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Newsletter #32: Never Say Never – Story of an EP Mum

As told to Nabila Hanim (BMSG Editorial Team Member)
Photos courtesy of Andrea Salleh

Being an exclusive pumping mum does not stop Andrea Salleh, a mother of two, from doing what she needs to do.

No baby but a breast pump underneath that cover! Andrea calmly pumps while on the move as it has become second nature to her.

If you ever bump into Andrea Salleh along the streets, you might spot her with a big bag and a huge nursing cover. Don’t be fooled; underneath the pretty cloth is her double breast pump strapped to her chest.

The mother of two children, a two-year old girl and seven month-old boy, is no stranger to pumping on-the-go, even while on public transport. “I have pumped in the MRT, the bus and even in taxis and Grab Cars,” quipped Andrea, an art educator and also a passionate face painter.

Being invited to parties and booths form part of the demands of her job. Andrea, who has to be mobile for work due to the nature of her job, does not allow her work demands to stop her from providing breast milk for her children. As she is contracted by the hour, and sometimes has long queues at the booth, pumping while working is not a choice but a need!

Pumping while at work. Pumping doesn’t stop Andrea from doing what she loves!

Andrea, who is still breastfeeding her seven-month-old second-born, had managed to breastfeed her first child up till one year old. She attributed her success at exclusively pumping (EP) to a friend, who was the first to suggest that she learn to pump on-the-go. “I was initially using a single manual pump and pumping was such a chore. But once my friend taught me how to pump while on the move, I was hooked and loved the experience so much,” said Andrea, who also pumps regularly even when bringing her children out.

Having trouble latching her firstborn after her birth and coupled with oversupply, Andrea turned to pumping with the encouragement of her husband. With inverted nipples and her baby’s shallow latch, Andrea felt a lot of pain when she tried to breastfeed her child. Feeling dejected after bouts of mastitis that plagued her weekly during her early postpartum days, Andrea came to terms with having to pump although she initially struggled having to keep up with frequent pumping at regular intervals.

For now, pumping has become so natural to her that she can even pour her bottle of expressed milk into a milk storage bag right after pumping under her nursing cover in a moving vehicle! She also makes things easy by putting everything she needs into a large cooler bag that contains several compartments. The bag can even fit her pump, although she admits the bag is heavy for her.

A screen-grab from Andrea’s social media page shows her pumping in a bus.

Andrea also tries to maximise her time when she is out for work assignments. Although pumping while working is a given, Andrea also makes it a point to pump on the way back home. “This saves me a lot of time. Since I have been away from my family, especially the children, for a number of hours, I don’t want to waste more time pumping as soon as I reach home,” she added. With this time saved, she is able to attend to her children’s needs right away when she reaches home.

Andrea admits that exclusively pumping while taking care of one baby was still manageable as she had the help of family members to take care of her child as she pumps. However, pumping with two children in tow is another challenge altogether. She tries not to stress herself when her pumping schedule gets delayed due to her kids’ cries for attention. “If my toddler is having a tantrum, I calm her down first (before proceeding to pump),” Andrea said. She also invested in a front and back double pram so that she is able to put both her children down to pump when they are out.

Nothing stops Andrea from pumping when she needs to. In the middle of having supper with her husband and their friends, Andrea took a moment to pump milk for her baby.

“Managing expectations was probably one of the most important things I learnt as an EP mum,” said Andrea, who succeeded to provide her daughter breast milk up till one year old. Although she had to supplement her daughter with donated breast milk when she was seven months old due to a stressful period of her life that dwindled her supply, Andrea feels satisfied over the long battle she has gone through. Andrea has also started to mix feed her second-born after making an informed decision not to accept donated milk. As her first child has already had three wet nurses*, she feels that keeping in touch with them is already challenging.

Having religiously kept to a strict pumping schedule of two hours for the first five months of his life and maintaining a good milk supply, she found her supply drying up when she could not keep up with his demand. “I started pumping every four hours instead and sometimes dragged my pump (session) because I was occupied,” said Andrea.

However, Andrea is determined to continue providing whatever amount she can for her son. “Embrace your choices and make an informed decision. Do not ever compare yourself to another mother. Just do your best and take things a step at a time,” she declared with well-deserved pride.

Embrace your choices and make an informed decision. Do not ever compare yourself to another mother. Just do your best and take things a step at a time.

– Andrea Kauthar

*Wet Nursing in Islam

In Islam, wet nursing and/or milk-sharing are seen as a noble act, and comes with its own stipulations and guidelines. When a nursling receives five full feeds from a different mother, a consanguine relationship is established between the two. This nursling will also be considered as a milk sibling to the other lady’s own biological children, and as such are not permitted to marry one another. Hence, the implications of this is that Muslim families who practice wet nursing and/or milk-sharing are encouraged to have each other’s details and to keep in close contact to one another so as to ensure that the relationship is rendered as common knowledge. You can read more here (section under Wet Nursing & Adoption).

