The Unexpected: Breastfeeding a Premature Infant

15 years ago, Shubhada Bidhe did not know that her daughter would arrive 3 months before her actual due date. The experience was a test of her resolve. But as the founder of parenting and lifestyle sites Rainbow Diaries and SocialMediaMomSG discovered, breastfeeding was ultimately what helped her baby thrive during those difficult times.

BMSG: Hi Shubhada, thanks for speaking with us today! 

At BMSG, we are all about supporting mothers with the right information about breastfeeding right from birth. Sometimes, babies may arrive earlier than expected. Could you share with us what it was like on Day 1 when you suddenly realised your baby was going to be born early?

Shubhada: Everything was going well until the gynaecologist told us that since the length of my cervix was borderline, there were high chances of a pre-term birth. I had to undergo emergency cerclage surgery and was put on bedrest. We were hoping to complete the full term but it was not meant to be. My elder daughter arrived in this world 3 months earlier than her due date.

Shubhada’s daughter, Eeshaa, at pre-school around 1.5 years of age.

BMSG: What are some of the things parents need to consider when thinking about breastfeeding a preemie baby? We know it is strongly encouraged for preemies to receive only breastmilk because they are still very small.

Shubhada: Well, it’s a different experience altogether. In my case, the baby was just 768 grams and was on oxygen support in NICU. It was impossible to even think of breastfeeding directly. But yes, the paediatrician insisted on breastmilk because it’s an elixir for babies, especially preemies. The paediatrician started by giving my baby 3 ml of expressed breast milk through tube-feeding and gradually increased the quantity.

BMSG: How did you decide how much was needed for your baby’s daily feeds at that time? Did the doctor or the lactation consultant guide you along during those days?

Shubhada: It was a tough journey and we had to adapt to the ever-changing health scenario of my preemie. The paediatrician advised us that our baby had to be fed a certain quantity of expressed breast milk every 2 hours using a spoon since she didn’t have strength to latch or use a bottle. We switched to an on-demand approach only when she turned 6 months old and had started achieving milestones like normal babies her age.

BMSG: A lot of mothers may also struggle with expressing breastmilk in the early days. Do share with us what helped you a lot during those challenging times.

[Stock Photo: Having a premature baby can be challenging but finding information and remaining positive were what helped Shubhada in her journey.]

Shubhada: It was a roller coaster ride for me as a mother because every day was a new challenge. I didn’t even have the time to understand what was happening with my body. I couldn’t directly latch my baby for the first few months and had to express breastmilk. It was a painful process but I happily endured it since I knew every drop counted to help the preemie to become stronger.

The rock solid emotional support of husband and family members, as well as my faith in the Almighty helped me to navigate through the crisis. Also, keeping positive and taking care of my own health did a lot of magic.

BMSG: Were you able to receive donations of breastmilk for your baby? Currently, there is a KKH Milk Bank in operation, but this did not exist when your baby was born.

Shubhada: Fortunately, milk sharing was an option that time. When my daughter was born, things were so topsy turvy that I couldn’t get any BM for the first 2-3 days. That time, some NICU moms offered their BM for my daughter since their babies were quite critical to drink milk or they were on formula. I believe that those moms played such a crucial role in providing necessary nutrition to my baby. I can’t thank them enough.

[BMSG NOTE: Please note that practices may differ now and parents are encouraged to check with hospitals on the protocols for milk sharing for premature infants. For more information on milk sharing by the KK Human Milk Bank, click here.]

[Stock Photo: Many premature babies grow up healthy and meet developmental milestones just like other babies.]

BMSG: Could you tell us what else that preemie parents should take note of about the stay in the NICU?

Shubhada: When your expectations of having a healthy full-term baby are dashed, it’s never too easy! Seeing your child fighting for life in NICU is the biggest crisis parents can ever face. Having gone through that phase, I would tell other parents to believe in doctors and medical technology, and also in yourself. Remain positive because your baby will feel these vibes.

Remain positive because your baby will feel these vibes.

Shubhada Bide, on facing her premature baby being in NICU after being born 3 months early.

BMSG: Were you able to latch your baby eventually? Could you share with us how you transited to latching?

