As told to Nabila Hanim, BMSG Staff
For some breastfeeding mothers, flexible work arrangements allow them to still be able to be with their babies while they go to work. Nurul Huda Khamsani, a religious teacher who works and manages a religious education centre, has been bringing her two children to work since their infancy. Currently still nursing her second child, Nurul Huda shares with us why she continues to bring her children to work and what keeps her motivated to breastfeed despite the struggles of teaching while breastfeeding.
[Do note that this interview was conducted in February before the Circuit Breaker was implemented. All learning centres have been closed and many religious teachers like Nurul Huda now teach from home online.]
Hi! Tell us more about yourself!
A: My name is Nurul Huda Binti Khamsani. I’m 32 years old and I’m married with two beautiful children. I teach Quranic Literacy at a Qur’anic training centre that I also manage as it is a family business. I tutor some children at home on some days during the week, too.
How long have you been breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is a very crucial and special part of my life. I had breastfed my firstborn Fursan for 26 months since November 2016. He was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for three weeks, having been born premature at 32 weeks.
The first week after giving birth, I couldn’t get him to latch on. Finally, after getting tips from a lactation counsellor, I was elated when Fursan took his first sips of direct breastmilk. All the while my husband (a.k.a. my number one supporter) had been delivering my expressed breast milk to NUH everyday without fail as I was recovering from a caesarean section.
Fursan was a hungry baby indeed, and I almost gave up because my expressed breast milk was barely enough for him. I tried my best to fully breastfeed him, and after a while, I got the hang of it. This was in part because I constantly asked and sought support from other breastfeeding mothers and counselors.
I’m now nursing my second child with more confidence, but if ever in doubt I usually seek advice from a breastfeeding counsellor friend, Khatim. I am truly grateful for all her help in my breastfeeding journey.
My children also have a milk sibling (also known as anak susuan in Malay), Izzi, who is my nephew. I would express my milk and send it over to my sister-in-law’s home every week.
We hear that you bring your baby to work! What is your work arrangement like? Do you bring your baby along with you all the time?
I work five days a week; three days at the centre and two at home. I bring my second child (nursing) to my centre as I prefer to latch her directly. I consider myself lucky to have such understanding students who do not mind me teaching and breastfeeding at the same time.
It is definitely not easy to be bringing children to work, especially with an infant in tow. This is a challenge whether I am at the centre or at home. Nonetheless, my father, Khamsani Karim – also the founding director of the training centre that I work at – is a staunch advocate of providing a child-friendly working environment for his staff.
We are taking steps to making our centre even more child-friendly for students and staff, which include our main administrator and one of our full-time teachers – both breastfeeding mums.
While we are not able to provide a specific nursing room due to space constraints, we do allow our staff who are mums to make themselves comfortable while at work and especially if they bring their babies.
We provide three foldable baby rockers, a foldable changing station, a breastfeeding pillow, a refrigerator and a water dispenser. Not only are staff allowed to bring their young babies, we also allow our students who come to study at our centre to bring their babies. All mums are definitely allowed to nurse their babies when they need to. They simply bring their own nursing covers or breastfeed under their hijab (headscarf). Staff and students are allowed to breastfeed their babies anytime they like.
What are your breastfeeding goals? How long do you foresee yourself breastfeeding and having an arrangement like this?
Breastfeeding is encouraged in Islam, and as a Muslim I naturally incline towards my religion’s teachings. Additionally, I wish to develop a closer bond with my nursing child and strengthen her immune system at the same time. I hope to breastfeed my daughter for two years, if God wills.
I have been bringing my first child to work since he was an infant till he turned two; this is something I also foresee doing with my second child.
There must be challenges that you face in this work arrangement. Tell us more about what these challenges are and how you cope with them.
Baby feeding positioning, fatigue, time management – where do I start? I’ll latch my daughter for about half an hour before I go to work so she can get a good 1 to 2-hour nap while I commute and then teach. I have to use my breaks wisely so that I can do my obligatory prayers, eat, breastfeed and tend to my older child in between lessons.
As I have mentioned before, I also teach at home on some days. Whether it is at the centre or at home, breastfeeding while teaching is a huge challenge at both places. However, despite the struggles, I believe in bringing my babies to work because I want them to grow up in a positive environment. Where I work, we are surrounded by the Qur’an everyday and there is plenty of role-modelling in such an environment towards good habits such as studying the Qur’an and being tolerant of young babies and children.
It is tough now but I strongly believe that this is good for their future as it moulds their character.
From your experience, what would be the best advice you can give mothers out there who are struggling to breastfeed their child while working?
Don’t give up. Keep on learning. Seek support and don’t be shy to ask questions. If you have a religion, pray to God to ease your journey. Enjoy and treasure your breastfeeding journey even though there are so many challenges, because you will miss it dearly once it’s done.
I have felt very demoralised before by the fatigue of having to latch my daughter during one of my trying moments. However, I remind myself that these years are very short and that I am contributing so much to her immune system. The miraculous thing is that my children both rarely fall sick – if they do, I know I can always take childcare leave but this has been rare so far. It has affirmed my decision that what I am doing right now is for my children’s best.
Don’t give up. Keep on learning. Seek support and don’t be shy to ask questions. If you have a religion, pray to God to ease your journey. Enjoy and treasure your breastfeeding journey even though there are so many challenges, because you will miss it dearly once it’s done.Ustazah Nurul Huda
Any memorable experiences with your babies?
To be honest, I have had several serendipitous moments especially during trying times. As you would know, I teach the Quran and interact with it many times while I work. There was once where I felt really tired and helpless as I was endlessly direct-latching my firstborn. It was also during Ramadhan, one of the holiest Islamic months, and I was very eager to do as many good deeds during that month. However, many times he would start to cry just as I was about to start reciting the Qur’an. I was a little disappointed at that moment.
However, during one of these moments, I chanced upon a verse from the Quran on breastfeeding: “Breastfeed your child till the age of two” (2:233). While it is not an injunction or an obligation, that moment moved me very much because I felt as if God was talking to me and comforting me in the midst of my struggles.
A similar incident happened again another time when my student was reciting. Such moments have been comforting and humbling, and I would remember them every time I felt tired from feeding my child.
With the arrival of Ramadhan, we know that many mums are anxious or have questions about breastfeeding during this holy month. We answer some of your questions here. Do share it with a Muslim friend or a mother you know who may need it. We wish all Muslim mothers a blessed Ramadhan!