SingaporeMotherhood | Pregnancy
Breastfeeding (in a Coma) Saved My Life
Today she is well-known in local maternity circles as The Baby Whisperer. But lactation consultant and ParentCraft expert Dr Wong Boh Boi was once a young wife and mother who almost lost her life – twice – during her pregnancies. And she believes that breastfeeding her babies is what saved her. She shares her miraculous story.
My journey really began as a young nursing student in the UK during the ‘80s. Having been from a TCM physician background, I’d originally wanted to pursue medicine. But being from a large family – I have eight sisters! – finances were limited. So after my ‘O’ Levels, I headed to the UK to study nursing instead. I went on to specialise in general nursing, neonatal intensive care (NICU), midwifery, emergency psychiatry, and later became a nurse educator as well.
While practising as a nurse and midwife in my mid-20s, I got married and soon found myself pregnant. Sadly, that initial joy was soon to be blighted by severe pregnancy complications.
Pregnancy Journey with Pre-eclampsia
While most first-time mums-to-be spend those nine months blissfully preparing for motherhood, I didn’t have this luxury. Due to pre-eclampsia, I had to be hospitalised from week 24 onwards, and spent the remaining weeks leading up to my baby’s birth under heavy sedation. I could barely respond when nurses checked on me every half an hour for IV infusion or urine test output.
At week 34, I delivered my child while in an induced coma at Coventry Hospital in the UK. The pre-eclampsia led to complications in the delivery process, so I had to undergo an emergency C-section. The operation was necessary for the safety of both myself and my child as I was highly susceptible to eclampsia (seizures).
Thankfully, my baby was safely delivered, although he was in the NICU for some time as he was premature. For myself, I remained comatose in intensive care for two weeks after giving birth. My life was at risk and it was the miracle of breastfeeding that brought me back.
Breastfeeding in a Coma
While I was comatose, the doctors and nurses brought my babies to me at every feeding time, and painstakingly got them to breastfeed.
It sounds unthinkable, but amazingly, it worked. Of course, I do not have much memory of the entire process. But when I regained consciousness and learned how I had been breastfeeding in a coma, I was overwhelmed by how truly miraculous it was.
The benefits of breastfeeding and breastmilk were already widely known in the UK then. The medical team at Coventry Hospital was particularly knowledgeable in this field and decided on this approach for my case. I am forever grateful to their brilliance and commitment, as I may not have survived without the revolutionary ‘wake-up call’.
From then on, recovery was smooth. I was – and still am – very thankful for the care from my esteemed Obstetrics and Gynaecology Professor and fellow nurses, as well as the undivided attention from my husband.
A Second Wake-up Call
Having to endure this pregnancy journey was really tough, and I was not expecting to go through it again. Unfortunately, my second pregnancy journey was almost an exact mirror of my first. However, knowing that I made it through the first time gave me the willpower to prevail once again. My second child was delivered via emergency C-section at 35 weeks while I was in a coma.
Just like before, the doctors and nurses had me breastfeeding my baby while comatose. And once again, it was that miraculous act that sparked my body back to life. Waking up was a different experience this time, however. We also lost my father-in-law during that time and it was emotionally overwhelming. At the end of the day, I truly appreciate the kindness of those who gave me their best care.
As pregnancy and childbirth posed such a risk to my life, my husband and I decided to stop at two. But the difficult circumstances that made me a mother also spearheaded new direction in my life.
A Fresh Beginning, a New Mission
On a personal level, breastfeeding helped me build unbreakable bonds with my children. Today, my kids are grown-up, with children of their own. Yet they are not afraid to display their love by publicly hugging their mum and dad.
I am a true believer of the unique bonding process driven by breastfeeding. Touch is an important therapy that can form bridges and bonds.
Bonding through the power of touch will help you in maintaining a healthy relationship with your child.
The experience also gave my career new bearings. I found true passion as a lactation consultant. It further spurred me onto a lifelong career in educating nurses and parents on essential ParentCraft knowledge.
For many years now, patients would come to me when their babies are unsettled, and they appreciate that I can train them on how to let the baby self-regulate and calm himself. I guess this is how I earned the moniker, The Baby Whisperer – I’m honoured, and glad to share my know-how.
And it doesn’t stop there. I constantly seek to improve myself and continue to research better techniques and tools for breastfeeding. I also try to attend international conferences on breastfeeding; as key speaker and chairperson, I hope that more healthcare professionals can be updated on the trends and more parents can achieve success in breastfeeding.
There is nothing more rewarding than helping young couples kickstart their parenting journey in a way that is so close to my heart.
Advice for New Parents
We asked Dr Wong what she would most like to tell young parents today, and she offered these nuggets of wisdom:
- Be open-minded and always stay calm when handling your baby.
- Anticipate your child’s needs and learn to recognise important baby cues. This can be done by attending antenatal classes to learn what to expect during pregnancy and newborn stages.
- Create a strong support system through having strong family bonds. This will allow support to be more readily available, especially if and when mothers have to go back to work.
- Cold cabbage leaves are more effective than cold gel packs in relieving breast engorgement.
After a rich 30-year career in the field, Dr Wong Boh Boi, Ph.D., has founded her own consultancy with the aim of reaching out to more parents. Having fulfilled this long overdue dream, she hopes to continue helping new mothers with breastfeeding challenges and empowering their new parenting journeys for a long time to come. Connect with her at ParentCraft by Dr Wong Boh Boi to experience The Baby Whisperer’s magic touch.
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