By BMSG Editorial Team
As part of recognising the work of our volunteer counsellors, we will be featuring our counsellors regularly in our monthly newsletter. Our counsellors come from all walks of life, which adds diversity to our counsellor team. This month, we feature Atiqah Halim, a working mum of 3 boys who recently gave birth to her youngest baby.
1) Tell us more about yourself!
Hi, I’m Atiqah. Mum of 3 boys. Currently working with the Civil Service College. In my free time, I organise play dates and blog about my experiences travelling with young kids in tow.
2) How long have you been a breastfeeding counsellor?
I attended training to be a counsellor since March last year. We assumed duties as counsellors from June 2017. So it’s been about 7 months or so.
3) What inspired you to become a volunteer counsellor?
I realised that a lot of new mums out there are not getting the right information and support that they need when it comes to breastfeeding matters. In my own personal capacity, I try to provide nuggets of information to friends, family and colleagues but these were purely based on my experiences breastfeeding my 2 older boys. Since this is a topic that I was passionate about, I felt there was space to do more, and then I happened to chance upon BMSG’s advert calling for more breastfeeding counsellors and decided to go for it.
4) What were some of the most memorable moments you had in your counselling work?
My counsellor duties include managing the BMSG helpline and Facebook support group during my allocated shifts as well as conducting Breastfeeding & Going Back to Work workshops. I have conducted two workshops so far, and it was meaningful because you get to meet mummies (and daddies) who are so eager to learn and get support for their breastfeeding journeys. Having gone through 2 rounds of “going back to work post-maternity leave” myself, I felt there was plenty I could share from my own as well as other mummies’ experiences on how to make that transition. I also enjoy the phone counselling calls because of the “personal touch” and it feels great to know that you have helped to alleviate some of the anxiety that mummies have during their breastfeeding journey.
5) How do you juggle between your responsibilities at home, at work, and your counselling duties?
I must say I’m very lucky to have an excellent support network back home. My mum takes care of my babies in their first 2 years, just so I can return to the workforce. Now, both my elder kids are attending full day childcare but my dad will fetch them from school and bring them back to their place. There’s no pressure on my part to have to leave work on time and fetch them from their childcare. Also, since I gave birth to #1, I’ve made arrangements for part-time help with the household chores. That has been helpful too, as we can spend our weekends with the kids and not worry too much about all the chores that needed to be done back home. My husband has been an excellent form of support, too. On days that I have to be in office early because of work, he handles the kids in the morning by himself and I must say he’s really awesome at it. I don’t have much to worry about when I’m away at work because I know the kids are well taken care of – at home, in school and at my mum’s place.
The counsellors’ training for 2018 will begin this month! We wish our trainee counsellors all the best and we look forward to having you with BMSG. Interested in becoming a counsellor? Look out for our trainings, which are held annually, in 2019!
By Diana Yeow (BMSG Volunteer)
Prior to my son’s birth, I had started reading up about breastfeeding and participated in several online breastfeeding support groups to learn from the experiences of other mothers. I thought that I was more prepared than I could ever be and I was expecting an easy, smooth-sailing, and successful breastfeeding journey. After all, breastfeeding is the most natural and instinctual thing a female body was built for, just like childbirth, right? Boy, was I wrong.
From the time my son was just born, we had latching issues. Coupled with his short hospital stay when he was three to five days old for phototherapy due to jaundice, we were off to a rough start. As an anxious first time mother, I had heeded the misguided advice of a friend to offer bottled formula milk as the “best way to flush out bilirubin”, according to her, and to avoid offering breastmilk which could prolong jaundice. I was desperate to try out any measure that can help my child clear his jaundice as quickly as possible. However, I wanted to try to provide for my child with the best nutrition available. Hence, I began my pumping journey and started pumping breastmilk for my baby when he was barely a few days old until his jaundice levels had gone down.
Without a confinement lady, domestic helper, or other family members around to assist me during confinement, my early motherhood journey felt like an endless loop of latching practice, bottle feedings, 2.5-hourly pumping sessions, diaper changes, and whatever chores I could squeeze in during the baby’s nap time. My body did not respond well to pumping initially and coupled with the stress and lack of rest led to insufficient supply. In turn, the undersupply created more stress which undermined any of my efforts to boost my supply. I found myself trapped this vicious cycle of stress and low supply.
