Newsletter #34: Lynn’s Story

Finding Valuable Support as a First-Time Breastfeeding Mother
by Lynn, as told to BMSG Editorial Team

While many expecting mothers are naturally excited to breastfeed their newborns due to arrive, for many, it can be a daunting task when the day arrives.

For Lynn, a first-time mother, the challenges she faced during her early days as a new breastfeeding mother left her feeling worn out and troubled. “(Breastfeeding) was definitely a steep learning curve for me,” said Lynn, a mother of a 20 month-old daughter, who recalls the early days.

Lynn and her husband were excited to meet their baby but soon realised that there was more to breastfeeding that meets the eye.

Steep Learning Curve

Lynn was shocked to learn that when she first tried to breastfeed, getting baby to latch and eventually getting a letdown was not as easy as what she had always expected and imagined. “When I went for the hospital briefing prior to giving birth, I watched a video where it seemed as if milk will just flow for a new mother who has just given birth. I realised I had also been influenced by what I had seen on television; that breastfeeding was something so natural and instinctual. I was totally unprepared for the real thing,” added the 39 year-old.

It was only later on when she began to seek support from like-minded mothers and breastfeeding counsellors whom she met from the Breastfeeding Mothers’ Support Group (Singapore) (BMSG) did she start to realise the amount of “bad” information she had been getting. “I only felt affirmed after I had discovered BMSG. After being part of the closed support group, I managed to correct some of my own misconceptions about breastfeeding. Breastfeeding became a lot better after that as I had a more realistic expectation of it,” Lynn added.

Companions who Provided Emotional Support

Knowing more about breastfeeding since then, Lynn went on to seek company who provided her much restraint and healthy distractions when the going gets tough.

One of the things Lynn feels most poignant about is the mental struggle that comes with caring for a baby. For many mums in their postpartum period, a significant number feel a form of baby blues. This could be manifested through feeling sad or unhappy, as the body’s hormones start to settle after a long period of pregnancy. She was fortunate to have the support of her family members. “My husband, my mother, sister and brother told me to acknowledge my feelings; it was OK to be unhappy if I feel unhappy,” said Lynn, who has since returned to work when her baby was almost five months’ old.

Her husband, especially, has been her rock. She loved that he took the trouble to learn with her during her breastfeeding journey. “He has since always supported my decision to breastfeed. He is quick to defend me when we meet family members, friends or even doctors and nurses who may doubt the benefits of breastfeeding,” added Lynn. Some of the things he has defended include how breastfeeding makes a mother weak, or that breastmilk is useless for older babies; Lynn and her 20 month-old bub are still going on strong and it doesn’t look like she will be weaning her baby off anytime soon.

Meeting other mothers were a crucial factor in helping Lyn adapt to what is normal in breastfeeding.

Finding Comfort in Other Mothers

Lynn also sought her motherhood “tribes”; she went on to make two good mummy friends whom she chatted up at the playground. “These “veteran” mummies showed me what was normal with breastfeeding,” added Lynn. She also sought support with the babywearing community, such as Babywearing SG, and found that it empowered her to be more independent as a breastfeeding mother. “I did things I never knew possible. I could now go to the toilet without having to hold my baby AND finally being able to have frequent meals, all while babywearing,” she quips.

Most significantly, she also finds joy in a group of like-minded mummy friends whom she still depend on today for support, ideas and humour. “Our growing children throw all sorts of antics, be it new breastfeeding stunts, growing new teeth, or surprise growth spurts. Tough nights always warrant some online time in our private ‘thinktank’, ” she said.

Lynn built mental resilience, which helped her overcome the challenges that came her way.

Mental Resilience

At the end of her maternity leave, Lynn was ready to return to the workforce. Her strong support, especially in the form of her family and friends, helped her to ease into the transition. When she started working again and had to pump milk for her baby, she faced some challenges.

