Newsletter #35: EXCO Spotlight – Outgoing President Elaine Chow

By BMSG Editorial Team

With the impending Annual General Meeting coming up on 4 May, BMSG is gearing up for a new term ahead. As what is normal with the passing of time, people come and go, but not without impacting others they meet along the way.

Our current President, Elaine Chow, have been part of BMSG since 2015. Although she has only been part of the organisation for 4 years, Elaine started out her breastfeeding journey way back in 2008 when she had first baby.

We speak to Elaine, as she talks about what she has achieved during her term as President, her dreams and hopes for the organisation and the breastfeeding scene in Singapore, as well as what’s in store for her after the current EXCO term ends in May 2019.


Elaine and her lovely family on Chinese New Year, with baby number 4 in-utero [Credits: Elaine Chow]

1) Tell us more about yourself! How did your passion for breastfeeding start?

I am a full-time mum to my four children. My older children are 11, seven and three years old. I have also just given birth to my fourth baby a month ago.

I breastfed my older two kids till they were four years old, and even tandem nursed for a year after my second was born. I am still breastfeeding my third and of course, the baby too.

I was pretty clueless about breastfeeding when I started out back in 2008. Breastfeeding didn’t come easy for me and I didn’t know who to ask for help, apart from the Lactation Consultants (LCs) in hospital. Back then, I wasn’t aware about the BMSG. I chanced upon a US-based Internet forum, and the Kellymom website, and basically relied on these as my main resources to navigate my challenges. (I even tried to “treat” my low supply by self-medicating, and ordered a box of domperidone from an online pharmacy – pretty risky business! It’s a miracle nothing serious happened to me.)

By the time my baby was about nine months old, things became more smooth sailing for me. Because of the difficulty that I had faced in searching for answers to my questions, and how alone I felt figuring it out all on my own, I decided to become a resource person to other mums I knew. I became active in a breastfeeding group on Facebook, and that was when I got to know Mythili Pandi, our previous president.

Elaine and 2 of her children in 2016, posing for a BMSG photoshoot [Credits: BMSG]

I became interested in the formal training for breastfeeding counsellors and organised effort of the BMSG, in comparison to the laissez-faire and casual style of my Facebook group then. I wasn’t able to make it for the 2015 counsellor training, but did attend the AGM, and joined the EXCO after that.

2) As President of the BMSG, what are your roles in the organisation?

I’ve been a part of the BMSG EXCO since 2015, and President since 2017.  How I would describe my role is: “The buck stops here.” Most of the day-to-day tasks, like our office administration, preparing this newsletter or organising our counselling efforts – workshops, support meetings, phone lines, Facebook and WhatsApp – are done by our two staff and our volunteer counsellors.

But there is a lot of work at BMSG that goes on behind the scenes, and I personally attend to the work myself, or make sure that it is done correctly.

In my capacity as President, there are three types of things that I am in charge of for the organisation:

  1. Honing our public image: What kind of organisation do we want to be seen as?
  2. Policy-making: How do we conduct our business of counselling and public outreach to be in line with our public image?
  3. Operations: Making sure our administrative tasks, counselling work and events run smoothly

Elaine was involved in a lot of the policy-making of BMSG as well as breastfeeding advocacy efforts during her term. Here, Elaine represented Singapore at the 2018 ASEAN meeting of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), a body that works towards fighting for children’s right to breastmilk. [Credits: Elaine Chow]

HONING OUR PUBLIC IMAGE

In managing our public image, I oversee the type of content that we put up on our social media platforms and newsletter. We want content on these platforms to inform and engage our readers, but also make a stand on how we want to promote and support breastfeeding. We definitely don’t ever want to come across as “Breastfeeding Nazis”, “the Brestapo” or the “Breast Police”!

Conducting public events is also another way in which our public image is built and shaped. Because we are a gathering point for breastfeeding mothers in Singapore, many individuals, businesses and organisations write in to us to request for collaboration. I evaluate each request to see if we should take it up. One example of a meaningful and successful collaboration are the talks that we have been conducting at the public libraries in partnership with Babywearing Singapore.

I also oversee the events that we run ourselves. BMSG organises our own events a few times a year, such as the Big Latch On, or last year’s Tea with Breastmilk. Organising events comes with a lot of logistics – sourcing for venues, partners, vendors. I work together with our staff, EXCO members and other volunteers to ensure everything runs smoothly.