I vividly recall an incident that happened when my stress level was at its peak. It was another regular night with my infant. I woke as soon as I heard his cries and proceeded to carry him to the kitchen with me. I placed a bottle of expressed breastmilk in the bottle warmer and stood there swaying on the spot to keep the baby calm and quiet, with my eyes barely open. After about what felt like five minutes, I reached out my hand to get the bottle from the warmer only to realise there was no bottle there. I also realised I was not even carrying my baby. In my puzzled and shocked state, I returned to my bedroom to find my baby still sleeping soundly in the playpen and went back to the kitchen to find the bottle still cold beside the warmer. While I brushed the incident aside and proceeded to prepare for my usual middle-of-the-night pump session, this sleep hallucination episode got me thinking about how much stress and anxiety I had been under since I began my motherhood and breastfeeding journey.
I also came to realise that I had a lot of anxiety arising from tracking yield amounts and my child’s milk intake. Every day, I found myself tracking and chasing my “KPIs”, setting new goals every week that I had to achieve. I kept to my pumping schedule religiously; if my boy was awake, he would be beside me on the bed till the session ended. Due to my strict timeline, I hardly left the house as that would require too much planning and logistics.
At this point, I am thankful for my husband who took on the night shifts throughout his paternity leave and even on some work nights, which gave me slightly more rest time as I mainly focused on pumping sessions at nights. He even took on his daddy duties at mealtimes, even if he was starving after a day’s work, letting his food grow cold while I ate first.
At times I truly hated this arrangement since we never spent any time together anymore, much less have a meal with each other. At the same time, I also felt pressured to be able to handle all of my duties as a stay-at-home-mum. However, my husband’s only condition at that time was simply that I rest more, which I logically understood. Nonetheless, psychologically, I felt a sense of loneliness. As I was not working then, it almost felt to me like I was trapped at home by myself all the time.
Gradually over time, as our child caring duties got less hectic, things got better and I found myself less stressed and depressed about struggling with motherhood and the loss of couple time. I also realised that over time, as I decided to be less rigid on my pumping schedule and less obsessive about my yield “KPIs”, my breastfeeding journey became more bearable and even fun. Ironically, that was when my yield started increasing.
With the gracious help from my family and my in-laws, we were able to have more outings as I also grew more confident about slotting in pumping sessions while we were out – even where nursing rooms were not available. I have had the fun experience of pumping with a nursing cover at cafes and restaurants, in the cinema, and even in the car to make the best use out of travelling time. We even managed to arrange a trip to the beautiful Cameron Highlands.
The early days were definitely tough but in every challenge is a silver lining and an opportunity to rise out of it. Everything else will eventually fall in place; that would be my best advice for mothers out there who are facing similar predicaments as I did.
By BMSG Editorial Team
Compiled by Nabila Hanim (Volunteer Breastfeeding Counsellor)
As a breastfeeding mother who sent two of my children to IFC, I can concur that the struggle is real. A few weeks ago, we wrote a post on the BMSG Facebook group asking mothers for the best tips and strategies to handle the challenges of sending our babies to IFC.
Below is a list of some of the recommendations that we have compiled from mummies who responded on the thread:
1) Check if the IFC is ready to handle breastmilk and breastfed babies
This goes at the top of our list simply because it matters if the IFC is well-equipped with facilities such as a fridge with a freezer, a bottle warmer as well as trained teachers who know how to prepare breastmilk. These are essential to help us have peace of mind. Secondly, it is important that you maintain constant communication with your baby’s teachers. You should communicate early how your baby prefers to be fed, the recommended amounts (refer to “Preparing Your Baby’s Feed” below) as well as your baby’s feeding frequency. At the beginning of your baby’s stay, you may find your baby’s teachers taking some time to figure out a routine.If you find that your baby is drinking more than usual, check that the teachers are aware of the paced bottle feeding method (read more here). If you find your baby reverse cycling, assure the teachers that this is normal and that baby will catch up with you when you return home. If baby is rejecting the bottle when otherwise he wouldn’t, also encourage teachers that this is temporary. Educate teachers on alternative feeding methods such as spoon, medicine cup or syringe if baby seems to be rejecting the bottle for awhile.Most importantly, keep the communication going. Most IFC have a communication book where teachers will record their day-to-day observations of your baby. This is also where you can put instructions (such as which bottle to feed first) or repeat reminders such as baby’s preferences during feeding or sleeping times. Speak with your baby’s main caregiver frequently to know how baby is adapting and if your baby’s teacher needs support on how to care for your baby.
