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June 2019 Newsletter: EXCO Spotlight – Khatim Hamidon

by BMSG Editorial Team

1) Tell us more about yourself! What got you started in BMSG?

Khatim and her two children. [Credits: Khatim Hamidon]

Besides being President of BMSG as an EXCO member, a peer counsellor and a trainer, I am  a mother of two, a wife, and an executive with a local charity (not BMSG). My boys are aged 9 and 3.5. 

About 10 years ago, a former colleague had told me about BMSG. She was a volunteer counsellor, and almost every conversation I had with her, she slip in some snippet about breastfeeding and natural birthing, and how these empower women. It made me rethink the idea of breastfeeding and how natural and normal it is. I then started researching about breastfeeding when I found out that I was pregnant, and started influencing my husband all about it. 

When my firstborn was a few months old, I joined a Facebook group that gives breastfeeding support to local Malay-Muslim mothers. After following the posts for some months, I found out that I could start providing suggestions to other  breastfeeding mothers needing support too! The administrators then encouraged me to attend the BMSG volunteer counsellor training and I jumped at that chance to be able to provide better advice and support.

2) You are also one out of a few of our longest serving volunteers. How has the organisation evolved?

Khatim (2nd from left, top row) with her fellow BMSG volunteers at the launch of the KKH Milk Bank in 2017. [Credits: Khatim Hamidon]

I joined the BMSG in 2011 – and goodness knows the amount of change has occurred. The most impressive change, in my opinion, is our widening pool of dedicated and trained volunteer counsellors. Years ago,  it was a struggle to maintain volunteers for our services, such as manning the hotline and facilitating our breastfeeding workshops.

Now, we have over forty active volunteer counsellors who are rostered for our counselling hotline, email account and facilitating our workshops. They are also the ones who fill the ranks for our Facebook groups, WhatsApp line, mother meet-ups, and various talks and events.

 I am so humbled that we have managed to attract mothers to volunteer to spend their free time and attend the counselling training sessions, and then continue to help empower other mothers!  It is very satisfying to know that over the years, BMSG will continue to play a part in increasing local awareness and understanding on why breastfeeding matters.

 

3) Now that you are President, what are some of the things you wish to work on during your term?

Khatim (top right in pink hijab) with the BMSG team during the talk by renowned breastfeeding advocate Maureen Minchin (bottom row, 2nd from left) in 2018.

The previous EXCOs have done amazingly well at growing the organisation to what it is now. I consider myself lucky to be helming BMSG at this period where awareness on breastfeeding is much higher than what it was less than ten years ago. 

During my term, I aim to improve our volunteer management and welfare, so that my team of volunteers will continue to give awesome breastfeeding support to mothers and families.

 I want BMSG to reach out to the younger generation of students to tell them why breastfeeding is important and that it is what mammals do to feed their young. Such that as they mature and become adults, breastfeeding then becomes their new normal. 

I would also like to work on getting stronger support from the community as a whole. We are a small charity run by volunteers, providing breastfeeding support across Singapore. We are as lean as can be, but to grow further for more accessibility we need regular contributions from our supporters. 

 

4) You also represent the BMSG at SIFECS and IBFAN. Could you tell us a bit more about these advocacy efforts that you are part of as BMSG’s representative?

Khatim (seated, 2nd row, first from left) at the IBFAN regional meet in Jakarta, 2018. [Credits: Khatim Hamidon]

SIFECS stands for the Sale of Infant Foods Ethics Committee Singapore. It is an ethical code that guides the sales and marketing of infant foods in Singapore in order to protect and promote breastfeeding. SIFECS can simply be said to be the Singaporean version of the World Health Organisation International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes.

 The code is targeted at formula and baby food companies, healthcare institutions and businesses so that they comply with the rules. With the new update of the SIFEC codes, including expanding its scope from infants 0-6 months to 0-12 months, increased restrictions on sponsorships received by healthcare institutions among other developments, I am proud of the efforts of the SIFECS committee who has worked very hard on the revisions. A strict code will help consumers make better decisions on what is best due to higher ethical marketing standards. This is important, as predatory marketing – when the information received by consumers are inaccurate and/or misleading – moots informed consent. 

 It is important to note that the SIFECS website encourages the public to also be part of the effort in spotting any breaches of the code. Anyone can send feedback to the Health Promotion Board (HPB) for action here.

