Thursday, July 4, 2013

The sense of breast-milk

Recently, I came across an ad for an Israeli-developed personal breastfeeding monitor. The page is in Hebrew only, but the general idea is finding out exactly how much a baby got from each breast at each feeding. Although I no longer breastfeed, as a mother who had successfully breast-nurtured two children I couldn't pass this invention without commenting; it seems ingenious, but in my eyes, though in rare instances it can perhaps be useful, in most it can actually be harmful. Why, you ask?

1. It might be inaccurate, erring in both ways. Suppose the baby is happy and satisfied, but the monitor says he didn't eat enough; result, a mother frets needlessly. Suppose it says the baby ate quite enough, but the baby continues restless and fussy, looking for more milk. Result, a frustrated mother who doesn't know what else to do to comfort the baby. 

2. It might be indirectly misleading, in the way of displaying a very small number of ml. for a specific feeding. A mother might panic and say, "oh no, it's less than an ounce" - forgetting that she doesn't breastfeed 6 times a day like "the books" say, but more like 12. Some babies are fussy and restless, and will only settle down for a good long nursing session in a quiet room with no distractions. Some just like to snack. Unless you monitor every feeding (and who would bother to do so at night, I ask?), you won't really get a clear picture.

3. It might be used as another step of technological fear-mongering, i.e., leading us to believe that we cannot trust our senses, but only what a monitor screen shows. "What! You aren't using a breastfeeding monitor? You are so neglectful, how do you know the baby is getting enough?" - just as it is now generally believed that in order to give birth you need a hospital, an army of doctors and nurses, constantly beeping monitors and pain meds, so it might be proclaimed that you cannot breastfeed "properly" without a monitor. The truth is, of course, that if all goes well you can give birth mostly by yourself (though it is good to have a back-up plan, I believe), and in order to breastfeed, you need nothing but a breast and a baby (though we all have our personal preferences as to other things we like to have on hand, such as a tall glass of water or, in my case, a spare cloth diaper for the other breast, which would always leak). 

4. I don't know how much this monitor will cost, but this lovely invention will almost certainly be used to try and pull some more money out of anxious young parents. I see it as formula: in some instances it is necessary, like medicine; in most, it is useless and potentially harmful. But if formula companies only promoted their product for strictly medicinal purposes, they wouldn't be clipping huge coupons like they are today. In this case also, I'm willing to bet anything that in order to succeed, they will try and get their product into every home. The reviews on their website claim it is "A must for every nursing mother", which it is not. I strongly disagree; no, very few mothers, if any, would truly benefit from such a device. 

I personally see no reason to complicate what ought to be simple. Especially in a postpartum, sleep-deprivation-addled-brain state, with hormones plunging down and surging up, it's best to keep things straightforward. You have a baby; you have milk. The baby is drinking, peeing, pooping, sleeping (though perhaps not as regularly as you would like), and growing (though not necessarily according to charts). If you breastfeed and your baby begins fussing in an hour or so, no harm will come from offering the breast again. If that doesn't help, try something else. If the new baby is with its mother always, and the source of milk is always on hand, generally there should be no trouble, and no need for monitoring. 


Becky said...

I have heard that they are selling this device (or something similar) at a large retailer here in the US, as well. I agree, it sounds more harmful than helpful.

Lady Anne said...

The easiest way to figure out how much your baby has eaten is to weigh the child before feeding, and then again, without changing the diaper, after the meal. Presto! How many ounces went into the tummy. No need to make it complicated.

LeAnna said...

Ugh. Definitely more harm than good! Mothers milk is so individually based that it's not about volume! A baby may take fewer ounces at the breast, but if the mothers diet is proper as well as her nursing technique, those ounces will be more nutrient dense. I find it heartbreaking when breast feeding mothers watch a clock instead of their baby.

I feel like inventions such as these are really digression rather than progression on the breast feeding front. Not only they do make something that is FREE (breast milk) cost money, they cause unneeded angst for the mother. But really, I think the only reason for these items are to make money on something that is otherwise free. Grrr...

Mrs. Anna T said...

Lady Anne, what you are saying may be done, of course, but it may put undue scare into an anxious mother too. One, scales can be inaccurate. Two, if it's a one-time measure, the picture may be very skewed. Once, Shira was weighed this way in a baby health center, and I was made to panic because she "didn't gain" and therefore I "don't have any milk". I got out crying, but then realized that due to all the pressure, I didn't even feel letdown! She just fussed at the breast.

Le Anna, thanks for pointing this out! Definitely, since breast milk doesn't have uniform ingredients like formula, it's another factor in the inaccuracy of this method.

Leah Brand-Burks said...

Well said, Anna. Another device that will sell well because of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Gothelittle Rose said...

For LeAnna - actually, breastmilk hardly varies at all, if at all. If the mother's diet isn't good, the nutrients are simply leached from her body. That's why, in cultures where the parents and older children are sadly thin and suffering from malnutrition, the babies will be fat and happy.

There's an easy way to figure out what the baby is eating. Some time when baby is sleeping and the breasts are firm, pump out a few ounces. Then feel how soft the breasts become. If three ounces take you from firm to soft, and the baby leaves it softer, you know he's probably had more like 4-5.

I learned that one myself, and the answer amazed me. I've always been this tiny person, such that I wondered if I even could nurse a baby, but I used a pump one evening when my second was already satiated (post-growth spurt) and took five ounces out of one side with relative ease! It still wasn't as soft at the end as when the baby was drinking!

When I told the doctors that, they quickly revised their assumption of what my baby was getting.

LeAnna said...

@Gothelittle Rose

Here is an interesting article I read supporting the thought that fat content and feed frequency are in fact related. However, I do agree that most compounds of breast milk are uniform, in that they do leach from the mother what is essential. Especially regarding minerals.

At the same time there are also some schools of thought that do believe a woman can improve the quality and fat content of her breast milk by consuming good for you fats high in lauric acid, such as coconut oil. My personal experience has been two EBF children who were slow gainers, though healthy, compared to my 3rd child. I drink raw goat milk, take fermented cod liver oil, as well as regular amounts of coconut oil and though he is but 4 months old, the kid is a total butterball compared to the two prior! Not exactly a scientific study, and perhaps coincidence; but as they say, the proof is in the pudding! :)

Also: pumping abilities vary so much for each woman. I personally have little success with pumping, and rarely get more than a 1/2-1 ounce per side. Thats with trying manual and hospital grade pumps. But, my babies empty the breast much more efficiently. I have had many friends lament over the fact they don't get much milk while pumping, and assume they have a low milk supply. This leads to unneeded stress and anxiety, when they are in fact generally producing plenty of milk for their little ones individual needs, and should not be anxious over it.

Just some follow-up thoughts! I am no expert, these are just my experiences and research. :)

Gothelittle Rose said...

Ok, LeAnna, I think I misconstrued your earlier comment. :) I agree with you in that fat content does depend on feed frequency. Specifically, breast milk starts out watery and becomes more fatty as the breast empties. This is, from what I've heard, because the fat separates from the milk until the baby starts drinking, and then the motion of the nursing and let-down reflex work together to mix the fat back into the milk.

I thought for a moment that you were suggesting that, for instance, you could give your baby more iron by taking iron supplements, or more antioxidants by eating more blueberries.

On the type of fat... well, I just plain don't know. :) I had three, and each one has varied in weight, while I haven't changed my diet much. So I'll just leave it at "I don't know".

You make a good point about the pump. I'll agree with you there too.