Breastfeeding & Festivities: Hari Raya Special

By Nabila Hanim, BMSG Counsellor

Just like many other festivities, Hari Raya is a day of celebration and joy yet it can also be overwhelming for mother and baby.

“Oh come, come! You can go into the room with your baby and susukan (nurse) your baby there, more comfortable!” said a relative of mine to me. I was perspiring in my baju kurung and carrying a wailing baby in tow – this was the ultimate invitation that I knew would provide us relief. I had wanted to look pristine for the day but there I was, feeling like I just needed to go home right there and then.

This was a scene from Hari Raya visiting about a few years ago and the third one with a baby, but it never gets better. Like many other festivities, Hari Raya brings with it joy, merriment (and FOOD!) but nothing beats the exhaustion and exasperation that comes with bringing a young breastfeeding baby in tow.

As a mother of three who have gone through the ups and downs of celebrating Hari Raya for the past seven years, I have four tips that can help make the lives of nursing mums and bubs that bit more comfortable to join in the merriment of celebrating Hari Raya.

Regardless of how old your baby is, always observe your baby’s cues for tiredness and fussiness.

Tip 1: Try to get some privacy

Back to the makcik (aunty) who offered me a room: it was the best.decision.ever.

Why? Because not only did I get the room to myself, and a bed even, to nurse my baby. I also get to escape from the huge crowd in the flat’s small living room filled with strangers in Hari Raya garb trying to get the last lontong in the pot. I could also unzip my baju kurung to breastfeed while at the same time enjoying the blasting fan all to myself, and sometimes if I am lucky, I get air-con!

While Hari Raya clothes are so pretty to look at, the material can be a pain. Non-absorbent, mixed with Singapore’s humidity, your sweat, and sometimes baby vomit can really be a recipe for disaster.

I have tried to breastfeed in the living rooms at some of my relatives’ homes. But if there is a huge crowd who seems to show a huge interest in my milk affair, I much prefer the comforts of a room. While it would be nice to breastfeed anywhere I can, I also do appreciate the respite that comes with a room to myself.

Exclusively pumping mums may also appreciate being allowed a room to pump milk in peace. I have also heard of mummy friends who pump in the car or at the void deck with a nursing cover before visiting. Whatever it is, make time for nursing because not only is it good for baby, you can also get some rest.

Preempting baby’s feeds and nursing for comfort are some ways you can try to manage your baby being overstimulated.

Tip 2: Watch your baby’s cues

Every year when we had a new baby, I would make a deal with my husband: “We will only visit four homes today, ok?” but we almost always ended up visiting more. Just like everything else, Hari Raya schedules are unpredictable.

I always try to manage my babies by looking out for their cues. With the flurry of activities and social interactions, including passing baby around, I always look out for my babies’ cues to see if they may need some time away from the crowd. If all things fail and baby remains fussy, be ready to change your plans and head home. I have found, too, that when baby is overstimulated in the day, it may signal a long night of fussiness ahead as baby may find it difficult to settle.

At times, I will also nurse a baby at the void-deck of the home we are about to visit or in the car with the aircon blasting before we head upstairs. This gives my babies and I ample time to regroup and for the family to just take a breather. If you also have other younger children, a quick pit-stop for ice-cream or rest at an air-conditioned restaurant can do wonders to your moods!

Elaborate outfits can contribute to your baby’s discomfort. Check that your outfit is not studded; this can be uncomfortable or too sharp for baby when you carry or feed him or her. Baby’s cheeks may also become sore if rubbed too hard on these. Additionally, such studs can easily come off if the sewing was not done properly – definitely a choking hazard!

Tip 3: Don’t miss feeds!

If you are embarrassed about asking for a room to feed your baby or pump, or if for some reason baby is sleeping longer than usual and not waking up to drink, remember to make time for feeding or pumping before you get engorged.

Missing a feed can cause a myriad of consequences that may not be comfortable for you and your baby:

  • Engorgement can lead to blocked ducts, which may be painful or cause other side effects such as lowered supply or mastitis
  • Engorgement may also cause a build up of foremilk which will then cause gassiness if baby feeds too much of it. Remember, a gassy baby may make a fussy baby = not fun for both of you
  • Lowered supply in the long run; breasts which are frequently emptied signals to your body to continue producing milk. Since Hari Raya visiting may also happen on weekends, it is absolutely important to ensure that you continue to latch on demand to maintain your supply. This may be especially helpful if you are a working mum on the weekdays and pumping milk for your baby’s next-day feeds.

Tip 4: Wear comfortable clothes for yourself and baby

Keep yours and baby’s clothings comfortable and continue to nurse to baby’s comfort throughout the day.

It is great that more and more designers and fashion companies are mindful of the needs of a nursing mother nowadays.

While nursing access is a must for any Raya outfit, material is equally important. If you still want to look classy and elegant on Hari Raya, opt for materials which offer more sheen or sequins, preferably not at the bust area as this may be uncomfortable for your baby.

There are also stretchable offerings for Hari Raya clothings such as stretch lace and even printed lycra. You can jazz up your skirt, shawls (if you are wearing one) or bags and shoes while keeping your top simple. If you wear a shawl or tudung, I also find it extra helpful to wear one with ample front coverage so that you do not need a nursing cover to feed. If you do need a nursing cover, some mums find that a plain one may work better than a printed one, since that can distract baby from nursing. You may also prefer a darker-coloured top if you are concerned about milk stains and sprays.

For baby, it may be helpful to bring several changes of clothes. There are also options for traditional wear for babies made from more comfortable material such as lycra or stretch cotton. Also, do not be afraid to make your baby wear something simple if that is more comfortable for baby. A simple onesie and socks may just be all that your baby can bear in this unbearably hot weather and hectic visiting schedule!

All in all, what’s important is that you and your baby’s comfort is top priority!

With the end of Ramadhan fast approaching, I wish all nursing mothers and their families a Selamat Hari Raya! May we reap the benefits and rewards of Ramadhan and be blessed with a joyous Syawal <3

Do you have other tips to  make breastfeeding more comfortable this Hari Raya? Share your comments below!