June 26, 2017

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by Jean Angus

IT’S nearly 9pm on a school night and I’ve just arrived home from a long day in the office. I hastily bolt my dinner and go in search of the kids. Fourteen-year-old A is lying on her bed, eyes glued to her phone. She puts it down and tells me about her Chinese composition exam. “I don’t think I’ll do well. I never do when the paper seems easy,” she frets. I assure her that she will do just fine if she’s put in the effort, and encourage her to focus on preparing for the next paper.

Then I look around for 10-year-old Z, who has a penchant for hiding in wardrobes or under beds when she knows she’s wanted. No shenanigans tonight – she emerges from the bathroom, freshly showered. I ask her about her day. “It was terrible!” she says with a grin, so I know she’s just joking. At least I hope she is, because today was Chinese oral exam day.

A few minutes later, it’s lights out.

Since I started a new and demanding job two months ago, weekday time with my daughters has been greatly reduced to quick catch-ups like these. Although both girls are at ages where they prefer not to be associated with their boring, embarrassing parents, they still need help with things like an emergency pick-up from school, or how to solve a particularly difficult math problem. They turn to my husband for these things instead of me, because he runs his own business and has the flexibility to make time for parental duties while I am stuck in the office.

I constantly waver between two extremes: Feeling grateful that my husband is an involved parent and that I have an opportunity to build a future for our family, and feeling guilty and resentful for not having the luxury of owning my time. I’m most torn when I have to miss important occasions such as student council investiture ceremonies and parent-teacher conferences, because I can’t take leave from work. But being 38 years old, I’m not getting any younger, and will soon peak in my career. I should make hay while the sun shines. So I toil from 8am till after 7pm nearly every weekday, trying to finish as much as I can so that whatever family time I have is uninterrupted.

The good thing is that I had plenty of time and energy to build strong bonds with the girls in their formative years, when my jobs were more laidback. The foundation built then is the basis for their trust in me now as they navigate the minefields of school and adolescence. There are times when they instinctively know that they need me instead of their dad. When this happens, it’s like I’ve won the lottery. I can’t do everything for my kids, but I can do enough. And that is all I and every other mother can ask for.

 

Jean Angus works in public relations. On weekends, she takes her two daughters to afternoon tea and allows them to shock her with how much cake they can eat in one sitting.

This piece is a part of our Mother’s Day series of columns, showcasing the views and experiences of real mums in Singapore. Read Pam’s, Brenda’s, Esther’s piece, and check out our video too. 

 

Featured image The love of a mother by Flickr user rarye. (CC BY 2.0). 

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by Pamelia Tng

SO, WHAT do you do every day?

When I gave up my job seven years ago, I never thought that this would be the question that I would deal with frequently. When people find out that I’m a full-time mum, this is likely the question that would come up. It is very amusing, to say the least.

My husband and I are parents to three kids – two boys who are 11 and 10 respectively and a not-so-little girl who will turn seven this year.

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Pamelia and her three children on holiday in Santorini, Greece. (Image provided by Pamelia.)

I remember the days when we had our two sons in Melbourne. I was working as an account manager and juggling home life with the boys. The husband and I were young then and still so fresh in our careers. We would wake up very early to get the boys ready for daycare before rushing off to work. Thankfully, at that stage of life, we had the luxury of finishing work on time to rush home to be with our boys.

And then we decided it was time to move home. The husband started his business and soon it became apparent that one parent had to be around to look after the kids. (We had baby girl by then.) Life evolved.

Growing up, I never thought I’ll be a stay-at-home mum. On hindsight, yes, it seemed like an incredulous thought but I grew to love it. I’ve always wanted to be a really hands-on parent. It took a while for me to find my “worth” when I stopped drawing an income but then, it slowly became insignificant.

I relished the part where I can be there for them whenever they need me and I can plan their activities on weekdays so that we can have proper family time on the weekends. I love that I have time to cook for them and spend time watching over their homework. I actually have time to watch them grow.

The days are long, sometimes, especially when the kids have separate activities at the same time and I have to split myself into two (or three!). I also can’t have any appointments in the afternoon as I spend my time driving them around.

But, I digress. So, what do I do every day? Well, the husband and I share the school run. Then, we hit the gym or yoga before he heads off to work and I go run my errands before the school pick-ups. Our kids are older now, so they have different schedules. They are busy – as little people are these days.

Thankfully, we always have time to catch up. The children love to regale me with tales of what happened in school, share silly jokes, and just discuss the latest movies that they would like to watch. I watch by the sidelines as they play sports and when my daughter dances. It is a luxury to be able to spend time watching them grow up – one that I am very thankful for.

But there’s more to me than being a mum. There’s also a weekly date night with the husband. Sometimes, we manage to squeeze in a movie. I do floral arrangements for a shop or two. And then, there’s time spent catching up with my friends and volunteering at the kids’ schools.

All these add up to what I do and I really love how multi-faceted it is. It keeps me busy, but it’s also how I enjoy spending different parts of my life.

Full-time mummy-hood is a commitment. It is putting the needs of your kids as a main focus of your life. But, at the same time, it’s important to keep some time for yourself – nothing is more important than a happy mum. Spend time catching up with friends over coffee or just taking time out to exercise. Always have a sense of humour, no matter how bad the day is (because we all know that kids act up!). And remember, you are a team with your husband or partner, so get him to babysit sometimes so you can have some me-time.

If you plan it properly, full-time mummy-hood is very fulfilling.

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Pam is a busy mum of three. She loves a good cup of coffee and time spent with her husband.

This piece is a part of our Mother’s Day series of columns, showcasing the views and experiences of real mums in Singapore. Read Jean’s, Brenda’s and Esther’s piece, and check out our video too.