BMSG also works towards organising public events to create awareness and provide platforms for breastfeeding families to come together. Elaine (centre, behind child) led a team of volunteers, including the Executive Committee and volunteer breastfeeding counsellors, to organise flagship events such as the Big Latch On 2018, which was supported by the National University Hospital (NUH). [Credits: Elaine Chow]

POLICY-MAKING

In the last two years since I became BMSG’S president, social media has become the most significant way for us to engage mothers. I set community guidelines for our Facebook group and monitor them to ensure that they are being adhered to.

Internally, this also extends to our counsellors, where we formulate policies on how counsellors should address controversial issues such as vaccinations, sleep training, mixed feeding and so on. I also look at how to refine and enforce our code of ethics for counsellors, to prevent conflicts of interest or other ethical issues.

Elaine (seated, right) also travels to meet other breastfeeding advocates within Asia to share best practices and to exchange ideas. Here, Elaine attends an IBFAN Asia meeting in 2018 with BMSG Vice-President Khatim Hamidon (seated, left) and their Indonesian counterparts. [Credits: Elaine Chow]

OPERATIONS

Lastly, I oversee and also personally do some of the administrative work that comes with running BMSG; make payments for bills and salaries, ensure phone lines are in operation, evaluate vendors that we engage. This is ongoing work, and very behind the scenes, but very important for the functioning of the organisation.

3) You have also just delivered your fourth baby a few weeks ago. Congratulations! How has being a nursing mother to a newborn again affirm your role as a breastfeeding advocate/counsellor?

It has been wonderful to have the chance to nurse a baby again. Every nursling is different, and with every child I nurse, I learn a bit more about breastfeeding. As a peer counsellor, it is important that we not only have our textbook knowledge about breastfeeding, but that we also have some practical experience and tips that we can share. Now that I am nursing a newborn again, I have the chance to observe firsthand the little details and quirks that come with nursing newborns. This will come in useful when I counsel mothers with newborns.

Elaine (right) seen here with President Halimah Yaacob (centre) and BMSG Vice-President Khatim Hamidon (left) at the Istana for an SCWO (Singapore Council for Women’s Organisations) event in 2018. Meeting leaders and stakeholders form part of Elaine’s work in helping BMSG be recognised by the public. [Credits: Elaine Chow]

4) What were some of your dreams and hopes for BMSG when you became President? As outgoing President, how would you want the new EXCO to undertake these aspirations?

My predecessor, Mythili Pandi, did a great job in getting our counsellors started on the counselling training programme by the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA). She did three rounds of counsellor training for us, and gave the organisation a steady stream of counsellors.

When I took over as President, these were the KPIs that I had set for myself – improve workshop participation rates, reach more mothers via our counselling channels, organise more events to engage the wider breastfeeding community, and help mothers form their own communities with each other.

If I can be allowed to toot my own horn, I think I have been quite successful in getting most of these objectives met. We revised the prices of our workshops and made it free for CHAS cardholders, and now our workshops are fully booked every month. I started rostering counsellors on Facebook and we started our WhatsApp counselling channel, and now these are the most popular channels by which mothers are contacting us.

Among all the events that we have done, the ones that I am most proud of are the two public education forums we did: one with dentist Dr Yue Weng Cheu in 2017, and pioneer breastfeeding advocate Maureen Minchin in 2018.

We also now have group chats for all our workshop participants, which are staffed by counsellors, giving mothers a platform to connect with one another and for us to offer more ongoing support especially in the early postpartum days.

Towards the end of my term, we did another round of Train-the-Trainers with ABA, and certified another group of BMSG counsellor-trainers. The next round of counsellor training is currently ongoing. I am super pleased and excited that I managed to complete this before my term ended. As the organisation continues to grow, it is important that we are sufficiently resourced both in terms of number of counsellors (which we already have) and number of trainers.

Elaine (bottom, left) with the 28th Executive Committee, BMSG colleagues and staff. [Credits: Elaine Chow]

5) What’s next for you?

