By Nabila Hanim, BMSG Staff
This year, 18 new counsellors graduated from the BMSG counselling training programme. Due to a high number of applicants this year, our new counsellors had to undergo an initial albeit competitive pre-assessment component as part of the selection process before going through an intensive 10 weeks of training, assignments and assessments. In early August, all our counsellor trainees graduated and were officially inducted into our counselling family earlier. Almost two months on the job, we speak to three of our new counsellors to find out just how it has been for them so far and if becoming a #bmsgcounsellor has changed their lives.
BMSG: What made you decide to become a counsellor? Was it a calling? What inspired you to apply for training?
When I had my first baby, I had wanted to breastfeed him very desperately. I had dreamed that motherhood would be smooth and full of laughter, cuddles and breastfeeding but unfortunately, I couldn’t breastfeed him. Due to lack of information and support from hospital staff and family back in India, and artificial milk being pushed upon me, I hardly had a chance to breastfeed. I faced pressure from family to feed my son formula milk. I was slipping into depression and I fought very hard to stay sane for the sake of my boy.
I was very determined to breastfeed my #2 and experience the much-needed mother-child bonding. That was when I discovered this wonderful organisation, BMSG. The counsellors and their guidance completely converted my mother-in-law (who attended the BMSG class with me) to become pro-breastfeeding.
I left the talk feeling empowered that my breastfeeding journey was now supported by so many people of the same mindset. Since then, I have always harboured the intention to help any and all mummies in breastfeeding as much as I could to provide them with utmost support. Hence, when BMSG posted the callout for new counsellors, I knew this was my calling!
I have come to love breastfeeding and cherish the closeness that breastfeeding brings between my babies and myself. However, it wasn’t always this rosy. As a new mother, I had a very rocky start to my breastfeeding journey. My daughter had breastmilk jaundice and I struggled to breastfeed her in the early days. The guidebook, notes and resources from a BMSG Breastfeeding 101 class that I had attended came in handy for my frequent references.
With good support from my family, especially from my husband, I went on to breastfeed my daughter for two years and now, I am on my second breastfeeding journey with my son. I have benefited so much from various support and resources that I would now like to give back to other mothers.
I know that counselling can be very empowering, especially on a journey of personal growth. Becoming a breastfeeding counsellor is a way for me to contribute my support to other mothers on their breastfeeding journeys. It is also a wonderful volunteering opportunity for a stay-at-home mum like me to serve beyond my family.
Like many first-time mums, my breastfeeding journey didn’t start out smoothly and it was the hardest thing I had to do as a mother. I was fortunate enough to have the support of a doula who helped me gain confidence and trust my body during those excruciating first few weeks. I was able to breastfeed exclusively only because of the support I had from my doula and the help I got from the BMSG online community, so I wanted to be able to give back in the same way I benefited.
I saw for myself how many friends wanted to breastfeed so badly but were too overwhelmed by all the information out there or had little to no formal and informal support, hence I really felt strongly about being able to do more for fellow breastfeeding mums. So, when I saw the recruitment for counsellors, I decided to give it a shot and I am ever so thankful and glad to have been given this opportunity to become a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor.
BMSG: How has counselling been so far for you? It has been about 2 to 3 months since you graduated. Have there been any memorable moments?
Counselling new mums has been an amazing experience so far. There have been mothers who message me directly long after the WhatsApp conversation is over as they feel more comfortable talking to me as a counsellor. Friends and family now reach out to me when they face any obstacle in breastfeeding. During a recent BMSG Back to Work workshop, I had a participant mummy who told us (facilitators) that she now felt confident to go back to work after attending our talks. That felt like an achievement.
I was nervous when I first started manning the hotline. Phone counselling is challenging because I am not able to read body language, which in itself is a very important communication. I need to listen attentively and pick up on pauses and intonation. These can be difficult to do especially with background noises.
I was also nervous because there is a huge body of knowledge on breastfeeding and I know that I have so much more to learn. I do my best to cope by reading up and keeping abreast on breastfeeding topics. The senior counsellors have been very supportive and I find it helpful to check in with them and tap on their knowledge and experiences.
My husband and children by now have gotten used to me stepping away from them to take counselling calls. One day I was so caught up with things that I didn’t realise it was almost time for my shift. It was my husband who reminded me and said he’ll take the children. This is a memorable moment for me because it tells me that my family is also involved in my counselling work, that I am being supported while supporting another mum. Far from being just a mum-to-mum interaction, breastfeeding counselling is also, indirectly, family-to-family support.
I must say it hasn’t been easy juggling shifts and full-time parenting, because it means trying to be responsive to a mum in need, in the midst of attending to my child, errands and other things.
In the beginning, it was also challenging trying to remember what I have learnt from training and crafting responses to queries, so I had to keep going back to my notes and materials or searching for online resources to better understand certain queries. But it was definitely fulfilling whenever you see words of appreciation and validation from the mums themselves.
The most memorable moment for me was my very first WhatsApp query where the mum went from feeling hopeless about breastfeeding her baby to feeling determined to continue. I felt immensely heartened by the mum’s trust and openness in me as a complete stranger, and also a sense of satisfaction in being able to help her along this journey.
BMSG: How has becoming a #bmsgcounsellor positively impacted you so far?
The counselling course taught me many things. One thing which I benefited most from is learning the principle of “unconditional positive regard” (UPR). While we always look to help mums, UPR has taught me how to respect each mother’s decision and judgement. It’s easy to say yes, we respect one and all but to actually walk the talk of UPR is very important yet challenging. We have to realise that what works for some mothers may not work for all hence, advising otherwise would be foolish. It has taught me to listen more and understand people and their struggles more deeply.
I also personally hope and pray that Singapore becomes a country where breastfeeding can be done publicly, and no one would stare or make you feel uncomfortable. It already makes me so happy to see nursing rooms in malls and office buildings. I feel privileged to be breastfeeding in this day and age and in Singapore.
Becoming a #bmsgcounsellor has opened me up to a whole new area of breastfeeding support and has been a good learning experience for me. Every breastfeeding journey is unique and it has been an honour to listen to the mothers and fathers who have called the helpline to share their breastfeeding challenges. I have learnt so much from them about having the courage to seek help, making informed efforts to nourish their babies and being resilient to succeed at breastfeeding. They are amazing and I have so much respect for them. They have inspired me to continue serving as a #bmsgcounsellor to acknowledge their efforts and above all else, to affirm them that they are doing a wonderful job.
Through the training, I realise that every mum has different goals and desires, and that we need to respect what they want for themselves and their children, even if it means it may be in conflict with what we believe in. That has allowed me to relate to the mums from more of a curious perspective (wanting to understand where they are coming from and why they have certain wishes) rather than just being prescriptive and dictative in my responses.
There are so many new things I am learning each day about breastfeeding from fellow counsellors, the breastfeeding community as well as fellow mums, so it is quite an eye opener for me! I hope to be able to build on my knowledge and skills to better serve as a counsellor and be of support to fellow mums in need.
Our counsellors are rostered on our counselling channels 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including public holidays. If you have been touched by a counsellor or wish to drop a positive message to all counsellors or say your thanks, click here.