By BMSG Editorial Team
Compiled by Nabila Hanim (Volunteer Breastfeeding Counsellor)
As a breastfeeding mother who sent two of my children to IFC, I can concur that the struggle is real. A few weeks ago, we wrote a post on the BMSG Facebook group asking mothers for the best tips and strategies to handle the challenges of sending our babies to IFC.
Below is a list of some of the recommendations that we have compiled from mummies who responded on the thread:
1) Check if the IFC is ready to handle breastmilk and breastfed babies
This goes at the top of our list simply because it matters if the IFC is well-equipped with facilities such as a fridge with a freezer, a bottle warmer as well as trained teachers who know how to prepare breastmilk. These are essential to help us have peace of mind. Secondly, it is important that you maintain constant communication with your baby’s teachers. You should communicate early how your baby prefers to be fed, the recommended amounts (refer to “Preparing Your Baby’s Feed” below) as well as your baby’s feeding frequency. At the beginning of your baby’s stay, you may find your baby’s teachers taking some time to figure out a routine.If you find that your baby is drinking more than usual, check that the teachers are aware of the paced bottle feeding method (read more here). If you find your baby reverse cycling, assure the teachers that this is normal and that baby will catch up with you when you return home. If baby is rejecting the bottle when otherwise he wouldn’t, also encourage teachers that this is temporary. Educate teachers on alternative feeding methods such as spoon, medicine cup or syringe if baby seems to be rejecting the bottle for awhile.Most importantly, keep the communication going. Most IFC have a communication book where teachers will record their day-to-day observations of your baby. This is also where you can put instructions (such as which bottle to feed first) or repeat reminders such as baby’s preferences during feeding or sleeping times. Speak with your baby’s main caregiver frequently to know how baby is adapting and if your baby’s teacher needs support on how to care for your baby.
2) Find out the Teacher:Baby Ratio
This is especially important if your baby’s IFC has a lot of babies. Most IFCs will allow parents to stay for the first day. This is when you can observe what one mother called “the rush hour” when most babies are due for a feed. You can observe how your milk is being warmed up and how your baby is being fed, among other routines. While it is ideal to have a lower teacher to student ratio, it may not always be possible. Having continued communication makes it easier for your baby’s teachers to remember what his needs are. Most centres have a whiteboard where they openly record baby’s feeding times and other routines and reminders for teachers.
3) Preparing your baby’s milk – Make it easy for caregivers
Just like how you would prepare feeds for your baby’s caregiver when you leave baby at home, the same goes for when you send your baby to IFC. Since the IFC can be a busy place during meal times, many mothers commented that storing milk directly into bottles was one of the best ways to ensure that milk could be warmed up quickly for a hungry baby. We wouldn’t want a very angry baby who may end up being so flustered and rejecting the bottle. One mother labelled her bottles (1, 2, 3, 4) to indicate which bottle to feed first. Some mothers also took over the job of washing used bottles at home instead of getting the teachers to do it so that the centre focuses on just giving babies the milk without having to worry about cleaning bottles.Some mothers also make sure that they have emergency frozen milk stored in the centre’s freezer. Parents should provide enough for baby’s stay throughout the day till baby leaves. You may also need to decide if you would want some spare milk for baby’s trip home in case you are not the one bringing him home.
4) Have a Trial Week
While every second with your baby is precious during maternity leave, consider having a trial few days or a week if you can afford it. This gives you some time to figure out the early morning rush hour, your pumping routine, as well as providing enough time for you and your baby’s teachers to familiarize and adapt to one another. Be prepared to be called back in the event baby refuses to feed from the bottle or becomes inconsolable from being separated from you; linger around or near the IFC for a bit during the first few days. Trial days also mean that you don’t have to take urgent leave off work which can be reserved for baby’s sick days in the future. Some mothers do this gradually, though. You may want to try leaving baby behind for a few hours the first two days and then a full day from the third day onwards.
5) Direct-Latched Babies: How to Manage Baby’s Sleep at IFC
Most mums who direct-latched their babies are naturally very concerned about how baby will fall asleep at IFC. Since they would have probably co-slept with baby at home, a lot of mothers worry if their babies will be able to self-soothe to sleep without latching on. On the contrary, mothers who commented said that they discovered that their babies adapt differently in their absence. Some mums find that their babies may fall asleep at the same time they feed from the bottle and their bodies adjust accordingly. This seems natural since it mimics drinking from the breast. Other babies seem to adapt to the caregiver’s way of putting baby to sleep such as patting, rocking or cradling. Whichever way your baby grows accustomed to, it is important to give time to your baby’s teacher to learn your baby’s preferences. Communicating this during your daily visits is important to help baby settle down as quickly as possible.
Words of Encouragement
It was heartwarming to see many mothers encouraging one another on the thread in the Facebook post I mentioned earlier. One thing is for sure, for those of us who send our babies to IFC, seeing them grow and thrive after a rough start is heartwarming. We know that mummy-guilt wrecks even the best of us and for a long time, that dilemma may sit deeply in our hearts. But we know that this is the choice that we have made and we make the best out of it.
Reflecting on my own experience of sending my two boys to IFC, I learnt that even very young children can adapt and thrive in different environments. The IFC played a huge part in helping them have a comfortable stay and in ensuring their needs are met. On top of the support for breastfed babies, it was also the sincere love, care and concern that the teachers had for my children that made me feel at ease and trusting of them, especially when I walked out of the door leaving my children behind for another day at work.