When #Itasteslikelove was launched, I remember feeling excited but then immediately
sad. This was because I hadn’t been able to successfully breastfeed and felt I could not
hold the badge of honor that is a breastfeeding mother.
But what I’ve learnt is that I do deserve that badge of honor, honor and recognition of being a mother that provides breast milk for their child/children no matter how hard, painful and mind-blowingly time
consuming it is to be a pumping mother.
There are many reasons for a mother to not be able to breastfeed and I’m struck by the often-unconscious insensitivity that so many folks have when they are told this to immediately ask “why?”, “what happened?” or “what’s wrong?”.
The looks of concern, surprise and shock even followed by unsolicited detailed analysis and advice to help fix
this terrible problem, almost always happens. From other mothers, fathers, aunties and uncles, friends, colleagues, even absolute strangers that you have just met for the first time, the go to position is one of negativity when you share that you don’t directly breastfeed.
Nobody should judge a mama that pumps milk instead of directly breastfeeding.
In fact, pumping mamas have a much tougher job than direct breastfeeding mamas because they need to have all the right equipment to pump successfully without damaging or spilling the milk and then safely storing and transporting the milk for their babies.
To do so, takes great determination, organization and multitasking skills as well as both physical and mental resilience.
Pumping mamas also face more discrimination when it comes to pumping in public.
The truth is, there are many reasons for mamas to pump milk, from physiological, medical, emotional, mental well-being reasons to the simple one of pure essential need.
Mamas will not always and cannot always be around to feed their babies!
The number one reason, however, is work. In Hong Kong, the statutory maternity leave
is only 14 weeks, and you must start it 2 weeks before your due date so essentially, we
just get 12 weeks and if you deliver past due date, you get even less.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, the statutory minimum was just 12 weeks at the time, and
he was a week late so technically I was back at work at week 9 postpartum. The picture
is the same for around Asia, Singapore’ maternity leave is only 12 weeks if you are not
a Singaporean citizen and 16 weeks if you are, in Japan it’s 8 weeks’ time off post-
partum, Malaysia and South Korea it is 98 and 90 days maternity leave.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding or breast milk for the first 6 months of a baby’s life and thereafter, mixed breast milk and food for up to 2 years and beyond.
How are we supposed to do that, if we need to be back at work after 2-4 months of having a baby!? Pumping milk is the reality that most of us face.
Here are my top tips:
PHOTO CREDIT: BREASTFEEDING MAMA TALK, HEDGER HUMOUR
1) Find the right bra, pump and flange that work for you
There are so many choices out there… hand pumps, electric pumps, hands free pumps that insert into bras. Try them out when the milk has arrived and see what works best for you. Some places, such as the Hong Kong store Breast Pump City, allow mamas to go and test options out. The right flange size is also important, matching your nipple size to the funnel and finding a flange that works for you from hard shell to soft shell, is key.
2) Be fully prepared and ready for all situations
Once you have found your battle gear, next thing is to arm yourself fully and to always be prepared! Have a backup hand pump ready in the office or at home in case the electric one dies. Have multiple flanges,
bottles and parts at both office and home. Also consider investing in a small travel sterilizer. Not too expensive and worth the investment for a peace of mind. Always carry a small pump to be ready to pump anytime, anywhere and don’t be afraid to do so!
3) Space out your pumping times to enable at least 4-5 hours of working time
I see a lot of mamas stressing about needing to increase volume. All these other mamas and the big bad web provide suggestions of methods such as pumping with short breaks or timed bursts of pumping etc.
Don’t stress. The best advice I ever got was from a wise and seasoned midwife at the hospital when I had my second baby. Whilst recovering from a C section, she told me to ignore anyone that was pressing me to breastfeed or pump milk.
She told me to just enjoy cuddle time with my baby, skin to skin where possible. Enjoy and treasure those early moments together and when baby wants milk to try nurse her if possible but if not, then don’t force it. “Your milk will come in time. And if it doesn’t don’t stress. There’s always formula.” Then when my milk came, she told me to pump when I felt full, to give myself sufficient gaps in between and try to keep it similarly timed each day. Also, where possible, to get as much sleep as possible, especially at night. A rare benefit of a pumping mama as someone else can be feeding baby instead!
4) Your wellbeing is the priority - stress is a top cause of mastitis
I pumped for 18 months for my first baby. I had mastitis more than 10 times and the number one reason for
me was stress, confirmed by my go to breast surgeon, Dr Lorraine Chow, who would tut at me for going to see her again.
I always had some excuse, an urgent work deadline, a business trip, an unhappy work situation and every time she would tell me to focus on myself, my body, my mental well-being. Be assertive and make sure you carve out boundaries and time to comfortably pump and be less stressed. Your well-being is fundamental to a good pumping experience and a positive postpartum experience.
Make sure your partner (if any) and loved ones around you understand and support this. Make sure you eat healthily and on time, hydrate and rest a little after pumping, also give yourself a snack as blood sugar and energy levels will drop. Also if you spill milk, try not to get upset.
Photo caption: Spotted - a fridge in an office meant only for
breast milk, completely full with beer
5) Get your employer, manager and team mates on board to be supportive
Having a supportive employer, manager and team is absolutely important. A designated room for
pumping with a fridge and sink to wash up is key, as is time to pump in your work
schedule. A good employer should provide a suitable environment or access to one as
well as paid time to pump without any penalties such as needing to make up time.
A good manager and understanding team should be considerate of blocked pumping
times when scheduling meetings and when working together. Awareness and education
are key, very few people that have not gone through a pumping or breastfeeding
experience themselves would know that it requires time throughout the day and night
and can last from a few months to a few years!
6) Everyone has a part to play in being supportive of pumping mamas.
We can all do our bit to be supportive and inclusive of all mamas whether pumping, breastfeeding or formula feeding, within the mama, papa and carer community, we should remember that we are better together and to always, be kind to one another.
Photo caption: Mother’s room at work where they have a
sink, fridge, bin, chair, storage and bed
About the author:
Flo Chan is a seasoned pumping mama of two and also a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Advocate