In the Spotlight: A Tribute to Breastfeeding Mums

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

As natural as it sounds like it is, breastfeeding is not an easy task. In celebration of International Women’s Day (8 March) this year, THP decides to interview breastfeeding mothers. After all, mums are nurturers of the new generation (i’m not bias ok? LOL). Sounds cheesy? Wait till you read what these mums have to say.

We are really lucky to have the chance to chat with 2 mummies: Julia Guo and Teresa Tan. And since I’m a newly-promoted mother too, I’m here to share my own breastfeeding experience. Together, we hope to put things into real perspective by letting mum-to-be’s and fellow mums understand what this whole milk business really is.

Interviewees’ profiles:
Spunky mummy, Julia Guo (early 30s) is an SAHM (Stay-at-home mum) and pretty much a breastfeeding championer. While she’s not nursing or chasing after Erin (21 months), she finds time to promote fashionable nursing-friendly clothes which are great even for active mums at Milk und Mayhem -“Milk” for obvious reasons, “und” meaning “and” in German, and “Mayhem” because having a kid is inviting madness into your life. Follow MuM on Facebook and footprints on Instagram (@milkundmayhem)!

Julia looking svelte in nursing-friendly jumpsuit from Milk und Mayhem! Ain't little Erin such a sweetie?

Julia looking svelte in a nursing-friendly jumpsuit from Milk und Mayhem! Ain’t little Erin such a sweetie?

Mummy to 2 young bubs (4.5 years old and 18 months), Teresa Tan (mid 30s) is an SAHM and mumpreneur at Willow & Sage (Facebook page here), which houses baby and mummy care products including bamboo charcoal cloth diapers which her son is still donning. Inspired by her daughter who loves all things princess, she has also started Trixy Lily Fairy Dresses to help little girls realize their fairy tale dreams.

Le Xuan giving Le Tian a BIG sisterly hug.

Le Xuan giving Le Tian a BIG sisterly hug.

Juggling a bubbly 4 month old baby along with work is no mean feat. As a FTWM (Full-time working mum) and founder/owner of The Hooting Post, Dee has been trying hard not to raise too many eyebrows when doing mummy duties at work in the store room. Considered a “newbie” compared to the other 2 mummies, Dee is extremely grateful to both of them for their mental support and practical tips throughout this special journey.

Vera sticking her tongue out during playtime.

Vera sticking her tongue out during playtime.

How long have you/did you breastfeed yr child/children?

Julia: Erin is fast approaching 21 months and we are still enjoying our breastfeeding relationship. :)
Teresa: Both kids for 1 year each – fair and square :P
Dee: We’ve just past our 4th monthsary! :D

Did you encounter any challenges during your breastfeeding journey? 

Julia: I have to count myself lucky to not have encountered any major challenges so far (touch wood!). The only thing I really had to contend with was engorgement – after my milk came in, I had to be careful or my breasts would become rock hard! This was especially so in the mornings of the initial months: poor Erin would be struggling with strong milk letdowns. It eventually got better when I started to practice block nursing and now she knows when to avoid a boob.

The other, more frivolous-sounding matter would be the availability of nursing-friendly clothes. As Erin was a bottle-rejecter, I had to nurse her everywhere we went, so that meant my clothes had to be nursing-friendly. I found nursing clothes to be quite frumpy and dumpy (and not to mention pricey!) and even though there were nursing-suitable tops at the regular stores, as an SAHM I didn’t quite have the luxury of time to go clothes-hunting at individual stores in individual malls. Which is how I struck upon the idea of having a shop selling nursing-suitable clothes.

Teresa: Blocked milk ducts were my biggest problem. The lumps were so painful and nothing I did seem to resolve it. Bearing with the pain and continuing to latch on eventually helped make things better, but not without much discomfort and courage. By my 2nd one, I was so used to it that I just pricked myself with a needle to get things flowing.

Dee: Like Teresa, I’ve had my fair share of clogged paths, having experienced milk blebs 4 times so far. And it always occurs at the same spot (?!) making it really annoying. When it first happened, I quickly SOS Google and discovered Kellymom.com. Eventually used the hot towel method, put baby to latch directly and tried to poke with my nails and eventually, the blocked route was clear and milk started oozing out to free the pain.

How do you handle breastfeeding when you’re away from your child?

Julia: Erin started rejecting bottles on and off at around 3 months old – mostly off – and eventually we gave up after trying out different bottles, teats, temperatures, fresh milk, refrigerated milk, thawed milk, different people feeding her etc. For a period of time I really couldn’t leave her for more than a few hours at a stretch. Now that she’s older, she’s happy to take expressed milk from a water bottle or a cup, but my advice to mothers out there is: start them early (around 4 weeks old, once you’ve established supply and baby is in no danger of nipple confusion/bottle preference) and don’t stop! Give them the bottle at least once every day. It will really be a life saviour when you need to be away from your baby for extended periods.

