CONVERSATIONS WITH… A Breastfeeding Expert

A lactation specialist offers tips to ease your breastfeeding experience and details helpful strategies to tackle common nursing problems.

Fonnie Lo

Fonnie Lo

Many of us are aware that breastfeeding offers many health benefits, yet the nursing journey isn’t always sunshine and rainbows for many new mothers. So, a lactation consultant is probably a new mother’s best resource, especially in the early days of her breastfeeding journey.  

Fonnie Lo, 58, assistant director of Thomson ParentCraft Centre, is an expert whom desperate mothers turn to when they need help with their breastfeeding issues. Since becoming a certified lactation consultant in 2004, the nurse by training has helped an estimated 22,000+ breastfeeding mothers deal with breast engorgement, low breastmilk supply and latching difficulties.

The registered midwife and mother of two grown children, aged 24 and 25, strongly believes that breastfeeding not only benefits baby’s health, but also the mother’s.

“Breastfeeding is beneficial for both the physical and mental health of the mother. It can also build strong family ties that create a healthier generation,” she explains. 

So, how can a woman breastfeed successfully? She must be consistent, persistent and persevere, Fonnie asserts. “Some mothers are able to breastfeed well from the time the baby is born, while some mothers take four to six weeks for their babies to learn proper latching. Don’t give up.”

“Many people think that breastfeeding will not keep the baby full enough, especially when they see that babies who are breastfed need to be fed more frequently than babies who are fed with infant formula.

The lactation expert fields questions ranging from food recommendations for nursing mums to her message to those struggling with breastfeeding

Why did you become a breastfeeding expert?
I’ve always been interested in this topic. I enjoy observing the mother and baby during breastfeeding and how both require practice to be successful at it. I also enjoy the challenge of helping mothers who face difficulties in breastfeeding.

What about your own breastfeeding experience?
I’ve only managed to fully breastfeed my two children for a month during my postnatal leave. As I was working in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in a regional hospital at that time, I was too busy to continue breastfeeding and expressing milk during working hours.

What do you do as a lactation expert?
I give breastfeeding advice to mothers ― this is not limited to first-time mothers; help mothers to solve issues with latching, sore nipples, breast engorgement, blocked ducts, mastitis, low breastmilk supply, and to refer them to a doctor, if necessary; conduct antenatal classes (Childbirth Education Course) that prepare parents-to-be for labour, delivery, babycare and breastfeeding; run a confinement nanny training programme to educate nannies on how to support mothers during the period of confinement; and give weaning talks.

Describe a typical day for you.
I see one to four mothers a day. We have a team of qualified lactation consultants that sees both inpatients and outpatients at ParentCraft Centre, so the workload is divided.

Lactation expert help

What misconceptions do people have about breastfeeding?
Many people think that breastfeeding will not keep the baby full enough, especially when they see that babies who are breastfed need to be fed more frequently than babies who are fed with infant formula.

How should mums-to-be prepare for their breastfeeding journey?
Relax, gather information from Childbirth Education Courses and breastfeeding events, discuss with family members and friends about the issue, prepare themselves for skin-to-skin contact and rooming-in with the baby right after delivery, and book a lactation consultant for appointment before and after the delivery so as to address any concerns or issues early.

Some newborns are sleepy/don’t seem keen to latch on, what should the mother do?
There are many reasons for a baby to be uninterested in latching ― we will need to identify the reason and manage it. Skin-to-skin contact and breastfeed according to baby’s hunger cues are good ways to encourage baby to latch.

 

Thomson medical newborn with family

What mistakes do nursing mothers typically make?
Assume that they do not have enough breastmilk when they do not see much colostrum after one to two days of delivery, or when baby needs to be fed more frequently.

How does a new mother know her baby is nursing enough?
Monitor the baby’s urine and poo output and observe the changes in colour of the urine and poo. Mothers should also notice a drop of maximum 10 per cent in birthweight in the first week and a return to baby’s birthweight by the second week, followed by a steady increase of baby’s body weight.

What about the role of husbands in their wives’ nursing experience?
The partner’s support is extremely important in building confidence and trust. It will help the nursing mother to relax and feel less stressed out. Daddies can help mummies to position the baby and guide the baby to latch. A gentle massage for mummy will help to stimulate oxytocin release to encourage the “letdown reflex”, also known as milk ejection reflex, to increase breastmilk flow.

What foods do you recommend mums consume to boost their breastmilk production, especially if their supply is low?
Nursing mothers will need a balanced diet that is rich in iron, calcium, and sufficient fruits and vegetables. Certain foods such as fish and papaya soup and red date tea, are often recommended because they are rich in protein and iron, which will help mothers to regain energy. When the mother is too tired, her breastmilk supply will naturally be affected. Other foods that will help include fenugreek, nursing tea and red and black bean soup.

“Relax, feel and enjoy the process. Most importantly, always listen to what your baby is trying to tell you.”

What is the worst possible thing a mother can do that’ll impact her breastmilk supply?
Supplement baby with infant formula without medical reasons.

What is your most memorable patient/encounter?
A mother who did not breastfeed her first child well, pressured herself to breastfeed her second baby. She forced her baby to latch and the baby ended up screaming on latching. I advised her to stop direct latching and to express her milk to feed the baby through a spoon or cup instead. I got scolded very badly for that. She felt that as a lactation consultant, I should not be advising her against direct latching. I had to explain to her that babies are humans too. They take time to forget the unpleasant latching experience. She could try direct latching after the baby is comfortable again. After about six weeks, the mummy called back to ask for advice on bottle feeding. Her baby has started latching so well that she refused other feeding methods!

Fonnie Lo speaking

If you could give just one piece of advice to mums-to-be/mothers about breastfeeding, what would it be?
Relax, feel and enjoy the process. Most importantly, always listen to what your baby is trying to tell you.

Why can’t some women breastfeed and what percentage of mothers are they?
Almost all mothers can breastfeed. Those who are unable to, are either on medication that may affect the baby, or have certain medical conditions that cause them to put breastfeeding on hold.  

What do you tell a dejected mother who has tried very hard to nurse but just can’t?
As long as you have tried and done your best ― that is the best for your baby.

What do you like most about your job?
Seeing the joy in mothers, babies and families every day.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Sleeping, exercising and reading new research articles.

Please fill in the blanks:

Something I always want to tell all my patients is… I love seeing you all with your babies.

My favourite countries to travel to are… Canada and the UK.

My go-to tarpau food is… Fish soup.

A motto I live by isTomorrow will always be better than today.

Photos: Fonnie Lo

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