“The nature of my job is that I have no fixed working place,” said Lynn, who works as a consultant in business risk management. As a result, when it was time to pump, she may be at a location that doesn’t allow it. Fortunately, she has also met understanding clients and co-workers who help her to find a suitable place to pump. “It’s heartwarming when they (clients) offer me their nursing rooms or cordon off a private space for me, just to pump,” said Lynn. Of course, there were times when such luxuries were unavailable and she was asked to pump in toilets or told off about her needing to pump. She had also received comments such as “You can’t work on overseas projects if you breastfeed,” a misconception she has since proven untrue.

Lynn is also an archery coach, a hobby she is passionate about. But similarly, when she is carrying out training sessions, pumping on-the-go or “in the wild” as she jokes, was a regular occurrence. She is fortunate to have very supportive trainees who understand her need to pump when the time arrives.

Lynn’s support system is the reason why she feels satisfaction towards breastfeeding.

Support System Biggest Reason for Success

As we can learn from Lynn’s story, success doesn’t come without struggles and challenges. With the right support and mental resilience, a breastfeeding mother can overcome the odds. Lynn’s story was not without pitfalls, and like many other mothers, she had met her fair share of challenges. Her story is also a reminder that there is a lot of work that continues to be necessary in helping the immediate community a mother lives in understand that a breastfeeding mother wants to be valued and supported. The narrative that breastfeeding is a mother’s job alone is incorrect; together, with strong support from families, employees and friends, a mother who wants to breastfeed can make that intention not just for herself, but as part of a collective effort in bringing up future generations in a way that the mother and her family feel best.

Newsletter #33: Mother’s Sharing – New Baby, New Beginnings

By Stacey Tham, BMSG Volunteer
Photos courtesy of Stacey Tham

From an exclusively pumping mother-of-one to a fully latching mum, Stacey tells us about her rollercoaster breastfeeding journey breastfeeding her two children.

Stacey Tham is a mother of two who managed to switch to exclusively latching her second baby after exclusively pumping for her first. Throughout both her deliveries, she also succeeded in providing excess breastmilk to many babies in need.

Facing Unexpected Challenges

When I had my first child, I knew that breastfeeding was what I wanted. I was surrounded by other mothers, some of whom were already breastfeeding, and I also felt that breastfeeding should be the norm. However, I did not know what to expect; I was not part of any support groups for mothers online or offline and nobody told me breastfeeding could be challenging.

Breastfeeding was not at all what I had expected. Although my supply kicked in really fast by Day 5, I was soon down with engorgement, mastitis and also blocked ducts caused by milk blisters which I was totally unaware of. It was indeed depressing for me as a first-time mum. At first, I remember feeling annoyed that everyone around me was telling me not to give up and to endure for the baby. I felt that everyone was focusing on the baby and not on my well-being as a new mother. I cried almost every day during my confinement because I always woke up with engorged breasts; it was happening about 80% of the time! It would dampen my mood for the rest of the day, especially since I was experiencing some sort of baby blues. I visited my gynaecologist, lactation consultant and also a breast specialist every other day for the first month. Everyone told me my problem was due to oversupply and it was a happy problem. But I felt embarrassed that I totally did not enjoy motherhood, and sad about how my life took a 180 degree turn from what it was before.

I felt that everyone was focusing on the baby and not on my well-being as a new mother.

Finding Support

When I decided to open up about my plight with my friends, I came to know of several breastfeeding groups and I read about other mummies’ experiences there. It is definitely more comforting when you realise that there are also other mummies who are in the same shoes as yourself. Reading more about the benefits of breastfeeding also helped me to remember the reason I was breastfeeding – that it would benefit my kids, rather than trying to keep up with other mums.

Turning to Pump Exclusively

As my nipples were extremely sore, and I never managed to successfully latch my baby, coupled with all the other issues I had, I ended up exclusively pumping. I am very pleased to share, though, that I managed to bless my excess milk supply to two other babies during my first breastfeeding journey which lasted one year.

