Long before I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. It’s just one of those things that I knew would be important to me for numerous reasons: the health of the baby and increased immunity, the cost (formula is expensive, yo!), helping me get back in shape (can’t argue with burning an extra 500 calories a day while sitting on the couch!), and just the overall emotional bond. Not that women who bottle feed don’t bond with their babies – I’m not trying to start a mommy war here – but there is just something about holding the baby skin to skin, knowing you are providing him with all the sustenance he needs to grow… it just felt like a right of passage to me as a mother. It’s a personal choice, but my goal was to do this for one year and try to avoid formula altogether.
I wasn’t naive to think breastfeeding would be all puppies and rainbows, though. I suppose one of the benefits of being some of the last of our friends to have a baby is that I’ve been able to learn a lot through everyone else’s experiences. I can’t think of one friend who didn’t have at least a couple hurdles to get over in her breastfeeding journey. From poor latch, to engorgement, to cracked and bleeding nipples, to mastitis, to diminishing supply, I had heard it all, and so I read up on everything I could get my hands on. I went into this feeling like I was pretty well-prepared. So it’s ironic that the one issue I didn’t study ahead of time would prove to be my biggest challenge.
As I mentioned previously, we had a couple small hurdles to get over at the beginning of our breastfeeding journey, including a bad latch and falling asleep at the boob. Once we got over these issues, though, we were able to settle into a good groove and I actually began to enjoy breastfeeding. I counted myself lucky for the relative ease of it. I didn’t even leak. I was comfortable feeding whenever and wherever, thanks to my nursing cover, which I love. So much easier that packing bottles, since I can’t accidentally leave my boobs at home.
When Theo was about four weeks old, I started pumping once a day. I needed to start building a freezer stash that we could use when he went to daycare, or if we wanted a night out. We gave him his first bottle, and he did okay on it. The flow was a little faster than the real deal, so I ordered some slower flow bottle nipples, and he seemed to do great. For the next few weeks, we gave him one bottle per week, to keep him in practice. Meanwhile, I dutifully pumped every day, and even though I really hate pumping, I had built up quite an impressive freezer stash, and I recently estimated I had about 300 ounces squirreled away.
But after a few weeks, we got lax on giving him his weekly bottle, and when I dipped into the frozen stuff for the first time last week to have D give him a bottle, he outright refused it. In fact, he was screaming, he was so hungry, but just wouldn’t take the bottle. I think I got my first dose of what’s known to working moms as “mommy guilt.” As I sat there listening to him cry, hooked up to my cold, noisy, mechanical pump, tears streaming down my face, all I wanted to do was comfort my baby. And if it weren’t for the fact that I’m returning to work in two weeks, it wouldn’t be so important to get him to take a bottle. I had these visions of him on his first day of daycare, scared, hungry and wanting his mommy. It was too much for me to handle, and I unhooked from the pump, snatched him out of D’s arms and put him to my breast. He immediately calmed down. It was one of the most emotional moments I’ve had since he was born. I can’t describe it, but as a mother, there’s just something so primal about the need to feed your baby. Listening to him scream from hunger pains broke my heart into a million pieces.
At first we thought the bottle itself was the problem, since we hadn’t given him one in a couple weeks. So D and I vowed to start giving him bottles more often to get him used to them again. We had a few different kinds, so we experimented with different bottles. We weren’t having much luck. After a few frustrating attempts, I wondered if maybe it was the milk, since the problem seemed to have started at the same time we started feeding the frozen stuff. I gave it a sniff and – wow – it smelled terrible! Sour, metallic, and slightly soapy. Dipped a finger in and tasted it – yuck. No wonder Theo was refusing. But, since I had never made a point to smell or taste my milk before, I had nothing to compare it to. So I quickly pumped a small amount and smelled it – no odor at all. Dipped a finger in and tasted it – it tasted sweet. Clearly something was wrong with the frozen stuff. I vaguely recalled reading about this in one of my books, so off to the internet I went. From everything I read, it sounded like I had found my problem. Essentially, some women have too much lipase in their milk, an enzyme that breaks down fat, causing the milk to take on a bad flavor in a short period of time. It varies in extremes – for some women, this happens mere minutes after expressing. Others can store their milk in the refrigerator for a few days before it starts to go bad. But in all cases, freezing doesn’t do anything to slow this breakdown, so while most women can freeze their milk and store it for months, the only way to freeze milk when you have excess lipase is to scald it first. This involves bringing the milk to almost but not quite boiling, and then cooling it quickly.
Sound like a lot of work? It is. So in addition to my anxiety about leaving my baby, going back to work and pumping 3-4 times per day, and missing the special time T and I have breastfeeding throughout the day, now I have an extra step to take in storing my milk. Not to mention, those 300 ounces of liquid gold I’ve worked so hard to pump are now useless. That part was especially devastating. Anyone who’s breastfed knows how valuable that milk is. I’ve cried before over accidentally spilling 6 ounces while transferring it to a freezer bag. And now I have to throw out 300 ounces? Kill me now. If only I had tested my freezer stash sooner, I might have been able to prevent all this waste. I have heard that milk banks will take milk with excess lipase, as it’s not harmful; it just tastes bad. Milk banks use it to tube-feed babies in the NICU, so it doesn’t matter what it tastes like. It’s also combined with other milk, so the lipase is diluted anyway. It’s something I need to look into more, but I would feel better about donating my stash than just throwing it all away. What a waste.
So, over the past few days I’ve been defrosting milk from various dates just to make sure it’s all bad (it is), and conducting a series of experiments to find out just how much of a grace period I have after pumping. If my milk will stay good until the next day, then I can essentially just pump each day at work for the following day, and on Fridays scald my milk for Monday. And any excess that I pump that is more than he’ll need the next day at daycare, I can scald for rebuilding my freezer stash, and hopefully D and I can have a date night someday. However, if my milk goes bad within less than 24 hours, then I’ll have to scald nightly. And if my milk goes bad shortly after pumping, I’ll have to find a way to scald at work, or possibly use formula while he’s at daycare. The problem with supplementing with formula, though, is that without pumping for every feed, my supply will drop, or possibly dry up altogether.
So this morning after pumping, I did my first scalding. I hope I did it right. I’ll need to pump and scald a couple times per day between now and August 1, when I go back to work, so I have enough milk for his first day and a little extra for “insurance.” It’s not going to be an easy road, and switching to formula would probably be the easier route, but this is something that’s important to me, and it’s the path I’ve chosen to take.