Two mums, two unique journeys. Whatever the challenges, their devotion to nourishing their little ones with Mummy’s milk will inspire you.
‘‘35 PACKETS OF EXPRESSED MILK – ALL GONE‘‘
Reina Tan, 32, early childhood vice-principal and mum to Hannah, 18 months old
It was every breastfeeding mum’s worst nightmare – a week after Reina resumed work after a 15-month hiatus, she opened her deep freezer to find her entire supply of expressed breast milk had thawed.
Her new domestic helper had accidentally turned off the switch to the freezer containing 35 packets of breast milk, which she had painstakingly built up months before starting work. She had to throw away everything. Needless to say, the 32-year-old first time mum bawled her eyes out.
“I didn’t blame my helper as it was an accident, but I was in shock for a long time. My milk supply has never been abundant; I only had enough for my baby. So I can’t even begin to describe my anguish, because it was not easy for me to pump and store,” Reina recalls.
After the tears, panic set in. What would her daughter drink when she was at work? Now 18 months old, Hannah has a milk protein allergy, which means regular milk or other dairy products can cause a bad reaction, like blood in her stools, which has landed her in hospital twice.
It was one of the reasons that Reina had put her early-childhood career on hold for over a year. She says: “I was in shock for a long while before I ran out to buy another breast milk pump, as I had left mine in the office. I also cancelled my weekend plans and stayed home to pump and build up another supply.”
The incident stressed Reina so much, she fell seriously ill for a week. During then, she was advised by doctors and family members to wean her toddler. “They advised me to stop breastfeeding, so I could take stronger medication for my illness. But I saw the bigger picture. Breastfeeding has given Hannah so much comfort and nourishment,” shares the devoted mum, who took nursing-friendly medication instead.
Reina’s breast milk freezer is now empty, but that does not faze her. Instead, she maintains her milk supply by pumping at work and latching Hannah directly at night and on weekends. “Breastfeeding is harder for me now that I am working. I need to pace myself at work to pump and also fulfil my job responsibilities. It doesn’t help that Hannah still wakes up frequently at night to nurse, so I have very little rest,” she adds.
Despite the obstacles, Reina doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon as she feels “it is the best gift” she can give her daughter. “The irreplaceable special bond we’ve built through breastfeeding is something I treasure a lot,” she says.
‘‘ONE WEEK BECAME 18 MONTHS‘‘
Lim Ting, 33, stay-at-home mum to Kyle and Kyne Cen, aged six and two, respectively
You could call Ting the breastfeeding poster girl in her extended family. Her relatives are advocates of Mummy’s milk, after seeing how her children have thrived on hers. “They even encouraged my sister-in-law to follow in my footsteps and breastfeed. Although they’ve not told me outright, I think they are secretly proud of me for successfully breastfeeding my two kids,” says Ting.
Her elder son, Kyle Cen, weaned on his own at 18 months. She is currently breastfeeding her two-year-old toddler, Kyne (pictured below), and intends to do so until he self-weans, too.
But six years ago, her decision to breastfeed her first child exclusively was met with disapproval. Back then, she was living with her in-laws, and spent her early postpartum weeks fending off criticism from unsupportive family members.
“Both my mum and my mother-in-law did not breastfeed, so they couldn’t understand why I wanted to do it. Kyle was also the first grandson in the family, so I guess everyone was being overly helpful and possessive of him,” says Ting.
She was made to bottle-feed her baby with water and her nursing sessions were often disrupted midway. Once, a relative went to the extent of telling Baby loudly: “Tell Mummy to stop breastfeeding you, and give you formula.”
The stress of being a first-time mum, coupled with the lack of understanding from her family, took an emotional toll on her. Constantly on edge and teary, Ting doubted her ability to produce enough milk. Thankfully, her husband and maternal grandmother were her pillars of support during this challenging period.
“My husband reassured me that Baby was feeding well by reminding me of the number of wet diapers we had to change,” she says. “My maternal granny, who breastfed all her children, also gave me tips on how to boost my milk supply. Without them, I don’t think I could have continued.
“At first, I was content to breastfeed for only one week. But one week became one month, then eventually 18 months,” she says. “I guess both my baby and I needed each other. He needed me as his food source, and I needed him to maintain my sanity, because our nursing sessions became our private bonding time.”
Although she still grapples with problems like mastitis and engorgement while nursing her second child, Ting is not complaining. She is thankful that her family members now accept and support her decision to breastfeed.
“If I feed my kid formula now, everyone will go ‘Huh, why?’,” she says with a laugh. Her advice to new mums: “Do what you think is best for your baby and yourself. At the end of the day, nobody can force you to stop breastfeeding if you don’t want to.”
Still nervous about trying to breastfeed at work? Read this.
For more tips on where to go for breastfeeding support in Singapore, click here.
By Eveline Gan, Young Parents, August 2015