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Newsletter #34: Counsellor Spotlight – Shaheeraa Khan

by BMSG Editorial Team

In order to recognise our counsellors for the work that they do and to help mums understand the life of a counsellor, from time to time, we showcase our volunteer counsellors to get to know them better. Our counsellors work tirelessly to serve our counselling platforms and we believe you would appreciate putting a face to these hardworking bees!

This month, we speak to Shaheeraa Khan, who is also a birth doula, to find out what motivated her to become a counsellor and how the experience has been so far. We hope it will also inspire mothers out there to become our volunteer counsellors!

Shaheeraa Khan, our volunteer counsellor (in gold) with her husband and children. [Photo credits: Shaheeraa Khan]

1) Tell us more about yourself

My name is Shaheeraa and I am a mother of two, a birth worker, a nature lover and a breastfeeding advocate pursuing to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).

I enjoy supporting mothers in their new journey from pregnancy right through to postpartum and breastfeeding in particular. Seeing mothers grow in confidence in raising their little ones in a gentle way bring me lots of joy!

I breastfed my son up to 2 years 4 months, attempted tandem feeding for a short while and am still currently breastfeeding my daughter. I wish I had known more about gentle weaning and tandem feeding before I became a counsellor to help me through my own struggles. I am truly passionate about breastfeeding as it is such an important act, not only between mothers and babies, but also for the society!

2) Why were you keen to become a counsellor?

I believe that support for new mothers can go a long way in helping them find success in breastfeeding. Being surrounded by new mothers, I see a lot of them giving up on breastfeeding prematurely due to the lack of support or being misinformed. I have personally felt like that, too, previously because I did not receive the kind of support needed to encourage me to tandem feed, hence resulting in me going cold turkey with my first born. It was a horrible experience that still breaks my heart when I think about it. By pursuing my passion in advocating breastfeeding, I decided to become a counsellor so that I will be equipped with both the right knowledge and learn how to provide emotional reassurance when supporting mothers.

3) Highs and lows of becoming a counsellor

Being a breastfeeding counsellor has its highs and lows. Some of the highs include, seeing mothers being empowered in getting their challenges resolved and seeing them more confident of their journey. It is a beautiful feeling when I see women feeling reassured and have confidence over their bodies.

Some of the lows, however, include trying to juggle my daily responsibilities with the demands that come with counselling. Particularly because we are mothers and also since some of us do put on other hats such as work and family, it sometimes makes me sad when I meet mothers who I counsel who become disappointed when we sometimes fall short of our duties and commitments. We are humans too, and our schedule can sometimes change at the very last minute. The BMSG roster is robust and we have a covering system, but at times things happen and I may not be able to respond to a mother in time.I do hope that mothers, who are also like us and have other responsibilities, can be merciful to us if we ever fall short of your expectations. We are trying our best and serving you tirelessly is our top priority! <3

4) What word of advice or encouragement would you give budding counsellors?

Have a clear intention and purpose of why you want to become a counsellor. If ever you feel overwhelmed with your daily commitments and a struggling mother needs your full support and assistance in breastfeeding, know that your response is making a difference in her life. Always be happy to help or support mothers. Know that you have a magical touch to mothers requiring breastfeeding help if only you allow yourself to share the benefits of breastfeeding in a positive manner.

Have you ever benefited from a BMSG counsellor? Send a message or tribute here to thank our counsellors and send them your appreciation! 🙂

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 nabila@breastfeeding.org.sg to be placed on the waitlist for the 2019 intake of counselling training!