last stage of pregnancy in Japan will be helpful for all of you mamas-to-be out there.
I entered the third trimester sooner than I imagined. I felt pretty nauseous in the beginning, similar to how I felt in the first trimester, which was made worse by the fact that I still had to go to work while having a massive belly as well. After a quick Google search, I learned that some women experience a “second morning sickness” phase in their third trimester. I went about two weeks being unable to eat very much but thankfully I didn’t throw up. (Some women on my Reddit bumper group weren’t so lucky, though.)
One thing I had heard about but didn’t expect to experience was edema in my hands and feet. The swelling was unreal, to the point that I had to buy sandals one size up. The doctors told me to decrease my salt intake but I very rarely added salt to my meals to begin with, so it was a bit confusing as to why I was swelling so much. I felt like the Michelin Man or a piece of dough — when my husband pressed his thumb down on my foot, it would leave an indent that made my skin look like memory foam. I made sure to take off my engagement and wedding rings to prevent them from being stuck and initially went for some weekly maternity massages at Raffine (to find maternity massages in your area of Japan, check out Hot Pepper). In the end, I found that my husband massaging my legs and feet at the end of the day using oil worked best for both me and my wallet. It was a nice way for him to bond with the baby as well because she was very active when he gave me massages, likely from the increased blood circulation.
Pregnancy in Japan — Tiny Baby with Big Movements
The baby’s movement was very strong and distinct in the third trimester. As she was breeched initially, I felt a lot of tiny kicks and fluttering in my lower abdomen but by week 31, she had moved to the head-down position. I could pinpoint the approximate time it happened because I felt very nauseous for about two days and spent the entire time lying on the couch and trying not to throw up. She had been breech at a prenatal appointment a week before and at our next appointment, two days after I was sick, she was perfectly head down.
When she assumed the “correct” position, I began feeling her kicking and pushing her little feet against the right side of my belly. At times my husband and I could see something protruding through my skin although there was no distinct shape. She would move the most when I ate something sweet (I may have eaten the majority of a strawberry trifle from Costco, which the baby was very happy about), drank her favorite tea from Lupicia (Jardin Sauvage) or had my husband massage my legs. There were also movements, perhaps protests, when I tried to sleep for even one minute on my right side. (Having a maternity pillow helped a lot during this time.) All of these movements were so precious to me because it not only reassured me that the baby was okay but with each kick I felt so much closer to her. She seemed so feisty in the womb that I could only imagine how she would be like when she was finally out in the world. (Update at nearly 7 months postpartum: She’s indeed a very energetic baby!)
But of course, the bigger she got and the more movements she made, the more tired I became. When I hit the 33-week mark and it was finally time to go on maternity leave, I was more than ready. Maternity leave meant no more commuting during rush hour, no more having to work while feeling incredibly uncomfortable and huge (by this time, pretty much everyone had something to say about how “big” my stomach was getting, as if I had no clue about my own body), and being able to relax at home and indulge in games and reading before the baby was born.
Pregnancy in Japan —Commemorating the Bump
I got maternity photos (マタニティフォト) done with my husband when I was 35 weeks pregnant. My feet were quite swollen during this time and face a bit rounder (the double-chin was real) but the photographer was great and none of that came through in the photos. Would I recommend getting maternity photos done in the third trimester? Absolutely, at least for me, because although it was tiring, it was a great way to encapsulate the final stage of my pregnancy and see how much my body changed and adapted for the baby during pregnancy. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend booking a maternity photoshoot after 36 weeks because the baby could come at any time. There were a fair number of women in my Reddit bumper group who had their mid-July babies… in June!
If you’re looking for a maternity photographer near you in Japan, check out fotowa. This site is very easy to use and allows you to search for photographers in Japan for various occasions, such as maternity photos, newborn photos, omiyamairi, and so on. You can filter according to where you live and the time and date that works best for you. All photographers have ratings and best of all, they all charge the same rate: 21,780 yen for weekdays and 26,180 yen for weekends and holidays.