You mean, other than being neck-deep in child-rearing for all my 4 children?! 😉 I will still be serving as a BMSG counsellor and will still be in the EXCO even after I have stepped down as President, so there will still be lots for me to do! I might try to make a bit more progress in my studies for the International Board Certified Lactation Consultation (IBCLC) exam. And I would like to bake more 🙂

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From the BMSG, we would like to thank Elaine from the bottom of our hearts for her earnest efforts in raising BMSG to become an organisation that stays true to its mission of helping and supporting mothers. We also wish her all the best in her future endeavours and look forward to her contributions to BMSG in the near future.

Newsletter #35: Mother’s Sharing – Eleanor Ho’s Story [Traveling Mum]

By BMSG Editorial Team

Mother’s Sharing is a monthly column where we hear the stories of breastfeeding mothers and their individual, unique experiences. This month, we speak with Eleanor Ho, a regular contributor on our Facebook group, on how she prepares sufficiently to pack her expressed breastmilk when she is traveling for work.

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Pumping while traveling, especially on a work trip, can cause anxiety in many mums but for mummy Eleanor Ho, practice makes perfect. [Image for illustration]

I’m a mother to a three-and-a-half year old girl and a one-and-a-half year old boy. I work as an improvement engineer in the oil and gas industry, mainly to support scheduling applications in the manufacturing plant. I travel approximately one to two times yearly for network meetings.

Breastfeeding While Traveling – A Mother’s Milestone

As a first time mum, it was daunting initially to learn how to breastfeed, let alone to continue breastfeeding while traveling. I had many encouraging conversations with other mums and had read positive experiences from mothers who shared their stories on the BMSG Facebook group. Sharing my story is a way for me to pay it forward.

Eleanor learnt from other mums how to make traveling with breastmilk fuss-free. Here, she shows how mums can creating “trays” in cooler box to freeze more than 1 packet of breastmilk [Credits: Eleanor Ho]

Equipped with useful tips and ample preparation, breastfeeding while travelling can be more manageable than one would expect and I consider being able to accomplish it as a significant milestone in my breastfeeding journey. As commented once by a BMSG counsellor on the group, bringing back frozen breastmilk is the best souvenir that a mother can bring home with her after a period of traveling without her children.

I had breastfed my elder child for about 15 months until she self-weaned as I had then became pregnant with my second child. I am currently still breastfeeding my 2nd baby who just turned 20 months.

Memorable Moments

One memorable moment I can recall is my first business trip where I had to pump overseas for the first time. With no prior experience, I had to do trial and error to make sure my frozen breastmilk returned to Singapore safe and sound, and ,most importantly, still frozen. Returning home with a cooler box of frozen breastmilk felt like an achievement unlocked. I was also very relieved that my baby still remembered to latch when I returned home. Doing this also made me feel empowered that I was still able to fulfil my mummy duties despite being away from home.

Eleanor’s go-to for pumping on-the-go: A Packit can fit 2 large ice packs + 1 set of pump parts & bottles & extra storage bottles, her way of traveling light on-the-job. [Credits: Eleanor Ho]

Supportive Employer

My employer has been rather supportive of my intent to breastfeed. My breastfeeding colleagues and I are fortunate that there are private nursing rooms available onsite for our use. My other colleagues will also help to book nursing rooms on my behalf whenever I visit an associate office and need to pump. Without their support and understanding, I believe I would have given up on breastfeeding much earlier than I had planned to.

Advice for Other Mums

I would say being prepared would ease the anxiety towards pumping while travelling. Minor but important logistical preparations might seem unnecessary but things like prior communication with the hotel on your freezing requirements will go a long way in easing your worries. It will also prevent any surprises or disappointments, and there would be ample time to make alternative preparation and arragements.

A checklist* will be most useful to help mums bring the essentials.

Lastly, practice makes perfect too! With more travelling experiences, you will become more proficient at breastfeeding while pumping, and be better prepared with time.

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Eleanor has kindly put together the following in a file you can access here. The file contains a checklist, useful links and labels that mums can use to prepare for their trips. Samples of the documents are shown below:

* Checklist for a Long Flight

Luggage & Cooler Box Labels

Useful links of Eleanor’s sharing on the BMSG Facebook Group (you will need to be a group member before being able to view):

  • Packing the cooler bag for long haul trips: here and here
  • Using Packit and Daiso icepack: here

Note: All documents are courtesy and credits to Eleanor Ho. Reproduced with permission.

