Why Gina is a staunch breastfeeding advocate

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HER name is well known within the local breastfeeding awareness circles in Malaysia. If there is an event on lactation and nursing or confinement, there’s a good chance Gina Yong will be there.

Here, she answers some questions from Thots n Tots:

Where and what did you study?

My background is in Accountancy. I got the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) accreditation, and worked for a short while at an accounting firm. Later I realised that I liked teaching a lot better than bookkeeping. So, I started working as a lecturer at a local college, and then as a corporate trainer, focusing on team-building.

Why did you decide to be a lactation counsellor and why? What or who influenced this decision?

I failed to breastfeed my eldest child, and at one point I felt really annoyed by people who kept promoting breastfeeding to me. When I had my second baby, I was in the US, and the hospital I was in was a breastfeeding hospital. They did not allow formula milk or bottles. A lactation consultant in the hospital visited me, and with her help and support, I successfully breastfed my baby.

I also breastfed my third and fourth babies. I was then invited by a lactation consultant to attend a few breastfeeding courses, and I ended up volunteering my time to help out in the support group at the breastfeeding clinic.

When I got back to Malaysia in 2002, a few friends had babies, and asked me for help. A matron at one of the hospitals observed me, and invited me to share my experiences at one of the antenatal classes in the hospital.

One thing led to another, and I decided to run my own breastfeeding classes after that.

I am not a certified lactation consultant, but a lactation counsellor (LC). There is a difference between a consultant and counsellor in terms of the depth of education. I did several self-studies, and have attended many conferences in lactation, but I never took the international certification exams.

You also founded The Breastfeeding Advocates Network (TBAN) on Facebook? Why and how did this happen?

I founded TBAN in September 2009 because I wanted to reach out to more people. I envisioned it as a platform for mothers to get and share support and advice. Initially I named it “The Malaysian Breastfeeding Advocates Network”. Within just a few days, I had non-Malaysians requesting to join the group, and I realised that I could actually reach people from all over the world. So, I immediately changed the name to TBAN.

Since when have you had Gina’s Place? Tell us more about it.

I had been helping new mothers overcome their breastfeeding challenges since 2003. It’s very frustrating when their desire to fully breastfeed their babies is thwarted by confinement ladies or the grandparents who are neither knowledgeable nor supportive of breastfeeding.

I used to visit new mothers in their homes. Most of the time, when I was with the mother and baby, they would be able to latch on beautifully. I would help the mother identify a good latch, whether baby is really drinking or just pacifying, and to judge when baby has had enough. But after I had gone, they would be back to square one.

When this happened, I wished I could whisk these mothers away from all the negativity. I wanted to provide an environment where the new Mummy and Daddy would receive not only positive vibes and encouragement, but correct information in making breastfeeding successful.

So, I toyed with the idea of setting up a breastfeeding-friendly confinement centre, and finally in 2012, with the support of a few good friends, I set it up. In 2014, I upgraded the services offered and launched Gina’s Place.

At Gina’s Place we have one guarantee: As long as the mother is willing, she will get the best help in making her breastfeeding journey a successful one.

What are some perks of being in the confinement and breastfeeding business?

I get to carry babies! When new parents discover the joy of breastfeeding, and they really enjoy the beautiful feeling of being parents, that’s my private reward.

What is your policy or belief when it comes to children’s and mummies’ health?

I firmly believe that breastfeeding is the birthright of every baby, as breast milk is baby’s first defence and first building blocks in the child’s life-long health. Research has also proven that a mother’s risk to certain diseases decreases if she breastfeeds. Therefore, I believe that we should all work hard in ensuring that the new mother gets the best support and healthcare to be able to breastfeed her baby.

What is your opinion about parents who choose not to breastfeed their kids?

If parents choose not to breastfeed, I will respect that. I am sure they have their reasons for making that choice. I would make it known to them that if they change their mind, I may be able to help. But I would never make any judgment.

What is the most common breastfeeding challenge that you see daily?

The No. 1 challenge to breastfeeding is the intensive and unethical marketing of formula milk, enticing parents to think that it’s equal to breast milk. Uninformed parents, who do not understand typical baby’s behaviour, think that breastfeeding is tough, and it’s so much easier to give formula milk, although they really want to breastfeed. This is aggravated by the lack of support, especially from family. Every single perceived problem is immediately blamed on breastfeeding and breast milk, from the baby crying to not sleeping.

What is your best advice to parents who want to breastfeed?

Educate yourself before your baby is born, and surround yourself with positive people who have successfully breastfed.

How many kids do you have? What are their ages?

I have four, from 14 to 19.

Has being a parent helped you in your job?

Being a parent who has struggled with all the common problems, who has failed at breastfeeding, who has gone through the difficult times and triumphed, has made me more empathetic towards those who are also struggling.

If you could invent something child-related, what would it be and why?

Perhaps not child-related, but parent-related … I would invent a pill that you could swallow to give you total belief and self-confidence that you are indeed the best parent for your baby, and you would have the super power to do only the absolute best for your children.

On second thought, perhaps I don’t need to invent this as I have witnessed many mothers who already have this super power!

What’s a good day for you?

A good day is when I am able to see the joy and wonder on a mother’s face as her baby suckles from her breast. There have been many times when I have seen mothers and fathers crying tears of joy when their baby finally stops suckling and falls asleep with a contented look on his face. Those memories will take me through the bleakest of days.