My husband and I used fotowa to take family photos when our daughter was two and if I have the chance again, I will likely use fotowa for my next maternity photos. If you want to read about my family’s experience using fotowa, as well as other family photography services in Japan, check out this article.
Pregnancy in Japan — Final Clinic Visits and Unwelcome News
My clinic visits increased to every two weeks from 28 weeks and then every week from 36 weeks. I was given a nonstress test (NST), which measures the baby’s health, for the first time at 37 weeks. This test involved me lying down on a bed or sitting in a recliner for about twenty minutes while a device, which consisted of two palm-sized circular discs strapped to my lower abdomen, recorded contractions as well as the baby’s movements and heartbeat. Although I had felt a few menstrual cramp-like pains during the night at home from around 35 weeks, which the doctor said was because of the baby growing bigger and my organs shifting, I hadn’t felt anything I would have thought were contractions. Therefore, I was surprised when the doctor said I experienced a few during the nonstress test. However, I was far from dilated.
The discs on the nonstress test strapped on the belly
At 37 weeks I also got another surprise when the doctor told me that I had gestational thrombocytopenia, meaning that my platelet count was quite low. If it continued to drop, they would have to refer me to a major hospital nearby as they wouldn’t have the resources to handle my case. Gestational thrombocytopenia affects less than 15% of women in the last trimester and may cause complications during birth such as excessive blood loss. The doctor asked me to come to the clinic every three days so that they could monitor my platelet levels and examine my cervix for dilation.
I had put so much thought into my clinic and birth plan that the possibility of everything going out the window and ending up at an unknown hospital with strangers for doctors and midwives was incredibly upsetting. I had also scheduled an epidural a week after my due date since in the case the baby was late, I would likely have to be induced anyway. However, having gestational thrombocytopenia meant that I couldn’t have an epidural and I would have to be induced without pain relief. This is why in an effort to coax the baby out, I started drinking raspberry leaf tea, which is believed to strengthen the uterus and induce labor, and sitting on an exercise ball while playing Octopath Traveler on my Switch or reviewing parenting books I had bought earlier (Caring for Your Baby and Young Child by the American Academy of Pediatrics and The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp).
I began to feel contractions from 38 weeks, which were quite painful at times, enough to make me stop whatever I was doing. It also made me think that maybe, just maybe, the baby was coming; however, the contractions didn’t last very long and were quite far apart. With that pain, the swelling, and all the added weight, the closer I got to my due date, the more I wanted the baby out; unfortunately, my daughter had no intention of leaving.
According to the Ovia app, at 38 weeks I apparently had a small Pomeranian inside of me
As my due date approached, my husband and I became increasingly excited about meeting our daughter but also worried about having to go to another hospital. It didn’t seem like anything I was trying to “evict” the baby (as we lovingly called it) was working, which shouldn’t have been a surprise since first-time moms often have their baby after their due date. We tried to distract ourselves and look on the bright side of her refusing to leave my uterus by going to nice restaurants in Tokyo and shopping, although I didn’t really have the energy to stay out for more than a few hours.
And then my due date came. And passed.
I was ready but despite what Ovia stated, my baby clearly was not
Looking back, if I could give any advice, it would be to get as much done as possible in the second trimester because once you’re in the third, all bets are off. I have a video of myself crying at around 38 weeks because I had spent the day cutting off tags and washing baby clothes and by the end of it, I was exhausted, emotional, and overwhelmed. If you can, it’s best to relax or do something that you can only do before the baby comes, like go to your favorite restaurant, because you never know when they will decide to make their debut into the world and once they’re born, your life will change completely.
❀Read: Hospital Bag in Japan Checklist: What to Pack❀
This is the third of a three-part series.
Read about the First Trimester here.
For the Second Trimester, click here.
To find out about signing up for a baby registry and how to get free samples of newborn diapers, wipes, etc., in Japan, check out this post.
For my birth story, click here.