Motherhood brings unique joys and pains to every mum, and we are better off acknowledging that. In this series called Mum Truths, mums reveal their secret successes, miseries and gripes about parenting in a no-holds-barred first-person recount.
I never nursed my firstborn outside. Born just as the pandemic was taking off, I had maternity leave followed by being made redundant at my job to thank for being around her all the time at home. Even then, I didn’t find breastfeeding easy. It was uncomfortable. I found I needed to sit in a certain way, on the couch, with a pillow at my back and a nursing pillow on my knees and the baby propped just in the right way on top of that. It wasn’t a set-up I was comfortable or willing to take out.
And thanks to Covid I never had to. We barely ever went out, and by the time we did, my Covid baby was barely nursing in the day. By the time I weaned her at 15 months, I was only nursing her once in the morning and once before bed and she gave those up easily enough.
As luck would have it, my second was born right at the end of the pandemic – literally on the day mask-wearing became optional. In the hope of making breastfeeding easier this time around, I saw a lactation consultant and learned (well, tried to anyway) to get comfortable with different nursing positions (let’s be honest, I learned ONE ). In the end, we settled into a “sitting up” position for Baby A and don’t often deviate – like my husband, my children are creatures of habit.
I hoped that this position that didn’t require pillows and props would make nursing outside easier, but I hadn’t counted on Baby A’s easily distracted personality. Because of this, I explored nursing rooms in shopping malls, outdoor attractions and airports, and what I found was that they’re not for me.
Many nursing rooms feel like afterthoughts, they feel a little old, a little rundown, with uncomfortable and dirty chairs. If this was a bathroom, you could let it go, because you wouldn’t be spending a long time there, but nursing or pumping sessions can take up to an hour (or more), and since you’re basically serving a meal, wouldn’t it be nice if it was a bit more…palatable? I’ve had to sit on the edge of a dirty couch, in a weirdly-lit small space, anxiously waiting for my baby to be done, and it just wasn’t a nice experience. Breastfeeding and pumping is hard enough, wouldn’t it be nice if these spaces catering to mums had their comfort in mind too?
Of course that’s not to say good ones don’t exist, I would personally rank Marina Bay Sands and the newly-renovated Tanglin Mall nursing rooms as very nice. And I know for mums who need it, nursing rooms provide much-needed privacy. But what I’ve found works best for me is to try and discreetly do it outside, somewhere quiet – such as an empty part of a restaurant (or in the SEA Aquarium’s Open Ocean Habitat – it ticks all the boxes, dark, quiet and there are seats).
I’m not one of those mums who is comfortable feeding anywhere and everywhere – you won’t find me waiting for the bus, baby casually on the breast. I have a lot of respect for the mums who can do that. But for myself, I do the best. So if I know the nursing rooms where I’m going aren’t comfortable to me, I’ll look for somewhere quiet. If that isn’t feasible, well, I’ve also had to breastfeed in the driver’s seat of my father-in-law’s car (while he waited outside). At the end of the day, Baby A gets fed and if I haven’t flashed half the world walking by, I consider that a win.
Karen Fong is a new mum to two young girls and is surviving motherhood by applying a wry sense of humour (and a lot of eye-rolling and complaining) to the various weird and wacky situations that come her way. DM her at @karentanfong to commiserate about goodie bags, sick babies and travelling with a billion pieces of luggage (but she doesn’t have her kids on her account because this.)