Teresa: Le Xuan took to the bottle easily so it wasn’t an issue for her. I could still get out of the house once in a while and my mum could bottle-feed her expressed milk. But for Le Tian it was a different story altogether. He’s a boobs-only little man and reluctantly takes to the bottle only when I am not around and he’s hungry. Even so, the quantity wasn’t much – he’d just take some to ease off the hunger. Needless to say, I couldn’t be away from him for too long. If I wanted some “me time”, every minute counts!

"Please learn to drink from the bottle, or I'll tell mummy you've been naughty when she gets back!"

“Please learn to drink from the bottle, or I’ll tell mummy you’ve been naughty when she gets back!”

Dee: I’d say i’m pretty attached to Vera and throughout the maternity leave period, i’ve hardly left the house without her. For those few hours that i’ve stepped out, we’ll direct latch during her feeding times or milk expression will be done so that she can feed while i’m away. I’m also very thankful that she’s been adaptable to bottles and formula.

Have you tried any supplements to assist with supply? Did they deliver as promised?

Julia: Not much, save for oats, but I have read that different galactagogues work differently for different women.

Teresa: Personally, Earth Mama Angel Baby’s Milkmaid Tea helps with that extra boost. It is also highly raved by many mummies who have tried them both locally and in different parts of the world. Papaya fish soup is another nutritious way to help with supply. Results vary for individuals so it really depends on each person. Essentially, it’s important to eat nutritiously.

Dee: At the hospital, as I was still anxiously waiting for milk to come in, my gynae prescribed Motilium to speed things up. Nothing much happened until day 2 or 3 when I was home, my bosom buddies got so engorged, they practically felt like rocks! I knew I had to massage them (I got the Hub to help too cos it was just too painful, I lacked the strength and courage to massage)  to ease the pain and to encourage them the right way out. I did it with tears and a strong urge to spew vulgarities. Guess that was pretty much unforgettable. Lesson learnt: patience, patience, patience!

Are you more cautious with your diet by avoiding/eating more of certain food?

Julia: When Erin was younger, yes, to a degree. I stayed away from caffeine because I’m sensitive to it and I was afraid she, too, would be, but now I allow myself the odd cup of tea. Alcohol is the other biggie. I only started taking nutritional supplements after she turned one, more to ensure I was replenishing my body’s reserves than anything else. I’ve read that some foods can cause reactions in babies e.g. gas/wind, allergies.

Teresa: I try to eat nutritiously by having more fish and vegetables, as well as soups and avoid raw foods like sashimi to minimize risk of food poisoning which affects milk. Also foods that are too heaty or cooling, I steered clear of them as well. My saddest food abstinence was beer! There was once I just had to drink beer so I pumped and threw. Major heartache. Subsequently, I waited 4 to 5 hours and took not more than one mug. Coffee is something that I avoid as well – while still breastfeeding Le Tian, I forgot that I had a cuppa and breastfed him not long after. He was so awake the whole afternoon; gosh!

Dee: I’ve always been a conscious eater so it’s comes easily for me. Been steering clear of raw food since pregnancy days. Also, seafood is an infrequent treat. Am also continuing with calcium and omega 3 supplements that were taken during pregnancy to help my body adjust and hopefully tackle postnatal hair fall and deteriorating memory. Lol!

Share any myth you’ve heard of about breastfeeding.

Julie: Too many to name! One particular one does bother me though, and that is not everyone can breastfeed. If you think about it, that’s biologically not very possible. The truth is that very little – only about 1-5% of women, depending on who you ask – physically cannot produce milk, mainly due to physical issues such as insufficient glandular tissue. The rest of the time, I believe women struggle because there is not enough support for them to do so. There isn’t enough social nor infrastructural support (e.g. in the form of educational material freely and widely available).

Some other myths about breastfeeding that I’ve personally heard – that breastmilk is nutritionally void after nth months, that you need to stop breastfeeding if your period is back, that drinking cold drinks/eating “cooling” food will make your baby poo a lot, that a big baby needs to be supplemented with formula… I could go on!

Dee: Credits to my confinement nanny’s legendary tales – formula milk is sweet and once baby tastes that, she will reject breastmilk which is bland! From confinement days till now, if there’s a key takeaway, that would be: “For every thesis, there’s an anti-thesis.” Even on Facebook mummy support groups (for those keen, there’s Breastfeeding Mums group set up by the folks at TheAsianParent), what works for one may not work for another.

