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Apr 30 2013

Would it Really Help to Measure My Breast Milk?

By at 4:01 pm

breastfeeding motherA new invention recently developed by an Israeli start-up can measure the amount of milk in your breast before and after you nurse your child, thereby telling you how much milk your baby is getting.

I would have given my left arm (but probably not my left boob) for something like this when I was nursing my first daughter. Breastfeeding was a struggle from the beginning, and thanks to the complete lack of Plexiglas windows on the side of either of my boobs, I had no idea if it was because I wasn’t producing enough or my daughter wasn’t sucking enough, or something else all together. My memories of nursing her over nine months consist primarily of checklists, timers, breast pumps, and on one particularly memorable occasion, an array of no fewer than 24 pills that I would take over the course of the day, all in the service of feeding my baby. 

My anxiety was overwhelming. I worried about every aspect of the process, from the moment that Irish nurse first pinched my nipple and shoved it into my daughter’s mouth (rather unceremoniously, I might add) until the night I finally weaned her, a moment that was both joyful and tearful for me (but mostly joyful). I’m sure I would have jumped at the chance to get some hard data about how much milk my daughter was actually getting. More information is the answer to everything, isn’t it?

Now, almost five years and another breast-fed baby later, I’ve got a very different perspective. I would not buy this product now, unless a doctor advised me that there was a clear medical reason to do so. Don’t get me wrong, as a Jewish Mama and the wife of an entrepreneur, I am a big fan of Israel and start-ups, but I just can’t get behind this one.

Let me explain.

Actually, first, let me say this. This is not a conversation about whether or not you should breastfeed your child. We’ve been down that road before here on Kveller, and we’ll surely come back to it, but as a mother who both breastfed her daughters and was somewhat traumatized by the process, I prefer to remain squarely in the middle of that minefield. Nor am I going to tell you that this device is problematic because it undermines a woman’s sense of trust in her body. By the time you actually pop that baby out, your ability to trust your own body will have been shattered more times in nine months of pregnancy than it was over the course of your entire adolescence. From swollen ankles to bloody gums, I had no idea what the hell what to expect from my own body from day to day. So let’s not pretend that everything goes back to normal once the pregnancy ends and the baby arrives.

My problem with this device has to do with the extent to which it feeds into the myth of information. The message of our time is that knowledge equals power, and the suggestion that we can somehow control how our lives will unfold–and who our children will become–is an especially alluring possibility. I fall for it at least once a day.

The problem is that it’s just not true.

The reality is that the precision of the data provided by this device is not only not terribly useful (babies are much better at regulating their own caloric intake than most adults, which means there is a lot of variance in the amount of breastmilk or formula they consume from day to day), but even worse, IT WILL MAKE YOU INSANE.

I remember staring intently at the small notebook that never left my side during my daughter’s early months; I became obsessed with how many minutes she had nursed on each side and how many minutes had elapsed between nursing sessions. I somehow thought that if I could just make the numbers work, if I could just get that kid to stay on (and off) each boob for the right amount of time, it would all work out. Not only was I wrong, but I was making myself (and my husband, and anyone who came within 20 feet of me) crazy.

Feeding babies can be frustrating and confusing, whether you’re giving them breastmilk or formula. They can’t talk, and it’s hard to know if their screams are because they’re hungry or tired or on the losing end of a painful battle with a giant gas bubble that can’t decide which way to go. The thing is, it doesn’t get all that much easier as the kids grow up; anxiety about what our children eat is woven into our parental DNA. We worry about starting solids, we fear allergies, we wonder if they are growing too fast or too slowly, not enough or too much. And yes, there is still part of me that would give my left arm (and at this point, my left boob) for a device that could tell me that I’m doing it all right, or at least well enough.

But I’d rather focus on learning to trust in the resilience of my children, in the guidance and support of my husband, our pediatrician and trusted friends, and in my own judgment (if not my own body). I would rather learn to find ways to manage my anxiety that don’t involve a myopic focus on details that are fundamentally less relevant and useful than connecting with my children, staying grounded in my ability to care for them, and learning to reach out for help when I need it. Perhaps these two perspectives aren’t mutually exclusive for you, but they are for me. The more I bury myself in the numbers and information, the more I lose sight of the bigger picture.

What do you think? Would you use this device? Do you think your breastfeeding experience (and your child’s) would be improved by it?

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