As a lactation educator counselor and someone who struggled to breastfeed both of my sons, I’d like to weigh in on this measuring breast milk stuff (in which a new device measures how much milk is in your breast before and after a feeding; Carla Naumburg wrote about it on Kveller yesterday).
What I think is important to know is something I learned when I went to the Los Angeles County Fair several years ago. (It was the first and last time, since I did not expect pig races and that was totally not cool with me nor will it ever be.) There was a “dairy” display and they had dozens of different types of cows on display. Next to each cow’s pen was a little sign with their name, and the type of cow they are, and a list of what their milk is best used for.
So some cows’ milk gets turned into cheddar cheese. Some gets turned into mozzarella. Some gets turned into butter. It all depends on the fat content of the particular cow’s milk. And that’s determined by their genetics, and their breeding.
Ever hear how “Irish babies are skinny”? Or that some women (this was said of me) make whipped cream instead of breast milk because our babies get so incredibly plump so fast? Well, here’s the deal: every woman’s milk is different. And not just in “how much” she makes. Milk has different fat content, for example, depending on your genetics and–forgive me–breeding. It’s not just about a number.
In addition, a pump is not even the best measure of how much milk you make, since some women can not get a full let-down with a pump, and the baby is the most efficient way to get milk out of a breast. I support women who pump, don’t get me wrong, but this notion that an outside entity tells you if your baby is okay can be really misleading and can provoke more and not less anxiety.
“Watch the baby, not the scale,” is something we lactation people love to remind moms. If your baby is hitting milestones and has bright eyes and is alert when they need to be and you know the signs of a gulping baby and you feed your newborn on demand without fear of teaching them “bad habits” such as–gasp!–nursing at night, you probably don’t need to measure your milk.
For the vast majority of women (typically above 95%), it is possible to make enough milk to feed a baby, and even two (and more!) babies. However, lack of education, resources, and support in the early weeks and months leads many women to believe they do not have enough milk and that they were not made to breastfeed. The stress that ensues is enough to make anyone’s milk supply drop, since stress is one factor that contributes to not establishing a healthy milk supply.
The facts of breastfeeding are available for all women, and hospitals are finally (finally!) seeing how valuable it is to teach women about how milk is made, how to maintain a supply, and how to encourage breastfeeding for everyone’s benefit–including the medical establishment and our economy.
Measuring milk is not the only answer; teaching women about their bodies and giving the the space and support to understand lactation is.