BMSG would also continue to educate and empower parents to become informed consumers, when making decisions on infant and toddler feeding. My goal is that the near future, the SIFECS code will be further expanded to include follow-on formula milk and baby food for babies beyond the age of 12 months old, just as the WHO Code does.  

IBFAN, on the other hand, or the International Baby Foods Action Network, is a network of public interest groups across the world whose goal is to protect, promote and support breastfeeding and optimal infant feeding practices. BMSG is proud to be an affiliate of IBFAN Southeast Asia.

In the recent years, BMSG representatives have attended its workshops and I have been blessed to have participated in its meetings in Hong Kong and Jakarta (I wrote about my experiences here.) It has honed my views to be more critical on what breastfeeding protection and promotion are truly about: it is definitely more than just a mother’s choice. The knowledge that breastmilk can sustain a baby to survive and thrive, without the need for baby formula and foods up till toddlerhood, is one that empowers women and families not to rely on expensive and imported foods to raise healthy children.

We shared experiences and information with fellow delegates from the Asian nations, and I am amazed by their level of ingenuity to make breastfeeding work. They made breastfeeding supported by all stakeholders in a society: families, communities, health institutions and even their governments. Everyone played a role, because they understand that breastfeeding is a public health concern, not just for the dyad. I look forward to learning more from fellow breastfeeding advocates from around the region and beyond. 

 

5) What would be your goal for breastfeeding in Singapore?

Khatim (left) with President Halimah Yaacob and Elaine Chow, BMSG’s immediate past President, at an Istana event in 2018 when Khatim was then BMSG’s Vice-President. [Credits: Elaine Chow]

 BMSG exists because breastfeeding is still not seen as something normal. In generations past, breastfeeding support was innate within a community; mothers breastfed their babies, because that is what their mothers did. The confinement period ensured that both the mother and baby dyad are well taken care of. If a mother could not breastfeed her baby, cross-nursing and/or wet-nursing were accepted as an good alternative.

Unfortunately, today many new mothers are unable to access postpartum help or even get help from their families.  My goal is for breastfeeding to be NORMAL and to be expected in Singapore, and that it is understood as a public health concern.

We have seen progress, with the swelling number of membership in our breastfeeding support group on Facebook (over 16,000 online members now), with more hospitals certified as BFHI, and with the proliferation of breastfeeding paraphernalia in baby shops.

We can still do more. We should expect more. We would wait for a governmental action but we mothers could still affect change on the ground– every action works to permeate into the community (just like how I was convinced with my colleague!).

So we ask you to nurse your baby (or your toddler) anyway and everywhere.  Do not be intimidated if you need to ask your doctor for breastfeeding-friendly medication from your doctor. Stand firm to what you believe in and that you are doing the best that you can for your baby and yourself. 

 

6) Any last words?

Khatim (top row, first from left) at a Lactation Massage workshop by Filipino breastfeeding advocate Inez Fernandez (seated, first from right) in 2019. [Credits: Khatim Hamidon]

I am thankful for the confidence shown to me to lead this organisation. We have a great team for this term and we will achieve our goals during these two years.

 I am thankful for the mothers and their families for trusting us and believing that we are respected as a source for breastfeeding support.

 I am also thankful for the past contributions of former BMSG activists. We will pass on this legacy to future teams!

 Last but not least, I am thankful for the understanding from my family – BMSG work is extra work and sometimes it keeps me away from my loved ones. But I believe the little that I do will benefit the future generations to live in an environment where breastfeeding is seen and appreciated as part of life. 

BMSG Annual Report for 2018-2019 – A Brief Outline

By BMSG Editorial Team

In the first week of May, BMSG had our Annual General Meeting (AGM). As usual, our AGM reported our initiatives, developments and milestones that BMSG has achieved in the past year. Here are some of the highlights as obtained from our Annual and Financial Reports.

Attendees at the Annual General Meeting on 4 May. [Credits: BMSG]

Increasing Interest in BMSG Breastfeeding Programmes

BMSG is known to provide counselling and mother-to-mother support to all breastfeeding mothers in the community. Throughout the years, the way we provide such services has evolved. From just phone counselling in the 1980s, we now provide counselling services across several platforms, namely online (Facebook support group), WhatsApp, email as well as the phone helpline.

Our WhatsApp counselling service has gained popularity in the last year, gaining over 700 counselling cases within a year.

