If you are a first-time mum, you are likely to have lots of questions about your nursing experience. Experts answer some of them here.
Q: Will breastfeeding interfere with my sex life?
A: The breasts can play a practical and sexual role, said Dr Christopher Ng, obstetrician and gynaecologist at GynaeMD Women’s and Rejuvenation Clinic. While these roles are not mutually exclusive, they can be a source of conflict for some couples during lactation.
Some men find breastfeeding a sexual turn-on. Others find the leaking milk and chapped nipples less than exciting. Sometimes, a nursing mum may feel that her breasts get more than enough attention from her baby and discourages her spouse from taking full pleasure in them.
It may be difficult for her to reconcile her identity as both a mother and a sexual being, said Dr Ng. But it is important to remember that women’s breasts are designed for nursing babies and foreplay.
Q: Should I accept breast milk from a friend since my supply is low?
A: It depends on how much you trust the source, said Dr Natalie Epton, specialist paediatrician and neonatologist at International Paediatric Clinic. Although breast milk is the ideal nutrition for babies, it can also be contaminated.
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B and C, and other viruses can be transmitted via infected milk. A mother is tested for HIV and hepatitis B during pregnancy, so you can perhaps ask for her status, said Dr Epton. Other lesser-known viruses not routinely tested include cytomegalovirus, which can make newborns unwell.
Many countries have “milk banks”, which offer a supply from mothers who have been screened for serious viral illnesses. The milk is usually pasteurised to prevent transmission of bacterial and fungal infections. But there is no “milk bank” in Singapore that is able to screen and sterilise donor milk.
A final factor to consider is the age of the donor’s baby, said Dr Epton.
Breast milk is marvellous – the constituents are constantly evolving to meet the changing needs of a growing infant up to two years. As a result, breast milk from a mum feeding a two-year-old is unlikely to be nutritionally perfect for a newborn.
The informal sharing of breast milk remains fraught with potential serious complications until there is a formal milk bank, she said.
Q: Some entrepreneurial mums use their breast milk to make soap and claim that it is a natural solution to baby’s sensitive skin. Should I buy the product?
A: The claims of healing properties for soap and other products made from breast milk are spurious at best. Any potential benefits would have been destroyed in the manufacturing process, said Dr Epton.
Besides, possible dangerous elements such as HIV and other viruses could persist and contaminate the final product.
There are strict guidelines on the sale of products made from bodily fluids. Breast-milk soap seems to have slipped through the net, she said.
Q: I cannot wait to get back in shape after pregnancy. Should I go for a tummy tuck?
A: If you are breastfeeding, you need to shelve your plan.
A tummy tuck – performed to remove excess skin that is stretched over the abdomen – is a surgical procedure which involves injections and oral medication. These could pass into your breast milk, said Dr Low Chai Ling, medical director of The Sloane Clinic.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to look your best and feel like your old self again after having a baby. But it is important to know which aesthetic treatments are safe for new mums and how soon after giving birth you can start considering them.
You could, however, proceed with non-invasive treatments to help with skin conditions that may have developed during pregnancy, such as acne and stretch marks, she said.
Treatments such as intense pulsed light (IPL) and chemical peels are non-surgical and can usually be carried out as soon as a month after delivery.
Q: I am tired of being a ”cow”. I am either latching on my baby or pumping milk to build up a supply. Should I feel guilty for wanting to give up breastfeeding?
A: It is normal for mothers to feel this way when they are overwhelmed by other responsibilities or feeling tired, said Dr Yvonne Ng, senior consultant from the department of neonatology at the National University Hospital (NUH).
You need to ask for, and get, more help. Go ahead and take a breastfeeding break while another person feeds the baby with expressed breast milk or infant formula.
Think of breastfeeding as a 5km leisurely walk in the park while enjoying the scenery, not as a 100m sprint, said Dr Ng, who is also a lactation consultant.
Review your expectations as well. If pumping extra milk to freeze stresses you out, she suggests that it would be better for you not to do it. Instead, continue to breastfeed and enjoy your baby.
If your baby’s feeding pattern is erratic or causes discomfort, you may wish to see a breastfeeding specialist for reassurance or adjustment in your nursing technique. You can also talk to a counsellor from a support group, such as the Breastfeeding Mothers’ Support Group Singapore or the JoyfulParenting group.
If you need professional help, consult your obstetrician or a service such as the Women’s Emotional Health Service at NUH and the Mental Wellness Service at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
This article first appeared in Young Parents magazine.