2) Find out the Teacher:Baby Ratio
This is especially important if your baby’s IFC has a lot of babies. Most IFCs will allow parents to stay for the first day. This is when you can observe what one mother called “the rush hour” when most babies are due for a feed. You can observe how your milk is being warmed up and how your baby is being fed, among other routines. While it is ideal to have a lower teacher to student ratio, it may not always be possible. Having continued communication makes it easier for your baby’s teachers to remember what his needs are. Most centres have a whiteboard where they openly record baby’s feeding times and other routines and reminders for teachers.
3) Preparing your baby’s milk – Make it easy for caregivers
Just like how you would prepare feeds for your baby’s caregiver when you leave baby at home, the same goes for when you send your baby to IFC. Since the IFC can be a busy place during meal times, many mothers commented that storing milk directly into bottles was one of the best ways to ensure that milk could be warmed up quickly for a hungry baby. We wouldn’t want a very angry baby who may end up being so flustered and rejecting the bottle. One mother labelled her bottles (1, 2, 3, 4) to indicate which bottle to feed first. Some mothers also took over the job of washing used bottles at home instead of getting the teachers to do it so that the centre focuses on just giving babies the milk without having to worry about cleaning bottles.Some mothers also make sure that they have emergency frozen milk stored in the centre’s freezer. Parents should provide enough for baby’s stay throughout the day till baby leaves. You may also need to decide if you would want some spare milk for baby’s trip home in case you are not the one bringing him home.
4) Have a Trial Week
While every second with your baby is precious during maternity leave, consider having a trial few days or a week if you can afford it. This gives you some time to figure out the early morning rush hour, your pumping routine, as well as providing enough time for you and your baby’s teachers to familiarize and adapt to one another. Be prepared to be called back in the event baby refuses to feed from the bottle or becomes inconsolable from being separated from you; linger around or near the IFC for a bit during the first few days. Trial days also mean that you don’t have to take urgent leave off work which can be reserved for baby’s sick days in the future. Some mothers do this gradually, though. You may want to try leaving baby behind for a few hours the first two days and then a full day from the third day onwards.
5) Direct-Latched Babies: How to Manage Baby’s Sleep at IFC
Most mums who direct-latched their babies are naturally very concerned about how baby will fall asleep at IFC. Since they would have probably co-slept with baby at home, a lot of mothers worry if their babies will be able to self-soothe to sleep without latching on. On the contrary, mothers who commented said that they discovered that their babies adapt differently in their absence. Some mums find that their babies may fall asleep at the same time they feed from the bottle and their bodies adjust accordingly. This seems natural since it mimics drinking from the breast. Other babies seem to adapt to the caregiver’s way of putting baby to sleep such as patting, rocking or cradling. Whichever way your baby grows accustomed to, it is important to give time to your baby’s teacher to learn your baby’s preferences. Communicating this during your daily visits is important to help baby settle down as quickly as possible.
Words of Encouragement
It was heartwarming to see many mothers encouraging one another on the thread in the Facebook post I mentioned earlier. One thing is for sure, for those of us who send our babies to IFC, seeing them grow and thrive after a rough start is heartwarming. We know that mummy-guilt wrecks even the best of us and for a long time, that dilemma may sit deeply in our hearts. But we know that this is the choice that we have made and we make the best out of it.
Reflecting on my own experience of sending my two boys to IFC, I learnt that even very young children can adapt and thrive in different environments. The IFC played a huge part in helping them have a comfortable stay and in ensuring their needs are met. On top of the support for breastfed babies, it was also the sincere love, care and concern that the teachers had for my children that made me feel at ease and trusting of them, especially when I walked out of the door leaving my children behind for another day at work.