  • Increase in Counselling Channels

Based on a review of our counselling channels, we find that there has been significant increases in those which offer more online participation. Our closed Facebook group had a surge of members and now stand at 13,000 members and counting. Our WhatsApp counselling service has also garnered over 700 counselling cases just in the past one year year. With the introduction of services such as Chinese WhatsApp and WhatsApp groups for post-workshop support for our participants, this value-added service has definitely gathered significant traction in the past year.

Our counsellor Lanie (left) conducting a Mum 2 Mum Meetup at BMSG office earlier this year. [Credits: BMSG]

  • Increased interest in Face-to-Face Counselling

Our Mum 2 Mum meetups, our free monthly breastfeeding support meeting, have seen consistent attendance among mothers especially in the past year. With the introduction of the weekend sessions for working mothers, we found that more mothers are able to attend our meetups to seek assistance for their breastfeeding queries. As the weekend session is focused on working mothers, we discovered that mothers are asking work-related questions on how to manage their breastfeeding goals. This is a good complement to our physical workshops as it is a shorter session and and we can directly address their specific concerns.

Increase in Number of Counsellor Trainers

As part of improving the quality of our counselling services, BMSG takes a serious view on skills upgrading for its volunteer counsellors. While BMSG volunteer counsellors previously only had a senior counsellor who received training to become a trainer, in early 2019, BMSG decided to invite existing and senior counsellors to trainer as trainers for potential counsellors. Eight existing senior counsellors took up the invitation and underwent a training conducting by the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA). They successfully graduated from the training and are now taking turns to train at the current Counsellor Training 2019.

Significant Presence on Social Media

We have a strong followership on the World Wide Web. With over 10,000 likes on our Facebook page and an increase of 700 subscribers to our monthly newsletter (as compared to 200 subscribers in early 2018), we believe that we are moving in the right direction in positioning ourselves as an approachable and credible service provider. We stand fast to our believe that we remain as accessible to as many mothers and their family members as possible in addition to providing most of our services for free.

Our breastfeeding workshops are conducted monthly and taught by our volunteer breastfeeding counsellors. [Credits: BMSG]

Increase in Workshops & Talks

Our workshops and talks continue to be highly sought by parents. Our Breastfeeding 101 and Breastfeeding & Going Back to Work workshops remain popular and are sold-out often. Due to popular demand and affordable tickets, we are working towards conducting our workshops monthly from the second half of 2019.

Beyond paid workshops, we have been providing our services to members of the public in social settings. The Breastfeeding & Babywearing Workshops are co-organised by the BMSG, Babywearing Singapore and the National Library, and have been held  at various libraries monthly since the beginning of this year.

We are very excited to announce that we have started collaborating with other organisations, such as the People’s Association and private companies, to provide more services for the public. Look out for updates on our social media pages!

Our volunteer counsellor, Eve Van de Perre, conducting a talk at one of our public libraries. [Credits: Jasmine Tan Tai]

Future Plans

As always, we continue to review our initiatives and programmes to serve mothers better. We are excited to continue planning for the next year in order to engage breastfeeding mothers and their families. Works are in the pipeline for our annual flagship event, the Big Latch On, as well as niche events such as Tea With Breastmilk, a get-together with mothers to discuss breastfeeding-related topics and our annual public health talk.

Our Big Latch On event saw over 100 attendees in 2018. Here, our then-President Elaine Chow (in pink) with our Guest-of-Honour MP Rahayu Mahzam (centre) and Dr Yvonne Ng (left) from National University Hospital, who was our co-organiser. [Credits: BMSG]

Newly-elected Executive Committee

As this year also marks the end of the 2017-2019 EXCO, we were excited to welcome new members to the team during the AGM. This year, we were surprised to have close to 20 nominations! After a short but exciting presentation by each nominee, we each voted on whom we wanted to be on the committee. Do look out for our subsequent articles where we will introduce our new EXCO members for you to get to know them better.

Our nominees for the BMSG EXCO presenting their speeches before the voting process begins. [Credits: BMSG]

For a more comprehensive read of our milestones and developments, do click on the following links which are accessible to the public:

BMSG Annual Report

BMSG Financial Report for 2018-2019

BMSG’s newly-elected EXCO for 2019-2021. Read more about them in our next article! [Credits: BMSG]

We hope to have your continued support in our initiatives!