However, I was determined to exclusively latch my second child when I discovered that I was pregnant again.

Stacey with her little family, while breastfeeding her second child on-the-go. Her second baby will be turning two this year.

The Start of a New Chapter

When my second child was born, I was eager to latch my baby. I was experiencing sore nipples but was determined to bear with the pain so that I can continue latching. Little did I know that I was suffering from open wounds on my nipples. I had four episodes of fever during my confinement because of that, visited the breast specialist and subsequently infectious disease specialist before I got the nipple treated.

During this period, I exclusively latched on the other breast, while pumping the affected one as pumping was less painful. However, the pain was still very unbearable due to the open wound, especially since it rubbed against the flange of the pump. The wound took about one month to recover.

Despite the rough start, I went on to breastfeed my baby, who will be turning 2 in July 2019.

Stacey and her children, all smiles 🙂

Blessing Excess Milk

This time round, I was also really pleased to bless my milk to other babies again, especially a preemie who was born at just 28 weeks. The baby’s mum shared with me that she was not able to keep up with her baby’s needs, and when her son had been discharged from hospital, she was not able to obtain breast milk from the milk bank for her baby anymore as he was over the age limit. She tried feeding formula milk exclusively but as her son’s digestive system was not matured yet, he tended to regurgitate after every feed. I supplied her with my milk stash for a few months and I was really happy that my milk was able to help a baby in need.

My past experience on breastfeeding definitely help managed my expectations this time as a second time mum. That also helped me to manage my emotions and I enjoyed the journey right from the start. It was much better when I was mentally prepared for it.

Family support is what kept Stacey going during her arduous journey in the early days of breastfeeding. Having a supportive husband and family members made the journey a little bit easier.

Advice for New Mums:

  1. Support is Crucial

For a pleasant breastfeeding journey, any kind of support helps, especially from the family! For example, my husband helped to wash my pump parts while my mum very gladly emptied up her freezer space for my pumped milk when my standalone freezer was full.  Such acts made me feel that I was not alone on this journey.

To the husbands, your support and companionship do a lot for the relationship between you and your wives. I once joked with my husband that he was always getting a good night’s sleep while I wake up frequently to latch our second baby throughout the night. After that, however, he ended up carrying the baby to me for every feeding throughout the night. I was very touched as he was also already back at work while I was still on maternity leave. As a man of a few words, his actions meant a lot to me. He was willing to have interrupted sleep just to show his support for me on this journey.

My family members also helped me in supporting my breastfeeding journey; they were such a great help and understood the importance of helping a nursing mum out. Once, my freezer compartment broke down and my brother- and mother-in-law drove by to our house to bring my milk stash to be stored in their freezer temporarily. I really appreciated that gesture very, very much.

To the husbands, your support and companionship do a lot for the relationship between you and your wives.

2) Gaining as much knowledge about breastfeeding as possible

Reading up on breastfeeding is one of the best things you can gift yourself as a new mother. It really helps when one is equipped with the basic knowledge of breastfeeding. The infographics in the BMSG online support group and website are extremely useful!

3) Share your concerns with other mothers

Don’t be afraid to seek help and share your problems! I always feel so much better speaking to fellow mummies when they can totally relate to what I have been through.

4) Determination

Don’t give up easily. I share my experience to let fellow mummies know that they are not alone when they face breastfeeding problems. Maintaining mummies’ well being is very important and I believe a mummy needs to be happy so that she can enjoy motherhood. However, it is also equally important for them to put in their best if they want to breastfeed their babies.

I am honest with my friends by telling them that the best way to boost milk supply is to constantly remove milk from the breasts. As we all know, a mother’s milk supply is highest at night and if the baby is not nursing at night, then they will need to pump to boost supply. It can be really difficult when you are very tired but we know that the midnight pump yields the best supply.

Being a mother really makes you realise the strength that you never thought you had. Most of the time, it is really about biting the bullet and moving on. Things will get better!