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Starving baby’s brush with death spawns $2m business: 'I left so incredibly guilty'

Wendy says the blend of supplements she developed and now sells saved her baby's life.

When Wendy Poon’s baby boy was just two weeks old he was rushed into hospital on the verge of starvation.

His mum wasn't able to produce enough milk to keep the newborn alive and the situation had become critical.

“I felt so incredibly guilty as a mum,” Wendy told Yahoo Finance. “It was the worst I had ever felt.”

Wendy holding her baby in hospital.
After Wendy's baby boy was born, her body struggled to produce enough milk to keep him fed. (Source: Supplied)

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“At that point in time, I didn't know I was not producing enough milk for the baby to be full, so he was hungry and cluster feeding all the time.”

On top of that, Wendy's son also had jaundice.

“For neonatal jaundice, an infant requires enough liquid intake to flush out the build-up of bilirubin [caused by an immature liver], which was how he got sick," Wendy said. "We did not try formula at the time. We were encouraged to stick with breastfeeding and breast milk as much as possible.

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“Being a new mum, I was unaware it was OK to consider formula to supplement in the very early weeks, and my lactation consultant had ensured that my latch was not a problem.”

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While the pair remained in hospital, the New Zealander began to furiously research maternal nutrition and how she could boost her milk supply. But everything she found online only led to lactation cookies or sweet treats. There was nothing that would truly nourish a new mum.

“That’s when I started to make my own mix of [supplement] blends to help boost my own milk supply and to nourish myself,” Wendy said.

And they worked.

Soon, the supplement blends, which involved a unique mix of ingredients rich in galactagogues (foods believed to encourage breast-milk production), started to increase Wendy’s milk supply and she was able to breastfeed her son exclusively.

So, when she fell pregnant again — this time with a girl — Wendy returned to making her own blends and her second motherhood journey was a much smoother one.

Wendy with her daughter, son and husband.
Wendy's successful blend of nutrients meant she had no problem breastfeeding her daughter. (Source: Supplied) (Supplied)

But it wasn’t until COVID hit a year later that Wendy realised she could use her struggle to help other women.

“This realisation of failure and what I could have done differently [with breastfeeding her son] haunted me,” she told Yahoo Finance. “And I never, ever wanted another mum to feel the same as I did.”

And so, Mammas Milk Bar was born.

‘It was hard’

Passionate about using her blends to help other struggling mums, Wendy wanted to create a product that would really cater to what mums needed.

“I never want any mum to feel like she is failing her baby,” the 35-year-old said. “Our big-picture goal is to be a global brand that empowers every mum’s motherhood journey, and to nourish a woman’s entire motherhood journey, from pregnancy to postpartum, breastfeeding and beyond.”

With no business background, two children under three, a full-time job and a mortgage, it was a tough challenge, but Wendy was determined to make her company work.

“I had so much passion and drive to try to make a difference in other women’s lives,” she said.

After completing a series of e-commerce courses, obtaining a food licence and putting together a basic Shopify store, Wendy’s dream started coming to life.

Products from Mammas Milk Bar.
Wendy launched Mammas Milk Bar in 2020 and now sells her range of 36 products in more than 20 countries. (Source: Supplied) (Supplied)

“I worked with a number of midwives and food-science experts and relied on my Malaysian background and the traditional knowledge of nourishing the new mother - passed down from my grandmothers to my mum,” she explained.

“I found a small commercial kitchen not far from home, which I rented for four hours a month to hand-blend all of my mixes myself. It was hard at first. At night, after the kids were asleep, I would spend all my time engaging and chatting with other mums on social media and slowly grew a following from there.

"I also sent free products and samples to mums struggling to produce milk for their babies in neonatal intensive care units."

By the time launch day came, after having spiked huge interest from mums and professionals alike, orders came rolling in, and Wendy was busier than ever.

“I would pack the orders at night, along with help from my husband, and go back to mum life - work life during the day,” she said. “Over time, the business started growing, along with support from my amazing mum community with their feedback about our products and how our products have helped their own motherhood journeys.”

A Mammas Milk Bar stand at a show.
Products from Mammas Milk Bar have helped tens of thousands of women. (Source: Supplied) (Supplied)

$2 million in sales

Just over three years later, Mammas Milk Bar now reaches tens of thousands of mums across the world, and Wendy — who’s since quit her job to work on the business full time — has racked up more than $2 million in sales.

She said her cultural background had been one of the keys to success because she blended Western superfoods with Eastern nutritional knowledge.

“This gave us a strong understanding of how to create products that really met the needs of all mums in their motherhood journey, with the importance of nourishing mums in our community being at the forefront of every one of our product lines,” Wendy told Yahoo Finance.

With plans to expand into Asia this year, the number of countries Wendy exports her 36 products to will hit more than 20, including Spain, Australia, Germany, Canada and the USA.

And she has no plans to slow down.

“We get a lot of feedback from women’s husbands wanting something of their own,” she said.

“So, I am now working on a secondary health and wellness brand, Thriveland, suited for the whole family.”

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