The Bottlefeeding Experiment

Four days ago, Roy and I held a practice workday—I pretended to be away at work from 8AM to 5PM—to find out the bottlefeeding problems we might encounter when I return to work. By the end of the nine-hour period, Mio consumed around 11 oz. of expressed breastmilk, but Roy struggled to get Mio to take the bottle.

We weren’t sure why Mio wouldn’t take the bottle because there were too many factors at play: the taste and temperature of the milk (Did the milk taste okay? Was it warm enough?); the shape, texture, and flow of the nipples (Were the nipples too different from the real thing?); and Mio’s disposition and abilities (Was he just being fussy? Did he even know how to suck on an artificial nipple?).

Simply put, by the end of our practice workday, we still didn’t know why Mio would inconsistently take/refuse the bottle.

In the days that followed, we tried again and again to bottlefeed Mio, but the problem just worsened. I, in particular, started to feel desperate. How was I supposed to return to work if Mio would only breastfeed? Would I have to bring him with me when I teach? What if he gets hungry in the middle of a class?

I felt so desperate that yesterday, I rushed to the mall (I left Roy and Mio to, again, work on bottlefeeding) to buy whatever alternative to bottlefeeding I could find: a fluted shot glass (for cupfeeding), a medicine dropper, a non-spill medicine spoon—anything that might work. When I got back home, Roy quickly washed and sterilized our new tools (while I breastfed Mio), dried them, and then later tried each of them with Mio.

As Roy struggled with Mio, I went through our stash of stored milk. I zeroed in on the batch I pumped early that morning, which was what Roy was feeding Mio. Surely my milk was still okay, right? Surely my milk wasn’t the problem? Surely it wasn’t excess/overactive lipase?

(Briefly: Lipase is an enzyme that naturally occurs in breastmilk. It breaks down the fats in the milk and makes it more digestible. Excess/overactive lipase breaks down fats too quickly, and thus makes milk smell and taste like as if it has already been digested. [Yuck.] Milk affected by excess/overactive lipase is still safe to drink, but baby could [understandably] refuse to drink it.)

I opened one bottle—it was rancid. I opened another bottle—also rancid. No, no, no… It was excess/overactive lipase.

I couldn’t help but cry.

What now? What would be the point of pumping and storing milk? Yes, I could scald my freshly expressed milk before storing it, which would deactivate the lipase, but how was I supposed to do that at work? I had neither the tools nor the time for that additional step.

I told Roy—who was in the middle of trying to get Mio to drink milk from a dropper—about our problem. Then I cried some more. Roy just kept quiet.

Then, after a few minutes, Roy spoke up.

“You know,” he said, “instead of staying at home with Mio, we could just go with you to work.”

“What for?” I asked, “So that I can breastfeed Mio between classes? But I have back-to-back classes that’ll last two hours. That might be too long for…”

“No, no. So that you can pump milk at work, right before your classes, which I can then feed Mio while you’re teaching. I don’t think the lipase will immediately ruin your milk.”

“Oh… That’s… A great idea!”

At that moment, I swear, I was so grateful for Roy.

So we formed a plan: Roy and Mio will accompany me to work instead of staying at home. Right before my two sets of back-to-back classes, I’ll pump. Then Roy will bottlefeed Mio my freshly expressed milk while I teach.

Brilliant! But we still needed to figure out how soon the lipase would affect my milk. So today, we conducted an experiment.

This morning, I pumped at 9AM, right before the time my first set of back-to-back classes would’ve started. I then split my expressed milk into four bottles: two for Mio to drink within two to three hours (which would be how long my classes would take), the other two for testing. We left one test bottle in the refrigerator, the other test bottle on the book shelf. The bottles for Mio were left in the refrigerator.

Our experiment had two goals: (1) To determine how soon my milk would be affected by lipase, and (2) to figure out how to get Mio to take the bottle (since we eliminated bad-tasting milk as a factor).

A few minutes after I finished pumping, Mio began to show signs of hunger. So Roy took one of the bottles from the refrigerator, screwed on a Pigeon nipple, and tried to bottlefeed Mio—it didn’t work. So Roy screwed on another nipple, this time from Chicco—it also didn’t work. Roy then tried to bottlefeed Mio while walking around and bouncing—it worked! Mio continued drinking and eventually finished the bottle.

By the time Mio finished the first bottle, an hour had passed, so Roy and I focused on the test bottles. We drank from the test bottle in the refrigerator—still good. Then we drank from the test bottle on the book shelf—still good, but it already had a mild soapy aftertaste.

Another hour later, Mio was hungry again, so Roy took the second bottle from the refrigerator. This time, he screwed on a Pigeon nipple (different from the first) and bottlefed Mio while walking around and bouncing. Yay! Mio took the bottle without fussiness!

Here is our conclusion regarding bottlefeeding: Mio used to refuse the bottle because of my milk. But that was no longer a factor in today’s experiment. The nipples didn’t matter either, because Mio took the bottle with the Chicco nipple and, later, with the Pigeon nipple. Instead, it became clear to us that Mio was a comfort nurser. Simply bottlefeeding him didn’t provide any comfort; walking around and bouncing did. To successfully bottlefeed Mio, then, Roy has to bottlefeed him while walking around and bouncing.

After Mio finished the second bottle, Roy and I turned our attention to the test bottles. The refrigerator test bottle was still good, while the book shelf test bottle started to sour. We continued to drink from the test bottles every following hour, until the test-bottle milk turned rancid.

Here is our conclusion regarding my lipase problem: My expressed milk lasted in the refrigerator for five hours before the lipase turned it rancid; on the book shelf—that is, in room temperature—it lasted two hours. If I’m going to pump milk, then, I have to make sure to refrigerate it or keep it cold, and Mio must drink it within four to five hours. Otherwise, the lipase will turn the milk rancid, and Mio will refuse to drink it.

So, after days (weeks if we count the earliest we tried the bottle) of attempting to successfully bottlefeed, we now know how to get Mio to take the bottle. We also finally confirmed and worked around my excess/overactive lipase problem. The plan Roy thought of might not be ideal—since we were hoping to build a stash of expressed breastmilk so that anyone could feed Mio, and Roy will now have to go to work every day, not just on the days he has classes—but it’ll work.

Phew! Who knew that introducing bottles to a breastfed baby would be so complicated?

Oh well. Anything for our beloved baby Mio.

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