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Featured image DSC08352 by Flickr user Wunna PhyoeCC BY 2.0. 

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Retirement: Your six children will support you, right?

by Daniel Yap

ONE of the comments I get about being a soon-to-be father of six is how my kids are such a great retirement plan. “No, no,” I respond. That’s certainly not my retirement plan. The concept of kids contributing to their parents’ upkeep is an established one, but my wife and I have no such expectations, just as my parents have no such expectation of me or my siblings. Times have changed.

The natural question that follows is this: How do we afford to raise them AND still have money for our retirement? To which I say: What is retirement?

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Income recently organised a panel on retirement, and some of the panelists felt that “retirement” smacked of old age and endings. Singapore Management University (SMU) Assistant Professor of Finance Aurobindo Ghosh, however, called it having the “financial freedom to do what you like rather than be forced to do what you do”. He emphasised planning – figuring out whether you will have the resources to do what you want to do when you retire.

Sometimes what we want to do comes with costs attached, like opening a cafe or volunteering for non-profit work. Sometimes what we want to do generates income that can offset costs, like opening a successful cafe or working a staff role at a non-profit organisation.

I’ve had a few interesting episodes when someone at a bank tried to recommend investment plans to me. The first question is always “so when do you want to retire?”

My answer usually stumps them. I don’t ever want to retire. I love the work that I do, and if I leave, I will leave to do other work that I love doing. I want to work like this until the day I die.

Don’t take that the wrong way: It doesn’t mean that I’m picky about my work. Rather, I always work in jobs I find meaningful – jobs that I can see and feel that I’m tangibly adding value to society, whether economically through the businesses I’ve started and jobs those businesses have created, or more directly, as I do now by bringing the news to our readers. If someday I could work a manual job with my hands, I could see the joy and the value in that work as well.

I don’t even need to be financially “free”, as in gather up a big financial cushion under me, to do any of this. I simply need to be mentally prepared to change the way I live and what I expect out of life. I see my responsibilities as things that I take on of my own free will, and I work because I believe it is intrinsically valuable and not merely a means to get money with the objective of never having to do it again.

As far as the cost of raising six children goes, we live no-frills and make constant choices not to be swayed by social pressures to spend on everything from tuition to enrichment to gadgets to fancy food.

Perhaps a better word for my financial position is “financially prepared”. I have some savings and some investments from the work I do. I’ve got insurance to cover the basics and protect my family from unusual financial events. I have the means to tide over a short period of unemployment and I know where to go to, be it the G, family, or other organisations, if I need more help. In any case, I’ve made plans for where I can guarantee myself some paid work and built my skills and contacts to help make that happen.

So here’s the thing: If retirement is doing “what you like”, as Dr Ghosh put it, then it can also be achieved by liking what you do. I definitely am enjoying my “retirement”.

 

Featured Image by Sean Chong.

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This is part of a series to get you future ready in collaboration with NTUC Income.

Wedding Photographers

by Najeer Yusof

WHEN it comes to taking photos at weddings, most professional photographers know what it’s like to deal with demanding customers. After all, it’s a deeply personal and emotional experience for the couples. That’s why it’s important to meet your clients in person. This is to ensure that both parties can agree on the deliverables, said four full-time photographers we spoke to, after the recent brouhaha over bad wedding photos.

What happened was that Ms Jaclyn Ying and Mr Kelvin Tang signed up for a studio package that cost about $3,000, which included wedding outfits, hair and make-up sessions, and 10 hours of actual day photography. The photographer that the studio assigned them was paid $350 for the shoot. After receiving the photos, the bride was not pleased to say the least and went on to post a selection of the photos on her Facebook page.

Was the whole saga down to the age-old mantra of you get what you pay for? How should photographers deal with unhappy couples, or vice-versa? Here’s what the professional wedding photographers had to say about their experiences and their best practices.

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Mr Leong Gwo Wei, 33, full-time wedding photographer for five years.

What are your best practices?

“I always insist on meeting up with clients to show them my work. This is an important practice as it allows me to know the expectations of the clients, so that I can deliver accordingly. It also gives the clients an overview of what my work is like, so they know what to expect. I also make it a point to emphasise that they need to like what they see and if they do not, then I would advise them to look for another photographer whose work matches their expectations.”

Have you had any bad experiences with couples? If yes, what are they?

“There was this customer who called me based on a referral and wanted to hire me over the phone. I declined to do so and insisted on a meet up. I showed her my work and she liked it. After the wedding I asked if she wanted to meet up again to run through the photos. She said the photos were fine. But then after a long period of time, she contacted me again, telling me that she had some issues with my work.”

What is the most important aspect of the wedding photography business?

“Clients are the key and it is not the number of shots, but the experience you give the right couples. The right couples are those who have expectations that matches my quality of work. Satisfying the wants of these couples, to my best capability will in turn bring in more business as they will recommend new clients.”

Mr Leong Gwo Wei is the founder of Apic Moments.

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Mr Gabriel Mendes, 41, full-time wedding photographer for 13 years.

What are your best practices?

“I ensure that my demands and the clients’ demands are always backed by a written contract. The contract is an essential tool in allowing me to inform the clients on what they can expect from me. It also helps to protect me and my work. For example, my contract states that I have full discretion over the artistic details of the shots and prevents clients from dictating how I go about taking my photos. I have been in situations when relatives of the clients, who are photography enthusiasts, asking me to shoot from certain angles. I also have clauses that protect me from being responsible from venue restrictions that hinder my work.”

Have you had any bad experiences with couples? If yes, what are they?