November 2017 – Mother’s Sharing: Pumping Through Asia

By Leanne Sim, BMSG Volunteer

Leanne with her beautiful children.

As I saw the cockroach scurry across the damp floor of my toilet cubicle in a foreign airport, I swallowed my scream.

Ordinarily, the mere sight of a cockroach would send me racing out of the toilet, but these were extraordinary circumstances. I was held hostage by a bright yellow contraption with rhythmic suction power.

If you were to ask me what the most bizarre places I have pumped in were, it would be hard for me to narrow it down. From that unforgettable airport toilet cubicle, a late night massage parlour in Bangkok, an aeroplane toilet cubicle, an Italian restaurant in Surabaya to the nursing room in the SilverKris lounge in Changi Airport, I have literally pumped all around South East Asia (and some say Hong Kong).

But I get ahead of myself.

My pumping journey began four years ago with the birth of my firstborn, Mr E. When he was born, I was absolutely clueless about breastfeeding and pumping. I had spent so much effort attending prenatal classes and watching YouTube videos on prenatal yoga, birthing and cloth diapering that I had absolutely forgotten to read up about feeding.

So as it was, when Mr E was born, the first few days and weeks were nothing but a teary blur – a sort of sleep-deprived trauma-inducing limbo between the worlds of pre-baby freedom and post-baby captivity. To cut the very long story short, he had difficulty latching due to nipple confusion, which was obviously due to introducing the bottle too early – something I would have known, had I bothered to read about life after baby.

After that, I exclusively and proudly pumped for seven months – until I suffered a bout of engorgement and near mastitis, and decided that I had had enough of my little friend, the breastfeeding pump.

With my second child, breastfeeding came very naturally. My daughter nursed like a champion and I was determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. We co-slept and breastfed on demand; it was a dream. Direct latching really does wonders for moderating your supply. With her, I suffered no engorgement, no pain, and always had enough. It was a dream, straight out of a breastfeeding textbook.

When I returned to work, I had to start travelling almost immediately. I refused to let my busy travel schedule affect my beautifully moderated supply. So along came my old friend, Miss breast pump. Since I had pumped exclusively with my first, pumping this time around was like riding a bike.

“Before each flight, I would arrive at the airport slightly earlier so that 30 minutes before boarding time, I could plug my pump in, pump for 30 minutes, and then be ready to board the plane.”

At this juncture, I must say that the Singapore Changi Airport is one of the best airports in the world. Not only is it efficient, clean and aesthetically pleasing, there is a nursing and pumping room every few hundred metres. I kid you not. It is like a divine lactating angel personally overseeing the placement of the mothers’ rooms. Most of the nursing / pumping rooms come equipped with a comfortable padded seat, a plug next to it and your own sink. Amazing right? And I must say, these pumping rooms are very well-used by other pumping mothers, too.

Before each flight, I would arrive at the airport slightly earlier so that 30 minutes before boarding time, I could plug my pump in, pump for 30 minutes, and then be ready to board the plane.

Pumping while on the move overseas was a little harder but not impossible. Wherever I went, I made a mental note of where I could next pump. It really isn’t as complicated as it sounds. You just have to make sure you schedule an extra 30 to 60 minutes at a particular stop (preferably clean) to pump.

While I pumped and dumped, I have heard of mothers who bring around their own portable freezers to store their milk even while travelling.

If you are thinking of pumping while travelling, I would suggest the following:

  1. Make sure you have a small and light portable pump.
  2. Bring 2-4 bottles to pump in – 2 is actually enough if you are planning to pump and dump
  3. Pour your cleaning detergent into a tiny aviation travel approved bottle (less than 100ml) and bring a small bottle brush.
  4. Place bottles and flanges in a ziploc bag and the detergent and brush in another ziploc back, just in case the detergent spills
  5. Pump just before you board the plane so that you don’t have to pump onboard the plane.  Let’s be realistic: airplane toilets are not exactly the best place to pump in and you won’t be very popular with the rest of the passengers for hogging the toilet for 30 minutes or so. I know of some women who bring breastfeeding covers so that they can pump at their seats though I have never reached that level of mastery.
  6. If you need to pump at any point of time during a business trip, just excuse yourself and say you need to pump. NOBODY should stop you. Be BOLD about it.  
  7. If you need a quiet space to pump while overseas, just ask. I have found that people are generally very, very willing to help out a lactating mother.

I wish you and your pump bon voyage and safe travels!