INTERACTIVE: How online support groups provide a lifeline for breastfeeding mothers


PETALING JAYA: Support groups can determine a mother’s success in their breastfeeding journey, especially when a person’s breastfeeding experience and challenges vary with each birth.

While dealing with postpartum recovery and adjusting to a night feeding routine, mothers will also need to be equipped with knowledge about the correct positioning for breastfeeding, methods of dealing with low production or oversupply of breast milk, and ways to handle expressed breast milk, especially for working mothers.

Without the support of their partner and the community, a mother’s breastfeeding journey will be fraught with difficulties and might hit a dead end.

One of the ways breastfeeding mothers receive support is through breastfeeding advocacy groups on Facebook.

At least 10 local breastfeeding support groups are present on Facebook, with members ranging from a few hundred to more than 150,000.

Among the popular ones are Happy Breastfeeding Malaysia with 202,300 members, The Breastfeeding Advocates Network (TBAN) with 155,000 members, #bfmembers with 85,200 members and Feed by Momma - Group Breastfeeding Ibu Menyusu Malaysia with 25,000 members.

An analysis by The Star on one Facebook support group between June 1 to July 28, 2022 found 134 posts of mothers sharing about their breastfeeding journey.

The majority or 67.2% were questions or problems related to the users’ breastfeeding journey, while 23.9% of the posts were general sharing of experience and 9% were advice and knowledge shared on breastfeeding.

Out of the 90 problems about breastfeeding, the largest share or 24.4% were about expressed breast milk (EBM), particularly on ways to handle EBM.

This includes the correct method of storing EBM, ways to handle thawed breast milk and its expiry, and transporting EBM when mothers need to be away from their baby because of work.

Others include the frequency of pumping routine, hand expression and expressing milk when baby or the mother is unwell.

A total of 21.1% of the problems involved physical changes and challenges experienced by breastfeeding mothers, especially related to weaning off and ways to stop milk production when their child turns two or older.

The mothers on the Facebook group also reported facing physical pain when breastfeeding due to blocked breast ducts, cracked nipples or wrong positioning when breastfeeding.

ALSO READ: INTERACTIVE: How breastfeeding mothers have been affected by the pandemic

A large share or 17.8% of the problems also involved breast milk supply where mothers reported to have low milk production or problems providing enough milk to their babies.

Other challenges faced by mothers were related to finding suitable breast pumps and milk bottles, ensuring that their baby do not reject direct feeding and bottle feeding, as well as physical challenges involving the baby such as tongue tie, bloated belly and weight gain problems.

Members of the Facebook group were largely supportive and responded to posts by giving suggestions on solving the mothers’ problems (52.9%), giving encouragement (13.8%), sharing their own experience (8%) or related information (8%).

Lactation counsellor Nor Azura Mohd Puad, who is also an active member of breastfeeding groups on Facebook, said that she actively started sharing about breastfeeding on social media since 2013 when she had her first child.

Breastfeeding peer counsellor Nor Azura Mohd PuadBreastfeeding peer counsellor Nor Azura Mohd Puad

The 29-year-old from Melaka said she joined a breastfeeding course in 2019 under the Petaling health district to be a certified lactation coach.

Nor Azura works as a part-time breastfeeding peer counsellor and only charges for home visits.

She provides guidance to mothers in need through online messages and WhatsApp for free.

“My hope is that mothers, especially first-time mothers, will spend some time and resources to get knowledge on breastfeeding as early as possible.

“Breastfeeding is not as simple as it seems. With knowledge, the journey will be easier,” she said, adding that mothers need to know they are not alone in breastfeeding.

She said there are also lactation counsellors who work full-time, such as in breastfeeding centres or among doctors and nurses who provide consultation in clinics and hospitals.

“If there is a problem, immediately get advice from a lactation counsellor,” she added.

Administrative executive Nur Diyanah Zainuddin said she often refers to Facebook groups to find tips on increasing milk.

Administrative executive Nur Diyanah Zainuddin with her two daughters, Adelia (left) and Ayra (right).Administrative executive Nur Diyanah Zainuddin with her two daughters, Adelia (left) and Ayra (right).

“It was really helpful, especially when I first started breastfeeding, as I learned a lot from these groups.”

However, she added, the only weakness is when she started to compare her own milk production with those who shared about their abundance of milk collection on Facebook.

“I often worry that my child is not receiving enough nutrients or milk,” she said, adding that she aims to eat a more balanced diet for a healthier breastfeeding experience.

The 31-year-old who lives in Petaling Jaya said that physical challenges that she faced were back pains resulting from night feeding, where she has to wake up every two hours.

Despite all these challenges, Nur Diyanah said her journey with her two children who were breastfed for about two years each was made easier by a strong support system.

“I think to have a pleasant breastfeeding experience, the husband's support is essential.

“I feel like breastfeeding is a very precious journey and I always feel a bit sad when it’s coming to an end,” she said.

While most mothers hope to complete their two-year breastfeeding journey, there are those who face drawbacks that shortened the duration.

For 38-year-old bank executive May Shahrin, her breastfeeding journey had to be cut short due to her health condition.

Bank executive May Shahrin with her husband and two sons.Bank executive May Shahrin with her husband and two sons.

“I breastfed my second son for about two months before my supply ran out.

“I also could not continue breastfeeding due to the medication I was taking, which affected the quality and quantity of the breastmilk,” she said, adding that her decision to stop breastfeeding was also as advised by her doctor.

Mother of twins Deborah Anne Vince said she could only breastfeed her sons up to four months of age.

Clinic assistant Deborah Anne Vince with her eldest daughter Demetria (left) and twin sons Daelan Hope (centre) and Daevyn Hope (right).Clinic assistant Deborah Anne Vince with her eldest daughter Demetria (left) and twin sons Daelan Hope (centre) and Daevyn Hope (right).

“I was really hoping to breastfeed my sons for up to two years but sadly, I had to stop as I didn't have enough time to pump as I work in a clinic.

“I don't get the time to relax and feed them as I'm always running after time,” said the 29-year-old clinic assistant.

She added that for her, breastfeeding is a very challenging journey, especially when needing to maintain milk supply for her twins.

“Each time I am on my phone, I’m always on breastfeeding pages to learn more about increasing milk supply.

“I learned that breast milk supply can be increased with the proper food intake such as oats and milk and the rest rely on having a stress-free mindset,” said Deborah Anne.

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