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.