Shubhada: Yes, from she was around 5 to 6 months old, we managed to start direct latching and continued for a few months after that. I started using the cradle position because she was bigger at that time. Prior to that, I used to express breastmilk and then either fed her breastmilk in a bottle or fed her with a spoon.

BMSG: How was it like for your baby, growing up? What are some of the things that you have realised about breastfeeding and raising a premature baby now that your child is already a teenager?

Shubhada: The first 3 years were rather challenging. Having been a preemie, my daughter was always severely underweight and we had to monitor her health very closely. Fortunately, she gradually achieved all her expected milestones without much delay. Personally, I strongly feel that continuing her on breastmilk during the initial months played a big role in boosting her immunity and growth as she grew.

Eeshaa and her mum Shubhada trying their hands at creative activities.

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Do you require breastfeeding support?

If you have unexpectedly birthed prematurely or require breastfeeding help in any way, contact us on the following channels for complimentary mother-to-mother breastfeeding counselling or affordable workshops conducted by our trained volunteer counsellors:

– Hotline / WhatsApp: +65 6339 3558
Facebook Counselling (Private Group)
Mum 2 Mum Virtual Counselling Sessions
Breastfeeding Workshops

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Work From Home: Breastfeeding in the New Normal

By BMSG Editorial Team

Working from home (WFH) may sound like the perfect arrangement for breastfeeding mothers and their babies but it is not without challenges. With no end in sight for the pandemic, WFH may be here to stay for a long time to come. We speak with some breastfeeding mothers who have been WFH for a while now to find out just what it is like juggling a breastfeed baby and work deadlines at home.

The Baby Who Won’t Take Bottles

Not everyone is able to send their babies to childcare or find external help. For such mothers, there is no choice but to be at home with their babies. For Priya, who works in the professional training and education industry, nursing her baby has become the norm in between meetings and work demands. “My baby doesn’t take a bottle so I have to excuse myself from work to nurse him, which can be very time consuming,” said the mother of one. Priya’s mother cares for her baby while she works but she added that it is especially challenging when she has meetings to attend and her baby needs to nurse. “I (find it) really challenging to explain that to my colleagues so it’s a struggle,” she added.

Switching Between Bottles & Latching

But not all babies who are cared for at home struggle with switching between bottle and latching. Fadillah A. Rahman, an Assistant Manager in the education sector, works at her mother’s home on most days while grandma cares for her nine month-old baby. The extra help that she gets by working at her mother’s home was a vast improvement over the Circuit Breaker period where she received no help in caring for a very young infant, especially when her baby was much younger then and nursing more frequently. “My baby directly latches unless I have meetings or have to go to the office but he has no issues with taking the bottle now even when I am around,” said Fadillah. “As I am quite familiar with baby’s feeding times, I will take him in to nurse. Otherwise, my mum will bring him to me,” Fadillah added.

Similarly, Jia Qi, who does project management in the IT industry, still latches her 17 month-old throughout the day. “I plan my days in advance although at times, there may be sudden issues that arise or meetings to attend,” she added. She works when her baby naps or when her daughter is able to play independently on her own. “When she is fussy, I will turn to babywearing while working.”

Turning to Alternative Feeding Methods

For Nancy Lai, an adjunct trainer and lecturer, switching to a fully WFH arrangement has been a blessing and she is able to directly latch her baby most of the time in between her lectures. If her baby needs to feed at a time when she is unavailable, her family will try the bottle. However, it is a struggle to bottle-feed her baby because of her presence at home. More recently, her family members have been open to using alternative methods of feeding baby. “My helper and mother care for my baby during my working hours. Sometimes, when my baby fusses over the bottle, they will painstakingly feed my baby with a cup and straw,” says Nancy, who also manages a start-up on the sidelines. Nancy will still need to pump milk when her baby takes the bottle while working or during meetings: “If necessary, I will express milk under a nursing cover while I deliver my lessons or when I have to attend online meetings,” said the mother-of-two. 

