Breastfed Babies In Infant Care Centres - What Should Parents Look Out For?
Published on 05 July 2016
Despite being the only mum at her centre who was breastfeeding, Ms Yvoonne Tan, a 32-year-old medical technologist with a 16-month-old son at Pre-schooler’s Childcare and Development (Bedok Reservoir), had the full support of the centre during her breastfeeding journey.
Said Ms Tan, “They allowed me to express breast milk in a private corner of their centre, and had a small refrigerator, a milk warmer and a steriliser. They even offered to help handle and prepare a whole day’s worth of expressed breast milk into feeding bottles for my baby, but I decided to pack my milk into bottles at home so all they had to do was to warm them up and feed my baby.”
“One of the teachers used to breastfeed her baby for a year before he weaned, so she was extremely encouraging and gave me tips on breastfeeding. Before I left, she told me not to worry, as my son was in good hands. It really helps to have teachers who don't put you down or make you feel like breastfeeding is a hassle. Speaking to the teachers before deciding on your infant care centre really helps!”
Another mother, Ms Koh Li Eng – a teacher with a 4-month-old baby at Learning Vision @ Grassroots Club – said that her infant care centre had a refrigerator specially meant for expressed breast milk. The centre would also warm up the breast milk using two different mugs of warm water to preserve the nutrients. They would then feed within half an hour of warming up, and keep it for only half an hour thereafter so as to prevent bacteria growth. The centre even helped to rinse her bottles with liquid bottle cleanser.
Ms Tan’s and Ms Koh’s stories are good examples of how a supportive infant care centre can help ease the worries of breastfeeding mothers who want to continue providing breast milk to their children after returning to work.
What should breastfeeding mothers look out for in an infant care centre?
Earlier this year in February, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) announced increasing childcare enrolment here as more centres were set up and more mums headed back to work. According to the ECDA, childcare enrolment hit a high of 95,414 in 2015, more than double the 44,224 a decade ago in 2005.
At the same time, enrolment at infant care centres which usually take in children up to 18 months old, is also spiking. Due to increased awareness of the benefits of a pre-school education, parents are more willing to enrol their children in infant care centres at an earlier age.
This means that parents are increasingly dependent on such centres to care for their infants, some of whom can be as young as a few months old and are probably still being breastfed. As such, one of the most important roles that infant care centres should play is in the facilitating of feeding expressed breast milk to infants under their care.
In fact, in an online straw poll by U Family in May to parents on their experiences of infant care centres and their handling of breast milk, we found that most parents had only positive reviews for centres that willingly assisted them in their endeavour to breastfeed.
Although most infant care centres are cooperative and assist in requests of handling expressed breast milk, there are some that do not have clear procedures, and are reluctant to handle breast milk. These centres make it more difficult for working mothers to juggle returning to work and continuing to breastfeed their children, and may even discourage them from breastfeeding beyond their maternity leave.
A 27-year-old IT administrator with a 5-month-old son in an infant care centre shared her negative experience where there was no designated refrigerator in the centre for storing expressed breast milk. Instead, a common refrigerator which often has a foul smell from food that was not properly disposed of was offered. As such, she prefers to bring her own cooler bags to store her expressed breast milk instead of leaving them inside the common refrigerator. In addition, different teachers had inconsistent procedures in handling her expressed breast milk, causing confusion and misunderstanding. Some teachers even asked her if she would consider switching to formula milk instead. This could have been avoided if the staff were given clear guidelines and information on the procedure.
As a breastfeeding mother, what should you look out for as you research for an infant care centre that supports you in continuing to breastfeed even after you return to work? Here are some guidelines from the ECDA:
There should be sufficient and suitable facilities provided for sterilisation of milk bottles.
A designated refrigerator is to be provided for the storage of expressed milk. A sink with running water and heating appliances should also be accessible to all staff.
The centre should have an individual feeding plan for each infant/toddler that includes instructions from parents/registered medical practitioners, feeding schedule for breast milk/thawing expressed breast milk, and schedule for introducing solid/new food and cups/utensils.
Records shall be compiled during personal interviews with parents/guardians and updated regularly.
According to UNICEF, working mothers need support, including legislative measures, to enable them to continue breastfeeding. Perhaps it is time for infant care centres to implement compulsory guidelines to handle mothers’ expressed breast milk. With that in place, mothers would have their ease of mind when leaving their children at the care centres.
Benefits of breastfeeding in a nutshell
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), breast milk naturally provides all the energy and nutrients that an infant needs for the first few months of life; it continues to provide up to half or more of his/her nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one-third during the second year. It promotes sensory and cognitive development, and protects the infant against infectious and chronic diseases. Exclusive breastfeeding reduces infant mortality due to common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea or pneumonia, and helps for a quicker recovery during illness.
Besides benefiting infants, breastfeeding contributes to the health and well-being of mothers as well. It helps in natural child spacing / family planning, reduce the risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer, and is more environmentally-friendly.