“There was a couple for whom I did their pre-wedding shoot at Bali. After the trip, I sent them their photos and the couple was fine with it. However, the aunt of the bride contacted me, asking why I did not take many shots of the bridal gown. In this case, it was not only managing the expectations of the couple, but also their relatives. So I called the couple up and informed them of what happened and they explained to me that they were actually fine with my photos but their relatives were not exactly pleased. So I offered an option for another pre-wedding shoot, done locally, as a way to please the relatives.”

What is the most important aspect of the wedding photography business?

“The most important thing is maintaining reputation, as this business thrives heavily on word of mouth. Nitty gritty matters such as being punctual, matters as they can affect your reputation easily. Moreover, since I work with high-end clients, so I have to make sure that I present myself as professionally as possible.”

Mr Gabriel Mendes is the founder of Gabriel Mendes Photography.

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Mr Nathaniel Tan, 29, full-time wedding photographer for seven years.

What are your best practices?

“I make sure that I meet my clients before the shoot, so as to create a rapport and build their confidence in me delivering a good work. This is important as I will be intruding into their privacy when I am shooting and they have to be comfortable with it, if not it will show in the photos. I also get the couples to send me a copy of their wedding plans and I advise them against tight schedules. When things do not go according to plans, I help them overcome these stressful situations, by calming them down. I do that to ensure that they are relaxed so that the pictures can show them expressing the right emotions and body language.”

Have you had any bad experiences with couples? If yes, what are they? 

“Initially after signing with me, this couple came back to me informing me that they had found another photographer that they liked and they asked if I could shoot half the wedding and the other half would be shot by the other photographer. A day later, they told me that the other photographer is not willing to share the wedding shoot. They wanted to cancel the booking and obtain a full refund of their deposit. I found that unreasonable as the purpose of a deposit is to prevent situations like this from happening. Furthermore, I had turned down other possible clients as I had blocked out the date for this couple and there was no way I could return to those couples that I turned down as they would have already found another photographer. Hence, I tried to be nice by offering the option of returning their deposit only if I managed to find another client to take over their slot. They were not happy with that and that was when things turned ugly.”

What is the most important aspect of the wedding photography business?

“It is important to treat it like any any other business. The wedding photography business does not only revolve around taking good photos, but also having good business sense. You have to know how to make it sustainable. The problem is that the market is not regulated. Although I have international accreditation, you do not have to have any form of certification in Singapore to become a wedding photographer. That is why you have many inexperienced photographers who offer fees lower than the market rate and producing a lower quality work, affecting the wedding couples.”

Mr Nathaniel Tan is the founder of Natstudios.

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Mr Pierre Ooi, 40, full-time wedding photographer for 20 years.

What are your best practices?

“I arrange for a meet up with my clients, one month before their wedding shoot. During this meet up, I will share my past experiences with them and prepare them mentally, on what to expect. This will allow me to brief them on how to behave during customary procedures such as which side of the family should take the tea first during the tea ceremony, for Chinese customary practices.”

Have you had any bad experiences with couples? If yes, what are they?

“I do not have any bad experiences. Maybe just some unrealistic demands. Couples have showed me works of other photographers and demanded that I follow their style of work. I usually try to adapt to their demand and do what they want.”

What is the most important aspect of the wedding photography business?

“Passion is the most important thing. Personally, my passion is shooting couples on their wedding day. I love the fact that I get to share their happiness with them and play a part in making their day a memorable one.”

Mr Pierre Ooi is the founder of Pierre Ooi Photography.

 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story featured a fifth photographer, but he requested his profile to be taken down because he didn’t like the way his portrait was shot and wanted to retract what he said about some of his customers.

Featured image by Najeer Yusof. 

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Baby. Image sourced from Flickr user: Jennifer Chong.

by Gillian Lim

YOU might not recognise it straight away, but that innocuous box of brown pills on your friend’s kitchen counter might very well be placenta pills. Sitting innocently among the rest of her vitamins, diet pills and condiments, placenta pills is the “modern” way to eating your own baby’s placenta. Traditionally, the placenta is eaten cooked and dried, and most commonly found in Chinese culture.

When you give birth, the placenta comes out alongside your newborn baby. That’s the bloody lump of cells that your baby depended on while in your womb; the placenta is the organ that surrounds your baby, passes oxygen and nutrients from you to your baby via the umbilical cord and helps dispose of waste.

But now, post-partum, the placenta can be processed quite clinically – the process includes sterilisation, steaming, dehydration, and encapsulation. You don’t even need to get your hands dirty and do this yourself. In fact, if you let your doctor or midwife know, they can help set aside your placenta – until your doula, or a contracted encapsulation company, arrives.

According to Singapore-based doula and midwife service Four Trimesters, placenta encapsulation has become increasingly popular over the years. When it first provided the service five years ago, it processed one or two placentas a month. “Now, we do about 15 to 20 placentas a month,” said its chief doula Ginny Phang, who is 38 this year.

So what exactly is placenta encapsulation, and what benefits might it have?

What is placenta encapsulation?

Essentially, it’s all boiled down to one sentence: The placenta from a mother, post-labour, is taken and processed into a pill.

First, the placenta is cleaned – this means washing and cleaning it thoroughly, and having the amniotic sac and umbilical cord removed. After this, the placenta is boiled or steamed, depending on the service – this removes any excess blood, faecal bacteria and surface bacteria. Once it’s cleaned and sanitised, it then undergoes dehydration to remove any excess water – the placenta is sliced into thin strips and dehydrated over a low heat for several hours, after which it is ground into a coarse powder. Then, it’s put into pills, and delivered to you. All these take about less than two days, said Ms Phang.

There are other ways to encapsulate your placenta – traditional Chinese medicine shops boil the placenta in lemon and ginger. Some shops steam it instead of boiling it. Some others forgo this step entirely – the placenta gets dehydrated right after being washed.

