As told to Nabila Hanim, BMSG Staff
The Circuit Breaker (CB) was a two-month lockdown that was implemented by the Singapore government beginning April 2020. During this period, only essential services were allowed to continue functioning. This impacted accessory services (otherwise known as non-essential services), including home visits for breastfeeding support. Mothers were encouraged to visit the hospital for lactation help, which also meant exposing mother and baby to lurking viruses in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Giving Birth in the Middle of CB
Sarah Chen (not her real name), now a mother of two, gave birth to her second child on 23 May, right in the middle of the CB. Leading up to the start of labour, Sarah was naturally worried about giving birth at the hospital during that time.
“I was worried that the hospitals in Singapore might be overrun with critical Covid patients, that i would be at risk of cross contamination, or worst (actually I don’t know which is worst), being told to give birth at home instead,” said Sarah, citing her friend staying overseas who was told not to come to the hospital when her labour started.
Sarah managed to give birth at a local private hospital in the end. She felt fortunate that staff at the hospital she gave birth at were able to assure her and her baby’s safety throughout their stay there. The hospital staff were masked up and provided her with adequate information and reassurance, which allowed her “to forget about the virus for a few days and focus on giving birth and recovery.” She also added: “Truthfully speaking, thoughts of CB and Covid-19 left my mind the moment my water broke.”
Breastfeeding the Second Time
Once her baby was born, Sarah was unable to carry out skin-to-skin with her newborn due some complications. Despite that, she was adamant to ensure that breastfeeding started right and was able to latch her baby at the ward later on. “It was something I wanted to ace this time round with my second child. My goal was to ensure proper latching, thus reducing any nipple damage or blisters. I think that is the key to ensuring a smooth start to breastfeeding,” she said. Sarah was also motivated to breastfeed her second-born longer this time round after hearing the plight of hospitals in the United States. “Some people in the US did encounter formula and diaper shortages at the beginning of the pandemic, which made me consider wanting to breastfeed for longer this time in case that happened in Singapore, but alas that is not the case here.”
During her stay at the hospital, she also ensured that she obtained a visit from the Lactation Consultant (LC) and also urged the nurses in the ward to help her latch her baby correctly or to check her baby’s latch everytime she nursed. She was also happy to find that her baby was latching well and she also felt she had a good amount of colostrum.
Finding a Knowledgeable LC
Despite the positive experience in the hospital, Sarah faced other hurdles when she returned home. As her milk supply kicked in, she started to experience engorgement and had trouble latching her baby. She then decided to obtain a consult from a LC remotely to look at her problems. Although she only managed to attend one Zoom consult, she felt that she received adequate support. “She helped me to fix the problem overnight,” Sarah said, adding that she learnt a lot of things about breastfeeding just from the consult alone. “What I’ve learnt this time round is that when latching is problematic, sometimes it’s not just about textbook techniques. Physiology also comes into play – my baby had a high palate, I had a huge gushing supply, my boobs were big but nipples were not long, and so on,” she added. She was able to better appreciate what was happening because she understood what was happening to her body.
This was a huge contrast to her experience after she gave birth to her first child. “With my first child, every problem (that I mentioned before happened), but the LCs I had engaged at that time were not able to guide me properly,” she said. She ended up “Exclusively Pumping (EP) for 4.5 months with a massive oversupply and 101 clogged ducts.”
Despite the challenges of being confined at home, Sarah was more confident this time around and knew what to expect. Ultimately, she knew that she needed to be positive and reach out to others for help and support at a time when she must have felt vulnerable and overwhelmed with a new baby.
Advice for Mothers
When asked what she would change if she had to go through the experience again, Sarah admitted that she was happy with her experience. “I think despite the challenges, everything went as well as it could,” she said, adding that she was glad she was able to exclusively direct latch and has also managed to introduce the bottle to her baby.
She also added that mothers should be brave, embrace the challenges and not to hesitate to reach out for support such as talking to other mothers in support groups such as that of the BMSG. “Sleep more, shower to boost your spirits (and) read lots,” she also added, alluding to the fact that being prepared, well-recharged and knowledgeable are things that can well-equip a new mother.
Managing Expectations & Timely Responses: Keys to Positive Breastfeeding Experiences
Sarah’s story is one which reminds us that knowing what to expect and responding in a timely manner to breastfeeding challenges are important in ensuring a sustained and long-term breastfeeding journey. She also proved that seeking information and support were key to her well-being as well, both for breastfeeding and for her mental health. Despite the circumstances, Sarah was able to troubleshoot the challenges she faced early to prevent them from getting worse.