One fact that I’ve picked up recently: Pump output does not equate to supply. Technically, latching is the optimal manner in getting milk removed from the breast as our babies are “natural pumps”. Mums start to fret when expressed amounts are lesser than expected and are misled by their confinement nannies or others that they have a low supply. That said, some mums take breastfeeding way too seriously, till they tire themselves out or face a nervous breakdown. Formula feeding is not poison and does not make one any less of a mother.

What do you enjoy most about breastfeeding?

Julia: This one’s a no-brainer :) The exclusive, one-on-one intimacy with my child. Breastfeeding her has given us a really strong bond, one that I personally would have had to work harder on, had I not been breastfeeding. I love watching her fall asleep at the boob, stroking her hair, listening to her talk in her baby gibberish… it’s beautiful moments like these that I couldn’t imagine happening if I bottle-fed her (expressed milk or otherwise).

Teresa: Definitely the bonding. Looking at my kids’ little ears and fingers when nestled comfortably in my arms feeding. Despite the rough boat rides along the way with 2 kids especially during the times of caring for an active toddler; wouldn’t trade those moments for anything else.

Dee: There’s just this blissful aura when your little one is cuddled closed to you and nursing in your arms. The sweet moments of togetherness and bonding which no one else (not even daddy!) can enjoy with my child, keeps me going. She gets sweaty (maybe cos of her hair?) while nursing and it’s a natural action for me to touch her hair, which she’s used to already by now. However, she really hates it when she hears another person’s voice talking to me during these quiet moments together. Other than daddy’s voice, anyone else who tries to speak to me even from outside the room, will cause her to burst into tears. Now that I’m back to work, nursing her to sleep at night is something I look forward to every day.

"Look mummy, I can hold my bottle!"

“Look mummy, I can hold my bottle!”

Share some tips which would be great notes for first-time mums.

Julia: Expect the beginning to be tough! If you are intending on breastfeeding, you will have to deal with getting your milk in, sleepless nights, seemingly endless sessions of nursing, countless diaper changes… And if you are not, then there’s the bottle washing, sterilising, water boiling, etc on top of everything else… the first three months are the toughest. Trust me, it’s going to be a culture shock. But being prepared is half the battle won! :)

On that note, always accept help when it is offered. It will help to keep you sane in the long run. While the oft-heard advice is to nap while your baby naps, in reality there’s going to be 101 things to be done during those precious pockets of “free” time. Make them count!

In the first six months (at least), don’t be afraid of spoiling your baby. Contrary to popular opinion, they don’t have the mental sophistication required to manipulate you. They need you to hold them, rock them, cradle them, stay close to them, so that they feel safe and loved. They have just been ushered into a bright, loud and overwhelming world from the darkness and safety of your muffled womb. They are as much in shock as you are! Go with your gut.

Expect things not to go as planned. You can be the most organised, systematic person in the world, but with a newborn baby, that’s going to throw you off track. Your baby is going to throw up just as you are about to leave home for lunch, poo in his newly change diaper, sleep when it’s not her naptime, be awake when it’s supposed to be her bedtime, cry to be rocked to bed one day and arch his back the next night when you do it… Babies don’t come with timetables, so go with the flow. Wing it, and enjoy the ride.

And lastly, cherish the moments. Take copious amounts of photos and videos, but don’t forget to soak it all in as well. Parenthood is an amazing journey and life as you know it will never be the same again, but it will be ever so more enriched.

Teresa: If you’re planning to breastfeed, get the right tools to help with efficiency. Go for a double electric breast pump to help buy you more time. A breast-feeding pillow is a worthwhile investment which I didn’t spend on my first pregnancy and should have. They really helped make nursing sessions at home more comfortable and reduces the aches and pains for mum.

You’re bound to feel sore or experience cracked nipples especially in the early days. Earth Mama Angel Baby’s Nipple Balm helps healing a great deal – simply apply after cleaning the nipple area after each session. Lots of massaging helps to stimulate the milk glands prior to nursing or milk expression.

Dee: Don’t we wish that babies come with an instruction manual! Unfortunately, every baby is different while the bigger picture paints a general skeletal of similarities such as milestones. Be prepared for plenty of trial and errors – get prepared by reading up or doing research, as well as hearing from other mums on dealing with different situations. As each baby is different, always put your own baby’s wellbeing first. You’re bound to be overwhelmed with advice – everyone loves telling you stuff – do what you feel most comfortable and logical.

Learning to understand your baby can help to crack some da vinci codes e.g. different types of cries mean she’s sending out different messages to you. Babies don’t cry for no apparent reason – parenthood is a game of patience and learning to be flexible. Agree with Julia that more often than not, things don’t go as planned. Before heading out, baby might just gift you with a mega poop and you’ll need to whisk her off to change out of that pretty outfit you’ve been wanting her to wear.