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Interested in more pumping stories? Read articles we have published previously:

Newsletter #35: Role of Dads in Breastfeeding Families (Part 2)

By BMSG Editorial Team

This is Part 2 of our newsletter article that discusses and offers suggestions on what fathers can do to support their breastfeeding wives. Part 1 focused on the findings of a survey that we conducted on breastfeeding mothers to find out what form of support they most valued from their partners. Part 2 (below) will focus on speaking to dads who are supportive of and have assisted their breastfeeding wives, as well as line out suggestions of tasks and actions that fathers have done for other fathers to emulate.

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Acknowledging a Father’s Feelings

As wives and partners, it is definitely important for us to validate the feelings of our husbands, the new dads, just as much as how we would expect the same from them. Whether it is breastfeeding, child-rearing, or anything else that concerns the household, a healthy relationship is one that recognises the effect that events have on each partner.

Recognising this, we felt that it was also apt to talk to fathers themselves. We spoke to three fathers who shared about their roles in the breastfeeding journey.

Dads can play an active role in their newborn’s life by doing other things apart from feeding the baby. [Image for illustration]

Believing in the Mother’s Ability to Breastfeed

For many first-time parents, breastfeeding is one of the areas of child-rearing that many may not have any experience with. Many young parents today were not breastfed as children, due to highly successful formula campaigns back in the 70s and 80s. Fathers, especially, may not have grown up watching their mothers or other female family members breastfeed.

It is no surprise then that Rennie Iskandar Suprayitno, a father of one, had no expectations and prior knowledge about breastfeeding when his little one arrived. As with many other families, the first night bringing a newborn home must be the most challenging, and Iskandar had wondered, amidst the challenges, if breastfeeding was the right thing to do. “But we kept the faith; I knew my wife was never one to give up easily,” said the 37-year-old, who also works in the outdoor education industry. Clearly, his confidence and belief in his wife were key in helping her to persevere through the struggles.

Iskandar (left) with his son and wife, Mysha (right) [Credits: Nur Mysha Tan]

When his wife had difficulty latching, he involved himself by helping to feed his baby via the syringe and finger-feeding method. He also topped up her water bottle frequently so that she can remain hydrated, and helped to ensure she had ample privacy to nurse their baby. Iskandar was also able to help his wife in other ways: “When we both discovered that I was able to help to soothe and unblock her ducts, I felt that I could contribute. I know it means a lot when my son can have his fill, without compromising on my wife’s comfort.”

Support Comes in Many Forms

Similarly, Ben Goh, a father of 2, felt “a little neglected” in the beginning. But when he realised how hard his wife was working to breastfeed their babies, he decided that there were other forms of support he could provide.

“Knowing that what my wife was doing was the best for our child’s health, it motivated me to try to encourage her to go on since I could see it was very tiring for her,” said Ben. “I helped her when she needed to pump her milk, and then massaged her when she needed it. I also gave her water as well as warmed-up a lavender pillow when she had swollen breasts.”

Ben, left, with his wife Xiuwen (in black top) and their little ones. [Credits: Kwan Xiuwen]

He also knew that giving support need not be just physical; sometimes, a nursing mother and her baby just need space. “I always try to allow her to breastfeed comfortably and giving her ample time to feed our baby. This will be the time that I will try not to disturb her,” Ben added.

As his wife is still nursing their younger child, he continues to provide her space by taking care of their older boy. “I will tend to our older son when my wife needs to nurse the younger one,” said Ben.

Daddy the Bodyguard

While physical and mental support go a long way, defending the mother’s, and inevitably the family’s, decision to breastfeed a baby is one way that dads find they can contribute in making mothers feel positively. For Suhardi Suradi, a father of three boys, supporting his wife was a natural decision.

Suhardi Suradi with his three musketeers. Supporting his wife in her breastfeeding journey was a natural decision. [Credits: Atiqah Halim]

“I am proud that my wife breastfeeds. As first time parents, we were pressured by some people who are not pro-breastfeeding, who gave comments like “the baby is hungry”, “baby is not drinking enough”, “baby needs to drink plain water”. It helps that both of us are stubborn, ignoring these myths and just continue with our breastfeeding journey,” said Suhardi.