It is believed that the placenta contains “crucial hormones and iron that leave the body once the placenta is born,” said Ms Phang. That’s why so many mothers take it,  especially since it’s believed to “maintain their hormone and iron levels in the few weeks after the birth,” she added.

Four Trimesters offers a stand-alone placenta encapsulation service. This means that although it offers birth support and postnatal visits, you can choose to engage them only for placenta encapsulation services. It costs $355 for a single baby, and if you’re having twins, it costs $655.

Singapore-based Heavenly Health Store is a traditional Chinese medicine consultant that also offers placenta encapsulation services. Its processes are a little different – it does not boil nor steam the placenta. Instead, it goes straight from cleaning to dehydrating, and then onto grinding and encapsulation. It charges $300 per baby, and takes three to five days to process the placenta.

Each placenta has a different yield, as they vary in size. This means a customer can expect a range of 100 to 300 pills. You’re encouraged to take the pills daily during the post-partum period, although if you feel like you might need the extra strength, you can always increase the dosage, according to instructions given by Four Trimesters.

What are the benefits?

There are two general reasons why mothers might encapsulate their placenta. According to Ms Phang, mothers who approach them do it either for beauty or health reasons. “When you consume your own placenta, you have better complexion,” said Ms Phang. “The other market we get is mothers who make a very conscious choice of deciding to do this – to increase iron after giving birth, to help with post-pregnancy depression or to increase milk supply.”

But Ms Phang did say that it is difficult to attribute any positive, or negative, effects directly to the consumption of placenta. “It’s hard to measure the increase in milk supply,” said Ms Phang. “It’s all dependent on varying factors, but a lot of mothers who consume it say they can feel mood lifting, and that they feel better.” At the same time, she also added: “How do you measure such emotional changes?”

Are there any risks involved in taking placenta? Ms Phang said: “No.”

While such claims have not been fully tested, there has been ongoing research studying the effects of eating placenta.

A 1918 study conducted by the American Society of Biological Chemists said that babies grew faster when breastfeeding from mothers who ate their placenta. “The rate of growth is increased… [because] the maternal ingestion of dried placenta tissue so stimulates the tissues of the infants feeding on the milk produced during this time,” wrote its author Dr Frederick Hammett.

Mothers’ reactions

Mothers we spoke to had a range of reactions to taking their baby’s placenta.

Ms Elise Su, a stay-at-home mum, decided to go for placenta encapsulation after having post-natal depression with her first child, a daughter. She has just given birth to her second child, a son, three weeks ago.

“I read that taking the pills could help prevent post-natal depression, so this round, I was quite keen to try it,” said the 32-year-old, adding that she wanted to prevent any post-natal depression this time round. But she stopped after four to five days of taking the pills – they were giving her bad mood swings, she said.

“Initially, I thought it was my hormones after giving birth, but it got really bad,” she said. Ms Su, however, added that she did experience higher energy levels. “I didn’t feel tired at night,” she said. “I didn’t see the link at first [to the mood swings], but my husband told me to stop eating the pills, and the day I stopped, I went back to my usual cheerful self.”

Ms Su has put the pills aside for now but wants to try eating them again to see if the pills were really the reason behind her severe mood swings. “Or maybe it’s just because I just gave birth and my hormones were all over the place,” she said.

Ms Xiangying Li, on the other hand, is still taking her pills up till today – she gave birth to her third child in January this year. “At first I was a little grossed out about the idea but I eventually decided to give it a try,” said the 33-year-old public servant. “I’m not sure whether it’s because it’s my third child but my recovery has been quite fast.”

She also added that the pills seemed to help with her complexion. “I haven’t had any break-out episodes,” she said, adding that she used to have bad complexion for her first two births because of her changing hormone levels. “But now, I feel the pills help with the balancing of hormones. I think they do work for me to some extent.”

She also added that if she does have a fourth child, she would go for placenta encapsulation again. “It seems pretty harmless,” she said. “I was concerned about how hygienic it would be at first, but after reading more about how they process the placenta, I became quite comfortable with it.”

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Featured image Benjamin 23Days by Flickr user Jennifer ChongCC BY-ND 2.0.

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Chubby Cute
Illustration by Sean Chong

by Wan Ting Koh

WHILE chubby babies are generally regarded as healthy and cute, when do you know if your baby is too fat? In the case of infants – usually defined as the time from birth up to 24 months old – how do you tell if a baby is growing too big, too soon, for his or her own good?

Last month, The Straits Times reported that obesity in schoolchildren has risen from 10 per cent in 2000 to 12 percent in 2014. The World Health Organization said that the number of overweight or obese infants and young children between zero and five years old increased from 32 million globally in 1990 to 42 million in 2013. It added that following the current trends, the number of overweight or obese infants and young children globally will increase to 70 million by 2025.

Obese infants are likely to become obese children, and this obesity may persist later in their lives. Obesity sets a person up for a whole host of complications such as high blood pressure, abnormal blood cholesterol levels and cardiac problems.

The standard measure used to measure obesity in adults is the Body Mass Index (BMI). For babies, two standard weight for length charts – one for girls and the other for boys – provided by the World Health Organization are used. For Singapore, you can get these charts from the Health Promotion Board website.

This chart indicates the growth trajectory of the infant separately by length and by weight in percentile. To check whether your baby is in the “normal” range, his length percentile should match his weight percentile. That is, if he is in the 80th percentile for his length, his weight should more or less correspond. According to the World Health Organization growth charts, a baby who falls above the 98th percentile for weight for length is considered to have a high weight for length.

