Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Story 18 January 2012
By K. LIM (the Star News)

Breastfeeding working mothers (BWMs) are your ultimate multitaskers and production-efficiency experts. Every minute is calculated to ensure optimum output as we juggle work, family time – and the expression of breast milk.

My day would start at 6am and end at midnight. I eventually got used to surviving on five to six hours of sleep a day as the body was conditioned to the lifestyle change. I’d catch up on sleep during the weekends, if time and baby permitted!Having expressed breast milk seven times a day during my maternity leave, reducing it to four times daily when I returned to work greatly decreased my supply. Still, I managed to ensure my baby had enough to be fully breastfed, with a little extra to spare for my older child.Due to work and family factors, my breast-milk expression routine was not fixed.
 I started expressing the moment I woke up. At work, I scheduled myself to express during lunch hour. Should there be a working lunch or meeting, I’d do it before the appointment or after. My other BWM friends would try their best to fit in two or three sessions, just to ensure their supply was not hindered. To all of us, it is a matter of pride that our babies are fully breastfed, without the need of supplementing with formula milk.I am lucky to be working for a caring company, which set up a “baby room” for mothers to express breast milk in privacy and comfort. Certain floors are equipped with refrigerators, making it convenient to store milk during office hours.The hour spent in the baby room opens a whole new social life for BWMs, some even view them as their support group. When time permits, the mothers share stories and tips on motherhood as well as on breastfeeding and breast-milk expression.Such “mummy talk” while the task is in progress is a wonderful way to get things off our chests (no pun intended!).As a Chinese mother, my return to work after maternity leave was filled with mixed emotions. Talking about breasts and breastfeeding was embarrassing and uncomfortable to me. The moment I started talking about it all eyes would be on my chest. It took some getting used to.But the more I spoke about it the more it educated my colleagues and gave them a whole new understanding of the world of working parents. Even my male colleagues who were fathers-to-be appreciated the openness with which I dealt with the subject as they, too, wanted their wives to provide the best for their babies. But not all my colleagues were as empathetic.

My former head of department, although a mother herself, had the perception that BWMs were less productive than pregnant women. She seemed to have forgotten what it was like to care for babies.I had to endure her snide remarks during the one year when I regularly excused myself from after-work outings, weekend events, outstation visits, teambuilding exercises and overseas travels. She felt that my life was restrictive and I wasn’t as committed to my job as the others were.Thanks to understanding and considerate colleagues, I got through the rough days as they sought ways to help me out. My manager, for one, did not encourage working late. Hence I could make it home before 7pm each day with the milk expressed during lunch. Then I’d have two more sessions with the breast pump – predinner and right before bedtime.

My manager, who experienced less success with breastfeeding, was really supportive. She made sure I continued on with mine as she believed in the importance of breast milk for all babies.The evening hours spent at home invariably involved a daily report on my children from my mother who cares for them during the day. The doting grandmother would relate the number of feeds and diaper changes, baby’s bowel movements, latest milestones and my toddler’s behaviour for the day.

These were moments of relief tinged with regret, as I rued the time missed with my kids. Yet I felt extremely lucky to have my mother looking after them. At home, I went about my tasks as briskly as I did at work. All arrangements for the following day must be done the night before as bottles and breast pump were washed, sterilised and packed for the next day. It was a routine I lived by religiously for a year to ensure the best for my baby.Being a BWM takes courage, dedication and commitment.

The BWMs in my workplace all share these traits as we strive to build our nation’s future starting with breastfeeding our babies. It wasn’t easy but we took one day at a time.I retired as a BWM just before Christmas when my baby turned 18 months old. It was a time filled with pride, joy, relief, yet with a little regret when I stopped giving him what nature best intended. But I think I deserve to store away my breast pump and enjoy motherhood as he charts a new milestone in his life – learning to speak.I will always look back on my BWM days with immense satisfaction. A mother’s few months of sacrifice is a baby’s lifetime of goodness.

-Qaseh Kita-

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