While he jokes that he doesn’t need to wake up at night to feed the baby, and just has to tap his wife to tend to the baby when he stirs at night for milk, Suhardi does something that may seem mundane but extremely helpful for his wife who works full-time: “I will help my wife wash & clean & sterilize her pump parts every morning before going to work.” This sort of simple help is invaluable in supporting mothers by removing some of their mental load and easing their burdens.

While we acknowledge that some fathers do feel that they cannot do much when baby is spending so much time at mummy’s breast, we are extremely heartened to discover from our survey that an overwhelming number of mothers have stated that their husbands have done so much more than feeding in order to establish a positive relationship, not just with the baby, but also with the mother.

Respecting the mother’s wish to breastfeed is one thing, but to take on other roles and chores, especially proactively, is something that deserves mention and recognition.

GUIDELINES FOR DADS

Based on the findings, there is a clear correlation between the extent of the husband’s presence with the confidence and satisfaction that mothers have towards breastfeeding. It also goes to show that breastfeeding, for these families, is not just the mother’s choice but also a family effort. If it takes both the mother and father to bring a baby into existence, these families knew that the next step would be to care for the baby together, including when breastfeeding becomes the family’s choice for breastfeeding.

We surveyed mothers online and in our workshops and meetings and compiled a non-exhaustive list of the things that dads have done or can do for their wives:

Physical Support:

  • Prepare a comfortable space for the breastfeeding mother and baby
  • Prioritise mum’s comfort: place pillows, snacks, fan/aircon remote, refill water bottles to be placed near mum’s breastfeeding space
  • Give back and shoulder massages when mum is tired and aching from breastfeeding for long periods of time
  • Carry babies to mum especially in the early days of postpartum or when she is tandem feeding
  • Wake up and change baby’s diaper before a night feed and carry him to give mum a chance to get up slowly
  • Bathe baby and change baby’s diapers
  • When baby no longer needs to feed and wants to settle, offer to carry or burp baby
  • Bring baby out if baby is fussy (and when mum needs a breather)
  • Help with the washing: breastpump, accessories, bottles, soiled bedsheets, soiled laundry
  • Do other chores around the house without being asked: put in the laundry, do the cleanup, tend to the mess left by older children. If you are hiring an external helper, do the calling and setting of appointment
  • If outside, help her put on her nursing cover or manage other baby gear and accessories (diaper bag, baby carrier, pump bag if she is exclusively pumping)
  • Helping to remove milk or relieve a blocked duct

Support from dads are extremely crucial and valuable to mums. [Image for illustration]

Mental and Emotional Support:

  • Provide encouraging and positive words when mums are facing challenges
  • Spend time with her when she is caught up with breastfeeding; talk to her and to baby, talk about other things so that she does not get bored (current affairs, latest movies, romance your partner)
  • Be her main pillar of support; bounce ideas with her, accompany her thought process when she needs to make important breastfeeding decisions
  • Be gentle with her even when she is all riled-up; her hormones are a hot mess
  • Sometimes, all she needs is a hug, cuddle or a shoulder to cry/rest on – these will also give you both some boost of oxytocin
  • Defend her especially in public social settings when her decision to breastfeed is being questioned

Ample Preparation to Provide Support to Wives:

  • Read up on breastfeeding with your partner during pregnancy
  • Find helpful links and resources when she needs some help troubleshooting obstacles
  • Understand why exactly breastfeeding is good for the baby
  • Share your knowledge and experiences with other dads who are expecting babies so that they can also support their wives better
  • Accompany her to antenatal and/or breastfeeding classes – take notes, ask questions, ask how exactly you can help if you are unsure

Conclusion

From the survey and interviews we have conducted, we are assured that getting dads on board with supporting their partners is not something new and is good for the growing family. Mothers are not meant to feel alone and fathers can educate themselves in learning how to support their breastfeeding spouse.

Mothers have also shown that they appreciate it when their partners show more proactivity in other areas of childminding, and not just in the areas of breastfeeding – there is so much else that needs to be done and this does not necessarily mean that a father’s bond with his baby will be affected.

Breastfeeding may take two long years of a child’s life conventionally, but there is a lifetime left after that that dads can be involved in their baby’s life. It’s just about finding a way to be involved, and being a true companion and team member, in their joint decision to breastfeed their children.