Speaking to TMG, Clinical Paediatric Registered Dietitian (RD) and member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI) Meave Graham said that large deviations across percentile lines would be a cause for concern. Ms Graham said that a baby’s weight and length should be plotted on the growth chart during routine health visits and that these parameters will generally follow a particular percentile line on the chart. Though there can be slight deviations for an infant in the “normal” range, an obese infant would show “dramatic increases in the weight percentile over time”.

The paediatric dietitian with over 18 years of clinical experience in Irish paediatric hospitals stressed that obesity ought to be determined by a skilled professional, such as a paediatrician or dietitian, who will interpret information from growth charts taken in tandem with “other assessments such as clinical examination, dietary history and laboratory investigations”.

“Parents just need to observe the baby. The baby will naturally gain body fat in the first year. But if the parents have a suspicion that it is too much, they will need to bring the child for a clinical weight and length check. That is the safest thing to do,” Ms Graham said.

One sign that your baby might be gaining weight too fast is if they are growing out of their clothing rapidly of if they constantly need clothes labelled for an older child, said Ms Graham.

Why would a baby become obese?

The main reason for a baby to become obese is overfeeding.

Studies show that formula feeding, as compared to breast-feeding, is more likely to turn an infant fatter faster. According to a study done by Professor Ben Gibbs from the Department of Sociology at Brigham Young University, babies who are mostly bottle-fed don’t always learn how to regulate their appetites the same way as breastfed babies. Parents may also tend to overfeed when they’re looking at a bottle of milk and measuring a baby’s serving in ounces, something that doesn’t happen when a baby is being breastfed, the study said.

The team studied 8,000 mothers with nine-month-old babies, asking them whether they predominantly breastfed or formula-fed or did both, and then evaluated the child’s weight at age two. Babies put to bed with a bottle were 30 per cent more likely to be obese at age two. Those fed solid food before four months were 40 per cent more likely to become obese.

Ms Jane Freeman, a dietitian at Singapore-based Food Equation, explained why this may be. She said that the nutrition profile of breast milk is specific to a baby needs and breast milk content changes in accordance to the different stages of nursing. So breast milk would in fact be more “tailored” than formula, which is “static”.

Ms Graham, who agrees with Ms Freeman, said that breastfeeding “ensures optimum growth and development” due to the “unique composition of breastmilk and the body’s metabolic and physiological responses to breastmilk”. These benefits cannot be mimicked by formula milk, said the pediatric dietitian.

A changing fluid, breast milk in the first week is made of colostrum which contains a high amount of protein and a number of immunising factors for the newborn. Mature breast milk is produced about three weeks after the birth of the baby. So the milk essentially “reformulates” to target the growth stage of the baby.

Ms Freeman recommends at least 12 months of breastfeeding as the “ideal” time range. Breastfeeding for up to two years can also be done. However, beyond that, the benefits of breastfeeding are “hard to know”.

The dietitian added that another reason a baby might be too fat is if the infant is overfed, which tends to happen if hapless parents resort to giving bottles of milk to quieten a crying child. “There are lots of cases where parents overfeed milk or sugary drinks, especially if they use milk to pacify children,” she said.

Screen time is an issue

Another possible cause for infant obesity, Ms Graham pointed out, was lack of physical activity, and this may be partly due to the increase in time children, from the moment they can grip, are spending on handheld tablets and similar devices. “When I go to the mall now, it is normal for me to see children as young as two or three years old swiping at their devices,” said Ms Graham. “Parents think it is the norm now and babies are given devices from nine to ten months, basically as soon as they can grip them, in order to keep the child entertained. But this is a big problem as it can cause obesity, and even postural problems next time.”

Instead, she suggests that parents interact with their child more, and it is as simple as singing them a song or tickling their palms. “Parents don’t know that by handing their child a device, they are handing them a problem in their later life,” said Ms Graham.

According to the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, babies should be physically active several times daily in the form of interactive floor play. Babies less than a year old should be given tummy time, where they are put on their tummies so that they exercise their muscles when they raise their head to look around.

From age one to two years, the recommendation is a total of 180 minutes of activity spread throughout the day, such as floor play. Plus no screen time for those younger than two years old as it is “directly associated with the risk of excessive weight gain for all ages”, added Ms Graham.

What should infants eat to maintain a healthy weight?

The Health Promotion board recommends that an infant between the ages of six months and 12 months eat one to two recommended servings of brown rice or wholemeal bread, half a serving of fruit, half a serving of vegetables and two servings of meat. For calcium intake, HPB recommends one and a half servings 750ml of infant formula. Juices are actually not necessary to the baby’s diet and might in fact ruin their appetite for other foods as they are sweetened. It is also recommended that the baby avoid any processed food.

According to guidelines from Mayo Clinic, from birth to age 6 months, a baby may grow about 1.5 to 2.5cm a month and gain about 140 to 200g a week. It is also expected that a baby double his or her birth weight by about five months. From ages six to 12 months, a baby may grow about 1cm a month and gain about 85 to 140g a week. Expect a baby to triple his or her birth weight by the time the infant hits the age of one.

Other tips to prevent your child from becoming obese is to avoid solid food for at least six months, and once you start solid foods, add them gradually to the baby’s diet. Nurse before offering solids, and make sure that the majority of baby’s calories come from breastmilk through the end of the first year.

Also, something that might seem very logical – don’t push your child to continue eating when he is full. As parents, some might be tempted to use mealtimes to inculcate the value of appreciation in their child. (Cue “finish your food ah boy, don’t waste”.)

Baby knows best

However, in general, perhaps natural instincts rule and should be respected.

