“Imitation Mother” & Sour Milk


Baby M is 3 months old & we are starting to plan for my eventual return to work. For me, this has meant building up a stash of frozen breast milk & convincing Baby to take milk from a bottle. 

With T, there was nothing I hated more than pumping. In the beginning, I couldn’t pump more than a half ounce or so at home with my crappy little pump. Things were slightly better when I went back to clinic & school because my law school had just purchased a hospital-grade pump for us lactating cows moms. It was far more efficient, but the process was still painful & stressful for me. The pump was efficient & I had a clean private space, but I was simultaneously trying to relax, conjure up images of my sweet baby, & study Constitutioal Law. I never had a proper back-up stash of milk & could barely meet T’s daytime demands. 

This time around, when I was leaking milk everywhere during Baby M’s earliest days, I decided to take advantage of the apparent abundance & pump away. The technology had changed over the past 7 years & my small, affordable pump was more efficient & comfortable than even the hospital-grade one I had used for T. I dutifully pumped (stress free!) between feedings or when Baby M took a surprise long nap. I packaged the milk away & froze it. I watched with amazement as my frozen milk started taking over two shelves in the freezer. Woo-hoo!

Unfortunately, two problems have now popped up…

#1. Baby M will not drink from a bottle. 

After some fussing, MFA Dad got her to take a bottle when she was about 6 or 8 weeks old. Then I got a little lazy with the pumping as my milk supply settled down a bit & we didn’t make a habit of giving her a bottle. (When T was a baby, the bottle was never a problem—He loved both bottle & breast & never had a problem switching from one to the other.) Fast forward a month & my mother-in-law is upstairs right now with Baby M, unsuccessfully (from the sounds of it) attempting to convince Baby M to take an ounce of mama milk. MFA Dad has been similarly unsuccessful in recent days as well.

Naturally, I’ve turned to Google for help on convincing Baby M that the bottle isn’t so bad. Of course, there are advertisements for bottles & silicone nipples, each promising to be closer to the breast than the others. And there are myriad blog posts with advice like “try the bottle while walking” or “give baby the bottle while she sleeps” or stories about quitting jobs or babies crying ad infunitum.

On one breastfeeding advocacy website, one father described his daughter’s rejection of the bottle as a refusal “to settle for an imitation mother.”

Y’all know how I dislike language that fuels guilt & this is one I can’t let slide by. I don’t think that this dad (who was obviously working super hard to meet his daughter’s needs) meant to make his wife or other working mothers feel guilty. He simply shared his experience & struggles & problem-solving strategy. But this is the type of language that sometimes appears in breastfeeding advocacy literature that alienates working moms & bottle-feeding moms. 

To be clear, a bottle is not an “imitation mother.” It’s an imitation boob. Babies are little primates who need to eat & their physiology requires any feeding device be designed around babies’ sucking capabilities. Mothers who breastfeed are fulfilling this biological requirement in one particular way & it happens to be the way that requires the least amount of equipment. Breastfeeding also has known benefits for mother & baby, but really, it’s simply an mammalian process & just one aspect of mothering. Human “mothering” (or, just parenting) is so much more than feeding, even if some of that mothering takes place while breastfeeding. 

A mother cradling her son in one hand & feeding him with a bottle of formula in the other hand is also mothering. She is certainly not “imitation mothering.” That dad who couldn’t get his daughter to take the bottle was “mothering” when he was caring for his daughter & when he ultimately found he was able to feed her with a sippy cup.  The babysitter or nanny giving baby a bottle of pumped breast milk is also “mothering.”

And mothering by many is okay

As long as your child & your family is happy with whatever baby raising configuration you have, your baby will be happy, attached & well adjusted!

Not that it’s easy… Currently, I need to keep repeating that Baby M will be okay when I go back to work to convince myself that we will all adjust. But I have experience on my side this time around… My awesome seven-year-old has thrived despite the fact that I was studying or working from his early days. No imitation mother needed, thank you very much! Just lots of love & lots of bottles & lots of nursing. 

As for imitation boobs… I’m on the search for the perfect one that will trick my wee one to drink while I’m away from her. And I’m finding there’s a fine line in terms of advertising for silicone nipples that might fit the bill. In my online searching, I find breastfeeding advocates who criticize bottle makers who make claims that their bottle nipples are close to the real deal. I can understand these criticisms, the idea being that by advertising a bottle as a replacement for the breast, these companies are undermining breastfeeding. I will say, I still see a lot more bottle feeding than breastfeeding out in the everyday world. So, there may be something to this criticism.

But to make breastfeeding work long-term, many of us need to find that breast-like silicone nipple. So on another level, I appreciate the fact that bottle manufacturers have been making bottles & nipples that are more likely to trick my reluctant bottle drinker. 

If M falls for the bottle, what she’ll be drinking from it is less certain, though, because…

#2. Most of that milk I froze tastes like crap.

So here I’m going to do a 360.

I recently defrosted some breast milk from my abundant freezer stash to make up a practice bottle. I dropped a bit of the milk onto my hand to test for temperature & taste…

Yuck! 

It was a bit sour & I suddenly remembered that my milk tasted a bit off after freezing when T was an infant. Not that he cared. So I didn’t care. At the time, I learned that there is an enzyme called lipase in breast milk that can cause it to taste soapy or off, even if it’s been stored properly. The milk itself is perfectly fine.

But here it was again! Lipase appears to be affecting the taste of my milk & now Baby M does seem to care!

So I googled the sh@! out of that too… And I started to worry. Did I have too much lipase in my milk? Why? It’s been associated with nutritional deficiencies… 

I could neutralize the enzyme by scalding my milk before freezing it, but lipase seems to be important for baby in terms of digesting the milk. And what other nutrients would be lost? And can you imagine a more maddening task than pumping and then scalding a couple ounces of milk at a time?!

The truth is (and here’s the 360 degree turn from what I said above), breast milk was not designed to be expressed & then stored for long periods of time. It’s supposed to go from mom’s nipple to baby’s mouth, directly & in short order. 

You’d think this might make me feel guilty, but it actually makes me feel better. There is nothing wrong with me or my milk! Baby is thriving on it, so it’s purely a storage issue. I’ve stopped googling nutritional deficiencies as it’s likely not a problem with me. 

While modern technology is amazing (and the pumps available today are truly technological miracles!), I find myself stymied by basic biology (or is it physiology?). I am a modern mother, with a family & a career & a freezer full of lipase-happy sour milk. But baby & my body are still engaged in a process that has not evolved much during the past 3 million years or so. 

So I have to work with those biological limits. Of course, I’ll try to keep up with a supply of fresh milk by pumping every day at work. Maybe she’ll go for the lipase-full milk if I mix it with fresh milk or formula. It’s a modern world after all, and I thankfully have options that are perfectly healthy, even if less perfect than fresh breast milk. 

As long as we can find a solution that respects baby M’s needs & doesn’t involve copious amounts of tears or stress, we’ll all be okay. Just because I respect human biology (especially when it comes to babies) doesn’t mean I have to feel guilty about living a modern life. 

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Filed under Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Feminism, Mothering, Parenting, Partnership, Working

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