‘The Reality of Breastfeeding: one working mum’s experience’ by Toni Barker

What pregnant mum isn’t full of idealistic fervour about the benefits of breastfeeding and visions of how committed they’ll be when the bump becomes a baby?

Then of course there is reality. I realise everyone’s reality is not the same as mine but by way of support to those of you determined to give it a go, I thought I share some of my reality – both the good and the bad – of breast feeding in Hong Kong which I hope in your darkest hours might help you get through to your breastfeeding targets.

I think the location marker is an important one because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Hong Kong is that no one breastfeeds. I had my two children at my nearest government hospital. The nurses make all the right noises about breast feeding but actually seem to know less than the multiple text books I had bought on the subject. Piece of advice number one: before you’re due, book in with a maternity nurse or lactation specialist to help you as soon as they can after the birth. I found the initial and ongoing advice I received from a midwife invaluable.

I am a positive person so let’s start with the good stuff. Breastfeeding means you’ll keep your baby as healthy as you can. You’ll have less kit to carry which is important because the paraphernalia you end up carrying around for one munchkin can amaze. You are never caught without supplies and are never scrambling around to sterilise bottles. Breastfeeding uses a whopping number of calories helping you get back to your pre-baby weight quickly, I didn’t have to worry about weight loss it just seem to fall off.  You’ll hear that breastfeeding is restrictive. Here’s an alert for all new mum’s, you’ll have no free time and breastfeeding will save you time, not take up more of it, when you’re at home. When you’re barely wake for the 3 am feed in the early months, there’s no prep work, just let your little one latch on and continue to be barely awake. Bottle-fed babies may occasionally sleep 30 minutes longer than breastfeed babies but sleeping through the night seems to me to be more about regular patterns and sleep training than about breast or bottle. I know schedules for babies is another emotive topic but I found because my life is scheduled by work, that the Gina Ford schedule of feeding and sleeping help me enormously.

For a balanced view there are a few potentially negative things to think about. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but breastfeeding is not always fun and games. If you’re already pregnant or a new mother then that might not be a surprise. You’ve dismissed all those rosy tales about the 9 month continuous pregnancy glow for the lies they are and you’re ready for the reality of breastfeeding in Hong Kong.

The first is mastitis. It’s extremely painful. The key is to know what to look out for and if in doubt act like you’re getting it so that it never gets to the painful stage. There are great homeopathic remedies that make it go away fast so make sure you’ve got them in the cupboard because it won’t strike in office hours between 9-6! If you do get it you really will have to be committed to massage and carry on – there’s not need for it to affect your breastfeeding but I’ve heard of Hong Kong doctors prescribing antibiotics for it and then telling new mum’s they’ve got to give up feeding – madness!

For the shy and less confident amongst us, a second perceived downside is that it’s always a worry to think about where you’ll breastfeed and you can work yourself up about what you’ll do if you get caught short with your baby. Never fear, what I have learned is that half the people in Hong Kong will be way more embarrassed about seeing a flash of a naked breast than you will and the other half are so engrossed in their mobile phones that they won’t even notice what you’re up to. Just carry a muslin cloth or pashmina and you can keep your modesty intact. Mother Nature has this amazing in built system that means you loss all sense of worry about this sort of thing when your baby is crying – all you want to do is make her stop. By the time you have your second and subsequent children, you couldn’t care less where you have to feed as long as you don’t have to hear that baby cry. When my first was little, I remember retiring to the nearest ladies loo and sitting on the lid. As I got braver I just sat in the nearest quiet corner and with a cloth over my shoulder, just got on with it. I found most people look away.

Because few people in Hong Kong breastfeeds, returning to work and continuing to breastfeed can be hard. This is where your commitment and determination to continue will have to come to the fore. Be prepared to fight. If you work for a larger company, that fight will be easier but not always. When my second child was born, I was working for a multi-nation bank sans facilities so I improvised. I taped posters to a glass-door cupboard and sat with my back against the door in lieu of a lock and pumped milk in amongst office stationery and corporate gifts. If there are no dedicated facilities, you are going to have to get creative but try and think about this before you go on maternity leave. Leaving your baby at home when returning to work is stressful enough without wondering how and where you’re going to continue to provide. I found satisfaction in knowing that even though I was away from my baby for so long each day, I was still doing a good job by providing breast milk.

The other potential problem area for the return to work is the boss! Here you are going to have to play it by ear but don’t hesitate to remind them as you duck out for 10 minutes twice a day that mothers of breastfeeding babies are less likely to have sick days because their children will be sick less often than bottle fed ones. I would pump, put my milk bottles in the fridge at work in a discrete plastic bag, take the milk home at the end of the day and pop it in the fridge at home. My children then had this milk the next day.

It’s only a year out of your life (maximum) and we’ve signed up to be mothers for the rest of our lives so I think in the fast past city we live it helps to step back and see the big picture sometimes. I also found that it seems that just as Mother Nature thinks you might be getting bored of so many feeds, that baby is ready to drop one and once you introduce solids and they sleep at night, life gets so much easier. I breastfeed both my kids for a year and earned my self awarded, diamond encrusted Earth Mother Badge for Services to Breastfeeding. It may have been bestowed to me by me and it may well be imaginary but it’s still the best medal ever. I hope this helps you in some small way to earn yours!

Toni Barker
HK based, working mother of two children, who just about holds it together….. most of the time.

Advice summary
Have a lactation specialist or maternity nurse booked in a to see you as soon as possible after you give birth.
Invest in nipple protectors because for the first few weeks this helps ensure they don’t get too tender while your body gets used to breastfeeding.
Know all there is to know about mastitis. Have your homeopathic remedies ready before you give birth.
Drink 4 litres of water a day.
Eat healthy snacks to keep your energy levels and milk production levels up.
Carry a muslin or pashmina to hide baby and breast under if your worried about upsetting anyone.
If you work, discuss your breastfeeding options with HR months before you go on maternity leave, most HK companies will need considerable time to help sort out something for you.
Make sure your boss knows the benefits of you disappearing for 15 minutes twice a day.
If you are working and can afford it, buy a double electric pump, it will save you time and you’ll only need 10 minutes of that aforementioned 15 minutes to produce two full bottles.
Have a store of milk in the freezer at home in case you have to travel for work or are tired and don’t produce much.
And last but not least, try and keep a sense of humour!

Categories: Homeopathy, Menopause Symptoms, Hot Flushes and Women's Health

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