As told to the BMSG Editorial Team
For many of us, being separated geographically from our breastfeeding babies would take a severe toll on our breastfeeding relationships. Felirose Bartolome, however, was absolutely determined to make it work. She is a medical technologist at a Singaporean hospital, and the mother of two young children aged two years old and six months old has been pumping and transporting milk back to her children ever since they were born. She had breastfed her older child till she turned one and is now still breastfeeding her younger child.Coupled with the pressure of having to pump while at work with a hectic schedule, Felirose faces another headache: having to transport her frozen milk back home to the Philippines. She shares how she sends her milk all the way back home:
“I bring my milk with me when I return to the Philippines every month. If any of my colleagues or friends are going to the Philippines, I would usually ask them to bring my milk with them. I put the milk in a cooler box (a Coleman or Pinnacle box) and use Techni-ice (a type of ice pack that can last up to 18 hours) to keep my milk frozen.
I freeze all my milk in the same quantity so I know how many I can put in the cooler box and how many Techni-ice I need to use. The breastmilk must always be in the check-in luggage, so I pay for my friends’ extra luggage space.
My parents pick up the milk at the airport and bring it back home. So far, no milk is wasted, and every pack has remained totally frozen. I’m really thankful for the support system that I have and for being able to find tools to help me keep my milk frozen.”When asked what was the biggest challenge in the whole process, she replied: “Time is the most challenging to me, as I need to make sure that I do not pack my milk too early in the event of a flight delay. My milk needs to be packed at least two hours before the flight and I need to factor in the journey of going to the airport.”
Felirose also recounted how one of her friends had faced a flight delay and that was one of the most stressful times for her. “My friend’s flight had been delayed for three hours and I really prayed that my milk was all okay. Imagine having packed the milk earlier than two hours before the actual flight time and then having the milk wait out another four hours during the flight to the Philippines. He also had to queue for immigration and collecting his luggage before handing the milk over to my parents. My parents will then make a two-hour journey to reach our home.”
Felirose emphasises how important it is to ensure that you use as many ice packs as possible, especially ones of good quality that are guaranteed to keep milk frozen for as long as possible. She also maintained that a cooler is the best way to transport everything and keep the milk intact.The pressure of managing the logistics of the whole process is truly unimaginable. For Felirose, her resolve to give her breastmilk to her children keeps her going. When her older daughter was still a baby, Felirose had to return to work in Singapore and was unsure if she could continue to breastfeed her child. Many of her other colleagues had given up breastfeeding prematurely because of the strain and stress of work and pumping. However, she soon discovered that she was able to maintain her supply. There was also a time she had an oversupply and was able to donate some of her milk to her friend’s child.
“Expressing milk is hard work, really, but when I see my kids growing healthily, I feel my sacrifices have paid off. My children don’t fall sick easily and this reassures me especially since I live so far away from them and can’t nurse them when they are ill,” Felirose said. She wants to give her children as much of her breastmilk for as long as she can, right up to the last drop.
Felirose has also had her fair share of challenges as a pumping mum. She has experienced engorgement and subsequently suffered from blocked ducts and mastitis due to the irregular schedule of her work. There was also a time when she struggled to produce enough as she was facing stress from work and missing her children; during that time she was only able to produce 10ml per breast.
“But I never surrendered,” she added. “I did all I could to boost my supply again and when I’m expressing my milk, I always look at the pictures and videos of my children that my mother sends me.” She advises other mothers who might be facing a similar situation: “Don’t give up and try your best! Do everything you can for your children.”
Felirose intends to continue to pump and send her milk to her hometown against all odds as she wants to breastfeed her younger boy till he turns two. We wish all mothers like Felirose the very best, even as you strive to provide your children with precious breastmilk despite the gruelling challenges, whether living apart from your children or travelling for work. You are indeed an inspiration to all of us!
“Expressing milk is hard work, really, but when I see my kids growing healthily, I feel my sacrifices have paid off. My children don’t fall sick easily and this reassures me especially since I live so far away from them and can’t nurse them when they are ill.”