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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! 🙂

Counsellor Spotlight: Kwan Xiuwen – June 2018 Newsletter

By the BMSG Editorial Team

This month, we celebrate the graduation of our new counsellors who have completed their 10-week training in June. They have officially started their new duties a few days ago and are raring to go! One of them is Kwan Xiuwen, a full-time mother of two boys who was previously working as a technical writer for 10 years before leaving the workforce. We speak with her to find out how the training went and what her aspirations are, as a newly-minted breastfeeding counsellor with the BMSG.

Xiuwen (in blue) with her lovely family. [Credits: Kwan Xiuwen]

Congratulations on graduating from the 2018 intake of the BMSG Breastfeeding Counselling Training! How does it feel to finally become a #bmsgcounsellor?

Thank you! The BMSG counselling training was a great bonding experience, thanks to all the wise, warm, and generous ladies involved. I have mixed feelings about the completion of my training. I’m sad that I won’t be seeing everyone on a regular basis anymore. I’m nervous about whether I can identify what each mum who I will counsel really wants to know, and yet make sure that I’m also identifying what they need to know, so that mums can find the best solutions for both themselves and baby. However, I’m confident that the experienced counsellors will be compassionate and helpful in guiding me to improve my skills further. And I’m elated that I can do my bit to help mums make informed decisions about breastfeeding their babies.

Could you tell us about the whole training process from the start right up to graduation? What were some of the things you had to do during training to equip you with the necessary skills to become a breastfeeding counsellor?

The training process was focused on empowering each mum to make the right decision for her family’s unique situation. In order to do so, the training consisted of three parts: breastfeeding knowledge, counseling skills, and lastly how to interact with ethics and inclusiveness.

During the breastfeeding knowledge component, we learned the mechanics of breastfeeding: how the body is designed to work with the baby to produce milk. We also learned about many related areas: the importance of breastfeeding during the first hour after birth, the capacity of a newborn’s stomach as well as the benefits of skin to skin. The training also touched on areas that are not strictly breastfeeding-related, but essential to mothers of newborns: baby sleeping patterns, first foods, and how to deal with the chaos that is early motherhood. This first component of the training taught us the ‘hard skills’: the information to be communicated.

Our baby-friendly counselling training in session.

During the  second component of the course, we learned counselling skills: how to speak to mums that would make them feel heard and understood. To do this, we tried to internalize the concept of unconditional positive regard: supporting mothers without judging them, no matter what the situation. Besides this overarching mindset, we also learned ways of identifying what the mum wants  to know, filling in any knowledge gaps that she may not be aware of, while ensuring that baby is well. We also practiced many counselling micro-skills: for example, we learned responses that would help mums retain information even when they are frustrated and sleep-deficient. This second component of the training taught us the ‘soft’ skills: how to communicate the information in an appropriate way.

During the third component of the course, we learned about how the BMSG code of ethics protects the various participants: for example, it protects mums from exploitation, protects BMSG’s reputation, and protects counsellors from conflicts of interest. This component of the course also included elements of inclusivity: how to communicate in a way that respects people who may differ from ourselves in terms of culture, language, family type, or economic situation. The third component of the training taught us to be aware of the broader environment: the community of which the BMSG is a part.  

Our newly-minted counsellors will serve on board our remote and physical counselling platforms.

Any memorable moments during training that you would like to share?

One of our assignments required us to reframe a negative part of our real lives to put a positive spin on it. Many of us shared deeply personal experiences and showed how meaningful it is to reframe and shift stubbornly negative perspectives. In our current social-media-heavy culture, it seems that triumphs are celebrated and everyday frustrations swept out of sight, so I was amazed to hear that the other mums were facing problems similar to mine. I felt that although it is thrilling to achieve externally-validated results, what sustains the spirit in the long term is the ability to make such shifts in perspective that allow us to validate our own day-to-day experiences.

What would you say to mums who are aspiring to become breastfeeding counsellors? Any words of advice or encouragement?

Volunteering takes time, effort and resources, with seemingly little personal benefit. However, attending the training alone has convinced me that volunteering can be a fulfilling experience. Besides having a positive impact on the health of breastfeeding mums and their children, you can also remind mums that what they do is valuable beyond measure, even when they are neck-deep in newborns, toddlers, and yet-to-be-folded laundry. In addition, in the role of a breastfeeding counsellor, there are so many skills that you can practice that are relevant to building healthy relationships with those around you, such as active listening, respecting others’ choices, and developing empathy for those with different values and beliefs.

What a great win-win situation: helping others, while improving your own interpersonal skills!

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!