According to the author of The Science of Mom: A Research-based Guide to your Baby’s First Year Alice Green Callahan, it is important to follow what your child indicates, or he or she might lose the ability to “self-regulate” especially if taught to ignore signals of hunger. In her book, Dr Callahan, who has a PhD in nutrition, cites a study which shows that babies who were fatter at six months and had controlling feeding practices, only got fatter. Likewise, smaller babies at six months old tend to remain small.

At the end of the day, Dr Callahan said, “When it comes down to how much to eat, baby knows best.”

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/mklapper/19231200402/Flickr User: Marco KlapperTitle: Reading lady It's a sunny day in Frankfurt. As I was strolling through Bethmannpark, I found this colorful scenery. The shot is my favorite from that day as it captures both the summer atmosphere and the relaxed state of mind I was in.

by Wan Ting Koh

EVEN if we don’t mark International Women’s Day in our calendars as an official holiday like Russia or Cuba, there’s no reason why we can’t celebrate the event. Here are seven things you can do to celebrate this March 8.

Thank the most influential woman in your life

Be it your mother, grandmother, wife or girlfriend, some of these female presence must have in some way impacted your life or supported you to be the person you are today. So, the first thing you need to do is to thank these women in your life. If you happen to be a woman yourself, you can still thank your fellow women – a simple “thank you” goes a long way!

 

Get her flowers

We know this might seem stereotypical, but hey who wouldn’t appreciate a fresh flower delivery to brighten up the day? Send the women in your life some flowers! Even better, get a meaningful bouquet from A Better Florist, which is naming their bouquets after prominent and inspirational female figures such as Amelia Earhart, the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and Rosa Parks, an African American civil rights activist who refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in 1955, spurring the city of Montgomery to end the racial segregation on buses. These bouquets will be accompanied by tags describing each woman’s achievement and how they changed the world.

the amelia
The Amelia- one plush hydrangea with 12 sweet pink roses surrounded by a few pink eustomas.

 

the rosa
The Rosa- 12 luscious red roses with vibrant red hypericum

Binge on movies that star strong female leads

What better way to celebrate how far women have come than their portrayal in film? From the early Disney princesses – cue damsels in distress – to Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise, female characters have come a long way. Women are still portrayed as sex bombs in films by DC comics but at least they are not pure eye candy, or completely catatonic (think Barbara in Night of the Living Dead). From Legally Blonde to The Devil Wears Prada, we have women who deal with sexism at the workplace. Strong and aggressive female leads who are good in their field, like Ripley from the Alien series and the female cops from The Heat, are some less-than-conventional portrayals of women. But if you’ve no stomach for these films, Brave or Tangled by Disney also portray women’s strong characters.

Listen to feminist anthems

Sing along to famous “female empowerment” tracks like those by Beyonce and Madonna. Beyonce’s Run The World *(Girls) and I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor are a good start. Madonna’s Material Girl, an ode to the original song by Marilyn Monroe, encourages women to own their sexuality. Old classics like Wannabe by Spice Girls or Can’t Hold Us Down by Christina Aguilera can also form your playlist for a daily dose of empowerment.

Watch the Ted talk “How to be Feminist”

Novelist and outspoken feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie voiced out in a Ted Talk, in 2013, her trials and tribulations of being an educator of equal rights of women in her home country Nigeria. In the roughly half-hour presentation, Ms Chimamanda covered a wide range of topics from victim-blaming to the prescriptive nature of gender stereotypes. She also recalled her first-day experience teaching a writing class in graduate school where the one thing that most worried her was not the material she was going to teach, but her appearance as she was worried she would not be taken seriously if she dressed in a feminine manner. One particularly striking sentence in her speech was: “I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femaleness and my femininity. And I want to be respected in all of my femaleness because I deserve to be.”

Or if you’re a big fan of social media, why not follow some prominent feminists on their twitter accounts?

Mona Eltahawy is a Egyptian-American journalist, author and feminist.

Gloria Steinem is a lecturer and writer who has written for Esquire and The New York Times Magazine and other publications.

Grab a novel with feminist themes

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar are just a few novels that have strong feminist themes. These two novels detail the mental degeneration of women protagonists under oppressive forces. For a more cheerful read, read Ms Gilman’s Herland, which deals with the adventures of three men who end up in an alternative Utopian society ruled entirely by women. On the other hand, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood presents an antithesis – a dystopia where women are only prized for their biological functions. Other novels, like The Colour Purple by Alice Walker and Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys highlight the difficulties that women of colour encounter in finding and establishing their identity in the face of opposing voices. The best thing? These novels are pretty easy to digest and make for riveting reads.

 

Featured image Reading lady  by flickr user Marco Klapper. CC BY 2.0 

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/aukirk/12795957403/in/photolist-dGh4vc-kuJCke-kuJBpB-7iEvBR-9RW14k-7iEvBV-mmUZhe-8m4rwZ-6bYdRb

by Grace Chua

Few things are more innocuous than talcum powder: It smells good and keeps you dry after a bath. People have used this simple mineral powder on themselves and their babies for decades.

But this week, a US court ruled that personal-care giant Johnson & Johnson must pay US$72 million to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer after using its talcum powder for years.

The company, it argued, knew of talcum powder’s cancer-causing risks but failed to warn customers.

Now, Johnson & Johnson faces another 1,000 similar lawsuits around the country.


What is talcum powder? Is it safe?

Talcum powder is made from talc, a common silicon-based mineral found all over the world. This natural product is not only used in powders, but also in other everyday items such as cosmetics and deodorants. In its natural form, some talc contains the mineral asbestos, a health hazard. As the evidence against asbestos piled up in the 1970s, people began wondering if talc could be a health hazard as well.