Something else that no one has fore-warned me before: build up those arm muscles! As a newborn, their weight is still manageable. Although their weight gain is gradual, there will come a point when you suddenly realize that you ain’t that “strong” anymore!

Do you feel that there’s too much emphasis on breastfeeding that it gives mums added undue stress?

Julia: I really do think that there’s just not enough support to make breastfeeding a viable route for mums to take, in Singapore as well as many other places. To begin with, maternity leave is only for 16 weeks, but WHO recommends that we breastfeed our babies exclusively for 6 months, and to continue to do so after solids are introduced, up to or beyond 2 years of age. Expressing milk takes a crazy amount of effort, more so than formula-feeding. Hospitals no longer give out formula samples to new mums, yet the only lesson on breastfeeding most mums get is an hour-long crash course if they sign up for a regular antenatal course.

Everyone knows “breast is best”, and mums on formula routinely feel guilty about not breastfeeding, but our busy working lives sometimes doesn’t allow us to even pump once a day, and so our supply drops drastically once we go back to work. The stress is definitely there. On many levels being economically active in the conventional sense simply does not gel well with being a mother, and in particular, a breastfeeding one. In fact the two are at constant odds with each other. All mums, whether breastfeeding or formula-using, want the best for their kids, and do the best that they can. And women being women, we beat ourselves up constantly when we cannot meet the exacting standards that we place for ourselves. In some ways this emphasis on breastfeeding comes from ourselves, because we want the best for our kids. But really, as long as we’ve given the best of ourselves, breast milk or formula milk, we should give ourselves, and each other, a pat on our backs.

At Maeklong, Thailand. Breastfeeding in public without a cover for the first time.

At Maeklong, Thailand. Breastfeeding in public without a cover for the first time.

Teresa: For several reasons, yes, many mothers go through this. Don’t be overly concerned about production levels. Any period of breastfeeding is good. My daughter was half formula fed as I didnt have enough breast milk and she’s grown up perfectly well, meeting all her milestones. Today, she’s an inquisitive and happy child, much like any others of her age. There’s simply no right or wrong in the amount of breast milk given to your child – so, mummies need to learn to chill too. Given that everyone’s situation is different, not every mum can nurse 24/7. Some tend to hawk holier than thou attitudes which is totally unnecessary. Women should support each other, that’s what’s more important.

Dee: There will be distinct camps for this, and simply put: go with what you feel most comfortable with. Breastfeeding should be enjoyed and not seen as a mandatory expectation of every woman – that’s just not fair. As the caregiver of your child, your health is also a priority. Getting oneself mentally and emotionally affected over this does not help. Many bodies are promoting breastfeeding; while it’s deemed “natural”, it should not be taken as a benchmark or KPI as a mother. Yes, every drop counts for our liquid gold, but hey, comparing output/latching frequencies/duration of breastfeeding journey is just uncalled for. For the fact that while promoting breastfeeding, statistics are thrown out to say things like “babies who are breastfed are XX% smarter than those formula-fed” are definitely not doing justice to women. More often than not, these are women “beating up” others. Is that really necessary? Didn’t most of us grow up on formula, anyway?

Motherhood (and parenthood) should be a happy and enjoyable journey. Daddies play a crucial role in helping to keep mummy sane. If right from the start, we get upset over not “giving fully of ourselves”, then for the rest of our lives, at some point in time there will be moments that we’ll say, “I should have done this or that back then.” – we’re only going to live in remorse and be backward-looking all the time. When in fact, we should focus our energies on developing our children in the best, holistic manner possible, without compromising on our own health and happiness.

Bottles can be a life line to many mums. Giving your baby a bottle with breastmilk or formula does not make a mother any different from another. Let’s not judge others who do things differently from you. Some mothers choose to express – whether by choice (or lackof) or need – it’s not necessary to get caught up being too anal about breastfeeding having to be direct latching only. Go with the flow and enjoy the learning journey with your baby. Life’s not about trying to “live up to” others’ expectations – why should we? Enjoy your baby when he or she is still a baby and be a happy mother!

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JUST FOR THE HOOTING POST’S READERS AND FANS!

Get more for less – prices have already been reduced and THP readers get to enjoy a further 20% discount with promo code THP20! For mummies, every bit of savings count. How cool is that?

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Thank you mummies for taking precious time to oil your brain cells to recall some memories and sharing your responses on this topic close to our hearts. We hope fellow mothers and new mothers enjoy this beautiful journey with your baby, regardless of the length; it’s the quality time spent together for his/her lifetime.

If you know someone inspirational or someone you look up to for that extra boost of motivation, tell us! We might just feature him/her in our next “In the Spotlight” article! :)