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The Mystery Factor in Mother’s Milk

November 30, 2009

Have you ever considered why is it that mother’s milk cannot be measured? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to feed the baby and know exactly how much she has eaten?

The idea hit me while responding to comment on my posting about my baby’s feeding troubles. All of a sudden I realized that common advice to stop nursing, given by doctors whenever a baby doesn’t seem to follow textbook development patterns, is not rooted in opposition to Mother Nature. It is simple: formula can be measured in grams (or pints), making it possible to know just how much the baby has eaten. Armed with this knowledge, a doctor can analyze the data in terms of calorie, vitamin, and mineral intake and develop a treatment plan.

All of that is impossible with breast milk. How many grams are in a 5-minute feed? And how many calories? Unless you resort to weighing the baby before and after every feeding, as my mother had been instructed to do when I was a baby, the exact amounts remain a mystery. And what is in that breast milk anyway? It has not undergone chemical lab analysis, so who can vouch for its quality?!

There used to be a time when doctors could make diagnose an illness using just their five senses. Today, with the advent of futuristic technologies, this ability is gradually becoming extinct. So too with breast milk; if you can’t see it, measure it, take it apart in a lab, it is as if it doesn’t exist. Is it any wonder then, that when faced with a possibility of a problem, doctors prefer to play it safe and rely on quantifiable formula, rather than something as amorphic as breast milk. At least this way, there is a measure of control.

To me, surrounding breast milk with a bit of mystery makes perfect sense. From the Talmud we learn that, “[divine] blessing is not found not in that which has been weighed, not in that which has been measured, not in that which has been counted, but in that which is hidden from the eye.”  In His infinite wisdom, g-d has taken care of every detail of nursing, including leaving weights and measures out of it. This way, mothers can rely on their babies to eat as much as they want, without worrying about “filling the quota” and comparing their babies’ feeding needs with those of others. By keeping parental neurosis over food out of the equation, babies are given a chance to develop healthy eating habits from the start.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no intention of undermining doctors’ expertise or opposing the use of formula when things do not work out. That said, there is more to the decision than control over variables. After all, mother’s milk is not only immeasurable, it is also irreplaceable.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 1, 2009 12:50 am

    Beautiful application of that Talmudic concept

  2. December 1, 2009 7:29 am

    I still would like mothers to count feedings and wet and dirty diapers in the early days, until it is clear that the baby is gaining. Sometimes new moms are fooled because babies sleep so much, and they think everything is fine when it’s not. Once the baby is used to getting enough food, the mother will know when something changes (and she should be prepared for the growth spurts). She’ll know her baby better and her instincts will be more reliable.
    But at any rate, you can’t measure the milk easily, but you can see from the baby how things are going.

    • Leah permalink*
      December 1, 2009 10:47 am

      I totally agree. Still, in this case a mother monitors her child’s overall development. She is not obsessing about how much the baby has eaten during a particular feeding.

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