Aug ’18 Newsletter: Counsellor Spotlight – Ellen Nepilly

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 Ellen Nepilly, a mum of three children who hails from Germany. Ellen has also recently obtained her International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) certification!

Hi Ellen! It’s been a year since you joined the BMSG! Tell us more about yourself and what inspired you to become a breastfeeding counsellor.

It all started with the birth of my twins in 2009. They were seven weeks early and I needed a lot of help and support, especially emotionally, to manage all the pumping and hand expressing. I had a lot of support from the wonderful nurses and lactation consultants (LCs) at the hospital in Japan back then when I was still living there.

I was also in touch with Iona McNab who is an IBCLC and a La Leche League (LLL) leader. She was my rock as I could always call on her when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. I suffered from mastitis and all kinds of issues but she never ceased to be positive and encouraging. I will always thank her for that and wanted to pay it forward.

Ellen (in pink) at the recent Big Latch On held at NUH. [Credits: Ellen Nepilly]

We also hear that you recently have obtained the IBCLC certification. Congratulations! Could you tell us more about your experience going through the certification? Is it a route that counsellors can or should take?

Back then I already knew that I wanted to become an IBCLC one day but never thought I would get there because I have no midwifery or nursing background and had to catch up on extra college courses to sign up for the exam.

It was not easy having no background as a healthcare professional. It was certainly the hardest and most stressful exam I have ever taken. I was required to fulfil 1,000 hours as a breastfeeding counsellor helping mums and 90 hours of lactation-specific studying and complete 15 college level courses.

The college level courses can be taken online so it was possible and manageable for me. I had already obtained a Bachelor’s Degree, and as such I was used to studying and writing papers. I was also able to use my health coach certificate for the nutrition course, and had taken sociology already. I luckily found a group on social media that helped finding all the online courses I needed. Figuring out which courses to take is already quite a lot of work so I’m very thankful for that group. It helped me a lot.

Becoming an IBCLC is not necessarily something every counsellor should aim for. You can help mothers as a counsellor in many ways. Often emotional support and positive words are all that a mother needs in order to push through and keep going.

The reason I wanted to become an IBCLC was because I wanted to do it as a full-time profession, which may not be every counsellor’s goal.

Ellen (2nd from left, top row) and other counsellors at one of BMSG’s Mum 2 Mum Meetups this year. [Credits: Ellen Nepilly]

How has being part of the BMSG changed your life or impacted the way you help mothers?

As an expatriate here in Singapore, it has certainly helped me meet more locals. It feels like being part of a big family of breastfeeding supporters. Our counsellors are all awesome mums who spend a lot of their free time supporting fellow breastfeeding mums, so it’s a very special tribe.

As a counsellor with BMSG, I am really enjoying getting to know the different cultures and customs that come with all the different ethnicities here in Singapore. I met an Indian mum the other day whose aunt was there to help her with her newborn. She had a lot of breastfeeding knowledge and showed me an infant feeder that I had so far only seen in a textbook.

What is your dream for the breastfeeding community in Singapore and where you come from?

My dream is that governments will become much more supportive of breastfeeding by helping to provide increased education and awareness in this area, thereby weakening the influence formula milk companies have over doctors and hospitals. I will be happy if all hospitals could achieve the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) status, as that would mean that mothers can easily receive all they help they would need after giving birth.

What is your best advice for individuals who are interested in becoming breastfeeding counsellors?

Just go for it. We have a new mentorship programme in our Facebook group. Unfortunately, we currently have more mentors signed up than mentees so we cannot assign them all. But starting out in our breastfeeding group by giving supportive advice to breastfeeding mums is a good way to see what other mums have to deal with and it will give you an idea of what to expect as a counsellor. Come to our breastfeeding group programmes and support mums there by sharing your story with them! Come to our events, get to know us and we’ll hopefully see you when our next batch of counsellors are being trained.

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

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 to be placed on the waitlist for the 2019 intake of counselling training!