For talcum powder products that don’t contain asbestos, the evidence is mixed. Talc particles have been found in patients’ ovarian cancer samples. Some studies have found that women who used it for feminine hygiene were about a third more likely to get ovarian cancer. But they often rely on people remembering how much talc they used over a lifetime.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organisation, classes talc body powder as a “2B possible human carcinogen”: the studies are consistent, but there are confounding factors and possible biases.

Meanwhile, other reviews of studies argue there is no link at all. And there is no dose-response relationship between talcum powder use and cancer (if talc causes cancer, the cancer risk should rise with increased use, just as the cancer risk rises the more people smoke).

In a Straits Times report this week, Johnson & Johnson said that the talc in its powders is “carefully selected and meets the highest quality, purity and compliance standards”.


How might talc use lead to ovarian cancer?

That’s the problem: no one knows. Some think talc travels up through the genital tract, and causes inflammation when it gets to the ovaries, which leads to cancer. But there isn’t any direct evidence of this.

Besides, the UK charity Ovacome says, “Out of the millions of women in England and Wales, many of whom use talc, only a very small number will develop ovarian cancer each year. So even if talc does increase the risk slightly, very few women who use talc will ever get ovarian cancer.”

Dr Alain Khaiat, president of the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association of Singapore, said in a Straits Times article recently that ovarian cancer rates are high in countries such as Sweden, which uses very little talc. In India, where there is a high rate of talc use, there’s a relatively low rate of the disease, he says.

In Singapore, cancer of the ovaries is the fifth most common cancer among women, and seventh on the list of most frequent cancer deaths.


I use talcum powder on my baby’s bum! Should I stop?

In any case, there are other good reasons not to use talcum powder in certain situations.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests using petroleum jelly or creams instead to keep baby’s skin rash-free.

And that’s not because of the cancer risk. Rather, children who inhale particles of powder can be prone to breathing problems like wheezing and pneumonia.

So, in general, while women who use talcum powder need not panic, there’s no real reason to dust oneself with the stuff. If you don’t already use it for feminine hygiene or at the changing table, there’s no need to start.

 

Featured image Spilled Baby Powder by Flickr user Austin Kirk. CC BY 2.0

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Vivocity nursing room, singaporebaby.com

By Prisca Hoo

PRO-CHILDREN initiatives are the “in” thing to have these days. Many offices are providing a private space for nursing mothers to pump while they are at work. At least one family-friendly co-working space has opened up – Trehaus at Claymore Connect on Orchard Road. Needless to say, the many malls and department stores dotted around the island are also jumping on the bandwagon to provide premium family care facilities in their bids to attract and retain the custom of new parents in Singapore.

Newer malls now come with pretty comprehensive family and nursing rooms, and older malls such as Parkway Parade are carving out spaces to provide the now de rigueur facilities expected by modern-day parents. Gone are the days of simply providing a flimsy foldable changing table in the ladies room and checking that off as being family-friendly.

Here are the best five nursing and family rooms in Singapore malls:

 

Takashimaya

Takashimaya
Setting the gold standard for these facilities in Singapore is the nursing room on Level 4 in Takashimaya. Recently renovated and relocated in 2013, it is spacious enough for five or six families and you can take your stroller into the four lockable cubicles. It has all the amenities a new mother could want, including power sockets (for pumping machines), a bottle warmer available on request, high chairs, a hot water dispenser, a separate waiting area and changing tables. A member of staff is also present to render assistance if required. The downside of this beautiful space is that dads are not allowed in the nursing cubicles but are most welcome to perform diaper changing duties.

Where: Takashimaya Department Store, Level 4
Nursing cubicles: 
Four cubicles with a changing table, comfortable armchair, electrical socket and doors that lock
Diaper changing area: 
Five padded diaper changing tables located in a separate area from the nursing cubicles
Hot and cold water dispenser: 
Available
Daddy friendly?: Men are allowed in the diaper changing area and waiting area outside but not towards the back where the nursing cubicles are
Extras: Bottle warmer, high chair, member of staff to assist if required

 

Ion Orchard

Ion orchird nursing room
Nearby Ion also scores highly for great baby care amenities. There are plenty of nursing rooms located throughout the mall and the larger-than-average space readily accommodates your stroller, shopping and more. Mums and dads are both welcome. In addition to the usual amenities, each room has a disposable diaper dispenser and standing fan. The rooms on the lower levels tend to be more popular with the higher footfall in the basement levels and it is worth the extra effort locating the ones on the upper floors for a more peaceful nursing experience. A great one is the room located on Level 3 – the diaper changing area is located in a space separate from the nursing area, and the room is clad in dark wood, exuding a sense of serenity.

Where: B4, B3, Level 3 and 4
Nursing cubicles: 
Each nursing room has a plastic Eames-styled chair, electrical socket and an automatic frosted glass sliding door that locks from the inside
Diaper changing area: Some rooms feature a padded changing table and others have a wall-mounted foldable version in the same area
Hot and cold water dispenser: Available
Daddy friendly?: Men are allowed in
Extras: Bottle warmer, disposable diaper dispenser, standing fan

 

JEM

JEM nursing room
Photo taken from Jem.sg

Outside of the Orchard Road area, JEM is clearly going all-out to woo parents to the mall with the clever design of their family-care rooms. Located on B1 as well as Level 5, the facilities are spacious and you do not feel like you are competing for space with other parents. In addition to the expected amenities, JEM also provides child-sized toilets alongside regular ones so that parents can tend to both older and younger children within the privacy of a cubicle.