Just like other working mums, WFH mummies may find it useful to adopt other feeding methods such as cup feeding (above), straw or syringe feeding to protect the breastfeeding relationship or when baby rejects the bottle. [Credits:]

Flexibility with WFH

For some of the mums we spoke to, having flexibility at work has nonetheless been another benefit of WFH, which bodes well for the future of job opportunities for mothers who want to return to work. Some companies have allowed employees who WFH to be able to work at their own hours. Leona, who is a writer for a family-centric, multi-channel startup, is able to be the default parent at home despite also being employed full-time. “The work arrangement for my company has always been remote working, so I am actually very blessed to be offered this job opportunity that allows me to earn an income while giving me the flexibility to WFH and be there for my children,” said the mother-of-two who is currently direct latching both her children.

“I try to work when my younger boy is napping but when he’s particularly clingy (like now, as I am typing down the answers to this interview), he is either latching and/or sitting on my lap while I work,” said Leona, whose children are 1 and 3 years of age. She also has had to work from her phone sometimes, especially when she has her hands full with the boys at home or when they are out. The family currently has no helper.

Despite the challenges, Leona still prefers to work from home. “I really do enjoy this WFH arrangement with my current job, mainly because it allows me the flexibility and provides me with some sense of work-life balance. And because I WFH, I am still able to be there for my children, and tend to them whenever needed,” she added. 

Another mother, Cátia, echoes similar sentiments. The mother of 15 week-old twins and a three year-old, is currently working full-time as a manager in the payments industry. She had returned to part-time work when her babies were eight weeks old and gradually returned to full-time work in November, all the while latching her twins and managing the home. “I have been lucky to have amazing managers who are very understanding,” said Cátia, who also faced similar flexibility at work after giving birth to her first child. Due to her flexible working hours, she is able to have a routine where she completes some work in the morning and then tend to her children before completing more rounds of work in between nursing and caring for her babies throughout the day. 

“As a manager I do need to be around for my team but a lot of work can be done out of the common working hours. I wake up early usually with the twins and after feeding them I take that time to do some work while I have breakfast. I try not to look at the clock to feed or work and focus on goals to avoid stress and pressure. I have a list of things I want to complete for the day and I try to keep the babies entertained and feed them when they need,” she added. Fortunately, her heavy burdens at home have eased off a little, as her twin babies are starting infantcare soon. 

“I try not to look at the clock to feed or work and focus on goals to avoid stress and pressure.”

Cátia, WFH mum of 15-week old twins and 3 year old toddler

Blended Work Routines

For some mothers, a blended work routine has worked out well for them. For these mums, being able to be at home on some days has its perks. Lydia Nah, a financial adviser, is able to work at home on Thursdays and Fridays while her one year-old baby is cared for by her husband and in-laws from Monday to Wednesday. “I am still able to latch my baby at the start and end of the day when I work outside,” said Lydia. Her baby currently also takes fresh cow’s milk during the day. 

Beauty of Working From Home

As Lydia needs to meet clients for her work, she recalls how the CB was a saving grace for her as she did not need to pump for her baby then. “If it weren’t for CB, I would be running in and out of various nursing rooms carrying my cooler bag, pump and flanges everywhere. I can’t imagine what a hassle that would be,” said Lydia. She was exclusively latching then, and had to take breaks to nurse her child in between work. “I would be working on my desk and then when it is time for his feed, I’d have a short 15-minute break and out again. While it can be interruptive sometimes, I chose to channel my breaktime during these nursing sessions. It is a great reminder of why I am working so hard everyday day in day out,” she added.

While it is natural that many mothers found it challenging to juggle between work demands and their babies, especially those with no live-in helper or support, a lot of the mothers we spoke to expressed their satisfaction of being able to be with their babies for a significant amount of time. For Fadillah, being able to WFH for over nine months now has made her appreciate being able to see her baby grow. “It’s quite a breeze now,” she added, since she found that she and her baby had adapted well to the routines of WFH. 

It is also heartwarming and promising to know that many mothers continue to be able to have employment while still providing breastmilk for their babies. Mothers with WFH arrangements also appreciate that they are able to express milk while still conducting lessons or attending meetings and shows that WFH can ease up mummy duties while still allowing mums to multi-task between being mum and employee.

We hope that this will bode well for future employment opportunities for mothers who wish to expand their career while still wanting to nourish and bond with their babies. This pandemic may indeed have led to positive repercussions and transformations of career options and opportunities to allow the harmonising of work opportunities and breastfeeding.