This year, we celebrate International Women’s day with a series of eight interviews that feature inspiring women who represent the modern empowered woman. In Part Two of the series, we speak to Dr Ayesha Khanna, Carolyn Kan, Jocelyn Chng, and Yvon Bock.
Yvon Bock, 40, founder and managing director of Hegen
Her company sells two million milk bottles a year, but don’t call Yvon Bock the “milk bottle lady. She wants to set the record straight. While Hegen, the company she founded in 2015, is in the business of selling milk bottles and breast pumps, she is a passionate advocate that breast (milk) is best. At one stage, she had over 1,500 180ml (6oz) containers of her milk, stored in four deep freezers, plus six freezer compartments stored at the homes of other family members. Hegen, she stresses, was set up, with all intent and purpose, to provide both mother and bub, a “positive breastfeeding experience”, as it may be impossible to latch your baby on all the time.
As a mother-of-four, the attractive and svelte Bock knows too well how the breastfeeding journey for mothers, can be beset with challenges. She’s been breastfeeding for over 10 years, and the personal experience has not been without grief. She shares: “It was frustrating as I had to carry more than 10 items to the office just to pump. This inspired me to start a brand that carries multifunctional products – to help make the breastfeeding journey easier for other mothers.”
It was the genesis of Hegen. Bock took a leap of faith, and it was a life-defining moment. She says: “It felt more meaningful to have a clear purpose.”
Purpose is what sets Hegen apart from other baby bottle manufacturers. Because its guiding principle is to help mother and child enjoy the breastfeeding journey, the products are designed to be simple and practical to enhance the user experience. And it’s this functional approach that has led to innovations in form, that differentiates Hegen from the mill.
One obvious difference is the shape of its milk bottles. Unlike the traditional circular milk bottle, Hegen has gone for square containers, which allow them to be easily stacked, thus minimising storage space in fridges.
Bock explains: “We do not see these breastfeeding products as individual items. Our milk bottles and breast pumps can be used in multiple ways. For example, the milk bottles can be used as storage containers, just by removing the nipple cap. The breast pumps are not only for pumping, but it also has an additional massage mode with the help of a kneading ring attached to the pump to help soothe engorged breasts. Another feature that sets us apart – our bottles do not have any screw thread, so parents need not worry about mismatching the caps. All you have to do is twist and press, to change out the cap.”
As these thoughtful features directly address and fulfil the daily pains of the breastfeeding process, Hegen’s products have cottoned on with mothers, not just locally but overseas too. In November 2017, it was the first Singapore product to feature on Alibaba’s popular 11.11 Global Shopping Festival broadcast.
While Singapore remains its flagship, Hegen is present in 14 markets around the world, including the United States, China, Russia and the United Kingdom. The brand has seen steady growth since launching, and is primed to penetrate 35 other markets by 2022.
Hegen isn’t just a business, but allows Bock to fulfil her roles as mother, daughter, wife, innovator, designer and entrepreneur. More importantly too, it actualises her dream in empowering mothers. To support the breastfeeding community, Bock actively participates in talks and panels for women and mothers, connecting with like-minded women of different across the world, who understand and identify the struggles with breastfeeding.
It falls in line with Bock’s view of what an empowered woman is – “one who is very authentic with her heart, and is always thinking of people or doing things in benefit of others. I admire Michelle Obama as she is not afraid to speak her mind. She is very down-to-earth, relatable and she is real. That is the kind of women I really respect.”
Why is it important for mothers to breastfeed?
Milk formula only came into existence 40 – 50 years ago. Humans have been breastfeeding since the beginning of time. It is an important human connection and has been passed on from generation to generation. I feel breastfeeding helps to forge a strong and secure attachment bond. Additionally, medically oxytocin- neurotransmitter can help to improve hormonal imbalance and breastfeeding burns calories that can help with weight management.
You breastfed all four of your children. What problems have you encountered?
My third child was born premature, and he was too small to latch on. We’ve tried many other ways to feed him like using a tube and syringe and eventually started bottle feeding him. Although he was on my breast milk exclusively, he never latched on me due to nipple confusion. Honestly, this became my strongest motivation to start Hegen.
Have you received any negative comments about breastfeeding?
Sixteen years ago, an older relative claimed that breast milk is not as nutritious as formula milk. Also, because they do not have much knowledge about breastfeeding, they think that breastfeeding is a selfish thing.
What obstacles did you face in the Hegen journey?
When Hegen launched back in 2015, we faced a lot of questioning from the breastfeeding community. This was due to the fact that in the medical field, many were sensitive about bottle feeding. Your babies do not need to be latched on all the time. In order to avoid nipple confusion for the baby, we’ve designed our bottle nipple to best resemble a nipple.
How do you juggle work and being a mother-of-four?
I feel that family always comes first. It is important to leverage on the support around me. I believe that every woman has five pillars of support. Spouse, parents/in-laws, colleagues, best friends and older kids. I stopped working because of my family, and it was emotionally tough for me. Looking back, it is more than possible for mums to juggle family and work, especially with the right support and tools.
What advice do you have for mothers who are afraid to, or have problems breastfeeding?
Most mothers tend to face anxiety and start to doubt themselves about breastfeeding. Don’t pressure yourself or get swamped by too many opinions. The best is to approach a medical expert or a lactation consultant who can advise on physical conditions (eg taking fluids, sleeping well, is she in pain etc), technique (latching on), or emotional mindsets.
What is one unforgettable lesson that you’ve learnt?
I used to think empathy is a weakness, as it shows a vulnerable side of myself. I spoke to my mentor, and he said that it is actually my biggest strength, because I am able to relate to people easily and help them … now I feel that it is my biggest strength.
One piece of advice to little girls …
Always have a dream. Don’t be afraid to dream. Believe it enough and you will think of a way to make it happen.
Photography TONY TING PHOTOGRAPHY
Styling XINDI SIAU
Hair and Makeup FIONA B MAKEUP
Location THE GREAT ROOM (NGEE ANN CITY)