Where: B1 and Level 5
Nursing cubicles: 
Three spacious cubicles with a comfortable armchair, electrical sockets and doors that lock
Diaper changing area: 
Three padded changing tables outside of the nursing cubicles
Hot and cold water dispenser: Available
Daddy friendly?: Men are allowed in
Extras: Family toilet on Level 2 with adult and child-sized loos

 

VivoCity

Vivocity nursing room, singaporebaby.com
Photo by singaporebaby.com

VivoCity is another mall popular with young families. With its great array of shops and play areas geared towards little ones, the mall also has multiple nursing cubicles and diaper changing stations which are dotted throughout the building. Although there are officially only four nursing rooms, almost all the toilet areas have changing stations that are lockable, comes with hot water taps and the semi-frosted glass allows for some degree of privacy should parents wish to feed their babies in a quiet space that is kept relatively clean and dry.

Where: Various locations near toilets on Level 2 and 3
Nursing cubicles: 
Only certain diaper changing rooms have a separate cubicle that locks and not all of them have an electrical socket
Diaper changing area: One padded changing table near most of the toilets with a semi-frosted automatic sliding glass door that locks.
Hot and cold water dispenser: Available
Daddy friendly?: Men are allowed in
Extras: None

 

Parkway Parade

Parkway Changing

Finally, a great example of an older mall keeping up with the times.  Opened in 1984, the extensive $15 million revamp of Parkway Parade announced in 2009 saw a number of parents rooms being added throughout the mall. Each feature a comfortable, lockable cubicle with a separate diaper-changing table outside. While the hot water facilities tend to be used extensively by tenants, the rooms are generally clean and dry, making nursing your baby a comfortable experience overall.

Where: Basement, Level 1, 2 and 3
Nursing cubicles: 
One or two cubicles in each area with an Eames-styled plastic armchair, electrical sockets and doors that lock
Diaper changing area: 
One or two padded changing tables outside the nursing cubicles
Hot and cold water dispenser: Available
Daddy friendly?: Men are allowed in
Extras: None

Mums and dads, do you frequent a shopping mall with great nursing and family-care facilities? Tell us!

 

Featured image by singaporebaby.com.

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by Bertha Henson

SOME Secondary One students are starting school only this week, instead of last week when the school term formally began. We don’t know how many and the Education Ministry wouldn’t say – except that there were “a few students” affected. TMG knows of at least 10 students but their parents declined to be named for fear of shining the spotlight on their children who are now trying to get over the trauma of being “re-posted”.

You see, these were the students who had originally been posted to one school, appealed to get into another, got in, and then were told they had to leave. The Ministry of Education (MOE) told principals to rescind the offer as the students had not met the school’s cut-off point (COP).

So after a couple of days or so in what they thought would be their secondary school, in their new uniforms and lugging their school textbooks, they had to go back to their originally posted schools. It appears that this has always been the principle of equity applied to Secondary One postings. You get in only if you make the cut-off – unless there were “extenuating circumstances”. Or you would be depriving a more deserving student who had appealed for a place.

That’s one argument put forward by the ministry when we asked for a response on the matter.

It told TMG: “This is to ensure fairness to all applicants who participated in the S1 posting exercise and who had accepted that schools would no longer accept transfers of students who did not meet the school’s cut-off point.  However, exceptions could be made if there are extenuating circumstances, such as students with serious medical conditions who would benefit from being in a school nearer home.”

It is a good principle to adopt; In MOE’s own words: “Previously, the practices in schools were uneven on this, and not all schools require their students to meet the school’s COP before they were considered for school transfer.”

In November, the ministry wrote to all schools to say that this new guideline, or rather, rule, should be enforced. Some principals apparently didn’t get the memo – and found themselves having to face angry parents who were upset that the children would have to switch schools.

“We understand that it may be disruptive for the students to move from one school to another,” the ministry said. “We will give full support to the student and family to ease the transition to the school he or she was originally posted to. Reimbursement will be given to students who have bought the books and uniforms of the new school. The posted school will welcome and provide full support to the child to assist him/her to settle down in the school.”

One parent contacted was surprised to hear of the reimbursement but pointed out that the more important issue was that the children had become “collateral damage” in the mixed or missed communications between principals and MOE. And if the student numbers were “few”, then there was surely a way a school would be able to accommodate these students instead of kicking them out.

She has a point.

If every student is precious, then this is quite a ham-fisted way of dealing with what was essentially a MOE or principal snafu.

It also shed light on “uneven practices” in the past, which gave parents hope that they could appeal for places because, well, others had succeeded in the past. You wonder why principals deviated from the principle in the first place, and on what basis they decided to accept students who did not meet the cut-off point. Such discretion left to principals only give parents the opportunity to moan about an uneven playing field, and mutter about “connections” between parent and school.

Yup, the enforcement of the principle is to be welcomed in promoting transparency in the posting exercise. But in this case MOE may be perceived as lacking empathy in dealing with 12 to 13-year-olds.

The upshot of this may be that this is an affirmation that the best way for parents to ensure places for the children in secondary school is to start at Primary One. Get the child into the primary school which feeds into the secondary school of choice.

Or, simply go the Direct School Admissions or DSA way by gaining admission to a secondary school on the child’s non-academic talents and achievements in a sport or the arts. The parents’ thinking process must start earlier, from May to October before the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results are known. The student needs to only meet the minimum cut-off score for a particular programme or stream in the school, regardless of the eventual PSLE cut-off score of the school.

MOE told TMG that it has made exceptions for a few students who did not meet the school’s cut-off point when appealing for a transfer from the originally posted school. It allowed one student to move to a school nearer to her home because she had a birth defect affecting the spinal cord which required regular cleaning of the bladder every four hours with her mother’s help.

Another student who is wheelchair-bound was originally posted to a school which was not close to her home and which did not have wheelchair access. Her transfer to another school nearby which was nearer to her home and had the right facilities was allowed.

 

Featured image by The Middle Ground.

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