When it comes to breastfeeding, it can often be a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. No breastfeeding mother can ever get it ‘right’, it seems, and everyone is an expert when it comes to your breastfeeding, your breast milk supply (and sometimes, your breasts).
“Are you sure you’re feeding your baby enough breast milk?” “Is the quality good enough?” “Why are you not breastfeeding for a longer time?” “You shouldn’t take any medicine when you’re breastfeeding.”
These comments about your breastfeeding can come from all quarters: Doubtful friends and relatives, smug successful breastfeeders, and even your doctor.
Yvon Bock, the founder and CEO of Hegen, has heard them all. The 44-year-old mother breastfed her four kids – Russell, 19, Brandon, 17, Lucas, 15, and Kimberly, 13 – for a total of 10 years. Her Singapore breastfeeding products company has created award-winning bottles and teats for expressed milk, and Bock herself is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who started the Hegen Lactation Centre (HLC).
HLC offers lactation consultation, classes on childbirth education, newborn care and breastfeeding when back at work; and baby massage services.
Even so, this breastfeeding advocate said she was not immune to the occasional comment during her breastfeeding years.
BATTLING MISUNDERSTANDINGS AT WORK
Bock used to work in sales and marketing in a corporate finance company. After she returned from maternity leave, she needed to express her breast milk every three hours in the office.
Noticing that she was often missing from her desk, her director asked her about it. Luckily, he was understanding and even suggested a solution: A “Pumping in progress” desk tent card to inform colleagues of her absence.
It also helps to know your baby’s hunger cues. A fully satiated baby will not exhibit signs of puckering, smacking or licking lips, head turning to look for the breast, and/or putting hands to their mouths, said Bock.
Other indicators include weight gain, which your paediatrician or a lactation consultant can determine.
Like many first-time breastfeeding mums, Bock faced criticism from older relatives as they held misconceptions about the nutritional value of breast milk. They believed she was depriving her children by not opting for formula milk.
“Their perspective was shaped by a time when formula feeding was the norm, leading to the misconception that breastfeeding was associated with less educated or poorer families,” she explained.
To be extra sure, Bock advised that you monitor your baby closely for any unusual behaviour, as the effects of the medication may be stronger and more obvious in younger children. For example, your baby may show signs of diarrhoea, vomiting, rashes, lethargy or not be as active as usual.
Also monitor your milk supply as some medication may cause your supply to dip.
“Do not self-medicate. Always inform your doctor that you require medication that is safe for breastfeeding,” advised Bock.
“YOU SHOULD/SHOULDN’T EAT OR DRINK THIS. YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE THAT DIFFERENTLY. THAT’S WHY YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH MILK!”
Successful breastfeeders and experienced mums may sometimes overwhelm new mums with their (smug) advice.
One script that Bock uses to fend off these naysayers is simply to say: “Thank you so much for sharing, I’ll consider what you said.” Then, she cheekily added, “Use the art of diversion. ‘Hey, you’re looking amazing, did you lose some weight? What have you been up to?”
She advised taking comments from such “experts” with a pinch of salt. “Sometimes these ‘smug breastfeeders’ just want to be seen and heard, or feel better about themselves. Praise them and almost immediately, their tone will change.”
Try: “Wish I could be like you too, to be an over-supply mum.” Or, “You are the envy of all breastfeeding mothers, well done, you!”
It helps when your husband has your back. “Once you and your partner have set a breastfeeding goal and are aligned, support each other through it,” she said.
Every time Bock was at the brink of giving up, her husband Leon encouraged her to just go “one more day” – that one more day accumulated to many years.
Remember, every mother has different circumstances, be it biologically, mentally or financially. No mother should feel less about themselves for not doing the same as other mums.
“YOU FEED YOUR BABY WITH A BOTTLE? MOTHERS WHO PUMP AND BOTTLE-FEED ARE NOT ‘REAL’ BREASTFEEDING MUMS.”
If you’re feeding your baby breast milk whether through direct latching or via a bottle, you absolutely are breastfeeding. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
“I remember these negative comments about how mums who choose to be an exclusively pumping mum, or who prefer to mix-feed via latching and bottle feeding, are not ‘real’ breastfeeding mums,” recalled Bock.
As a full-time working mother who was also dedicated to breastfeeding, Bock often grappled with overwhelming mum guilt – as with many women. To manage that, surround yourself with supportive people, including your husband, family and domestic helper.
“Through my experience, I’ve learned to advise mothers wrestling with similar guilt to be exceptionally kind to themselves.
“It’s crucial to understand that your worth as a parent isn’t measured in millilitres of milk; your love and presence are immeasurable and invaluable.
“Whether you breastfed for a week, a month, a year or more, you are a breastfeeding mother and you are enough.”
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