Counsellor Spotlight: Kwan Xiuwen – June 2018 Newsletter

By the BMSG Editorial Team

This month, we celebrate the graduation of our new counsellors who have completed their 10-week training in June. They have officially started their new duties a few days ago and are raring to go! One of them is Kwan Xiuwen, a full-time mother of two boys who was previously working as a technical writer for 10 years before leaving the workforce. We speak with her to find out how the training went and what her aspirations are, as a newly-minted breastfeeding counsellor with the BMSG.

Xiuwen (in blue) with her lovely family. [Credits: Kwan Xiuwen]

Congratulations on graduating from the 2018 intake of the BMSG Breastfeeding Counselling Training! How does it feel to finally become a #bmsgcounsellor?

Thank you! The BMSG counselling training was a great bonding experience, thanks to all the wise, warm, and generous ladies involved. I have mixed feelings about the completion of my training. I’m sad that I won’t be seeing everyone on a regular basis anymore. I’m nervous about whether I can identify what each mum who I will counsel really wants to know, and yet make sure that I’m also identifying what they need to know, so that mums can find the best solutions for both themselves and baby. However, I’m confident that the experienced counsellors will be compassionate and helpful in guiding me to improve my skills further. And I’m elated that I can do my bit to help mums make informed decisions about breastfeeding their babies.

Could you tell us about the whole training process from the start right up to graduation? What were some of the things you had to do during training to equip you with the necessary skills to become a breastfeeding counsellor?

The training process was focused on empowering each mum to make the right decision for her family’s unique situation. In order to do so, the training consisted of three parts: breastfeeding knowledge, counseling skills, and lastly how to interact with ethics and inclusiveness.

During the breastfeeding knowledge component, we learned the mechanics of breastfeeding: how the body is designed to work with the baby to produce milk. We also learned about many related areas: the importance of breastfeeding during the first hour after birth, the capacity of a newborn’s stomach as well as the benefits of skin to skin. The training also touched on areas that are not strictly breastfeeding-related, but essential to mothers of newborns: baby sleeping patterns, first foods, and how to deal with the chaos that is early motherhood. This first component of the training taught us the ‘hard skills’: the information to be communicated.

Our baby-friendly counselling training in session.

During the  second component of the course, we learned counselling skills: how to speak to mums that would make them feel heard and understood. To do this, we tried to internalize the concept of unconditional positive regard: supporting mothers without judging them, no matter what the situation. Besides this overarching mindset, we also learned ways of identifying what the mum wants  to know, filling in any knowledge gaps that she may not be aware of, while ensuring that baby is well. We also practiced many counselling micro-skills: for example, we learned responses that would help mums retain information even when they are frustrated and sleep-deficient. This second component of the training taught us the ‘soft’ skills: how to communicate the information in an appropriate way.

During the third component of the course, we learned about how the BMSG code of ethics protects the various participants: for example, it protects mums from exploitation, protects BMSG’s reputation, and protects counsellors from conflicts of interest. This component of the course also included elements of inclusivity: how to communicate in a way that respects people who may differ from ourselves in terms of culture, language, family type, or economic situation. The third component of the training taught us to be aware of the broader environment: the community of which the BMSG is a part.  

Our newly-minted counsellors will serve on board our remote and physical counselling platforms.

Any memorable moments during training that you would like to share?

One of our assignments required us to reframe a negative part of our real lives to put a positive spin on it. Many of us shared deeply personal experiences and showed how meaningful it is to reframe and shift stubbornly negative perspectives. In our current social-media-heavy culture, it seems that triumphs are celebrated and everyday frustrations swept out of sight, so I was amazed to hear that the other mums were facing problems similar to mine. I felt that although it is thrilling to achieve externally-validated results, what sustains the spirit in the long term is the ability to make such shifts in perspective that allow us to validate our own day-to-day experiences.

 

What would you say to mums who are aspiring to become breastfeeding counsellors? Any words of advice or encouragement?

Volunteering takes time, effort and resources, with seemingly little personal benefit. However, attending the training alone has convinced me that volunteering can be a fulfilling experience. Besides having a positive impact on the health of breastfeeding mums and their children, you can also remind mums that what they do is valuable beyond measure, even when they are neck-deep in newborns, toddlers, and yet-to-be-folded laundry. In addition, in the role of a breastfeeding counsellor, there are so many skills that you can practice that are relevant to building healthy relationships with those around you, such as active listening, respecting others’ choices, and developing empathy for those with different values and beliefs.

What a great win-win situation: helping others, while improving your own interpersonal skills!

 

Interested in joining the BMSG as a breastfeeding counsellor? Email nabila@breastfeeding.org.sg to be placed on the waitlist for the 2019 intake of counselling training!

 

Mother’s Sharing: Sending Breastmilk Back Home

As told to the BMSG Editorial Team

For many of us, being separated geographically from our breastfeeding babies would take a severe toll on our breastfeeding relationships. Felirose Bartolome, however, was absolutely determined to make it work. She is a medical technologist at a Singaporean hospital, and the mother of two young children aged two years old and six months old has been pumping and transporting milk back to her children ever since they were born. She had breastfed her older child till she turned one and is now still breastfeeding her younger child.

Felirose with her sweet baby boy. [Credits: Felirose Bartolome]

Coupled with the pressure of having to pump while at work with a hectic schedule, Felirose faces another headache: having to transport her frozen milk back home to the Philippines. She shares how she sends her milk all the way back home:

“I bring my milk with me when I return to the Philippines every month. If any of my colleagues or friends are going to the Philippines, I would usually ask them to bring my milk with them. I put the milk in a cooler box (a Coleman or Pinnacle box) and use Techni-ice (a type of ice pack that can last up to 18 hours) to keep my milk frozen.

I freeze all my milk in the same quantity so I know how many I can put in the cooler box and how many Techni-ice I need to use. The breastmilk must always be in the check-in luggage,  so I pay for my friends’ extra luggage space.

My parents pick up the milk at the airport and bring it back home. So far, no milk is wasted, and every pack has remained totally frozen. I’m really thankful for the support system that I have and for being able to find tools to help me keep my milk frozen.”

Felirose’s older child, Gianna, who is 2 years old. [Credits: Felirose Bartolome]

When asked what was the biggest challenge in the whole process, she replied: “Time is the most challenging to me, as I need to make sure that I do not pack my milk too early in the event of a flight delay. My milk needs to be packed at least two hours before the flight and I need to factor in the journey of going to the airport.”

Felirose also recounted how one of her friends had faced a flight delay and that was one of the most stressful times for her. “My friend’s flight had been delayed for three hours and I really prayed that my milk was all okay. Imagine having packed the milk earlier than two hours before the actual flight time and then having the milk wait out another four hours during the flight to the Philippines. He also had to queue for immigration and collecting his luggage before handing the milk over to my parents. My parents will then make a two-hour journey to reach our home.”

Felirose emphasises how important it is to ensure that you use as many ice packs as possible, especially ones of good quality that are guaranteed to keep milk frozen for as long as possible. She also maintained that a cooler is the best way to transport everything and keep the milk intact.

Felirose usually packs her milk in a securely sealed cooler box filled with ample Techni-ice packs. [Credits: Felirose Bartolome]

The pressure of managing the logistics of the whole process is truly unimaginable. For Felirose, her resolve to give her breastmilk to her children keeps her going. When her older daughter was still a baby, Felirose had to return to work in Singapore and was unsure if she could continue to breastfeed her child. Many of her other colleagues had given up breastfeeding prematurely because of the strain and stress of work and pumping. However, she soon discovered that she was able to maintain her supply. There was also a time she had an oversupply and was able to donate some of her milk to her friend’s child.

“Expressing milk is hard work, really, but when I see my kids growing healthily, I feel my sacrifices have paid off. My children don’t fall sick easily and this reassures me especially since I live so far away from them and can’t nurse them when they are ill,” Felirose said. She wants to give her children as much of her breastmilk for as long as she can, right up to the last drop.

Felirose has also had her fair share of challenges as a pumping mum. She has experienced engorgement and subsequently suffered from blocked ducts and mastitis due to the irregular schedule of her work. There was also a time when she struggled to produce enough as she was facing stress from work and missing her children; during that time she was only able to produce 10ml per breast.

“But I never surrendered,” she added. “I did all I could to boost my supply again and when I’m expressing my milk, I always look at the pictures and videos of my children that my mother sends me.” She advises other mothers who might be facing a similar situation: “Don’t give up and try your best! Do everything you can for your children.”

Felirose intends to continue to pump and send her milk to her hometown against all odds as she wants to breastfeed her younger boy till he turns two. We wish all mothers like Felirose the very best, even as you strive to provide your children with precious breastmilk despite the gruelling challenges, whether living apart from your children or travelling for work. You are indeed an inspiration to all of us!

“Expressing milk is hard work, really, but when I see my kids growing healthily, I feel my sacrifices have paid off. My children don’t fall sick easily and this reassures me especially since I live so far away from them and can’t nurse them when they are ill.”

Felirose Bartolome

BMSG’s infographic for mums who want to know how to pack their frozen breastmilk for a long-haul trip.