Breastfeeding and Scales

Breastfeeding and Scales
Breastfeeding support today often involves weighing babies before and after feedings to try to establish how many ounces of milk are taken in at a feeding. This is intended to give mothers confidence that their babies are receiving milk and can be incredibly helpful. However, this “data” can also be confidence-sapping for some new mothers.

Let me first say that I am not an opponent of baby scales. A Medela scale that I rented from my lactation consultant is a big part of the reason that I was able to recover from the early breastfeeding challenges with my first daughter. When a mother’s confidence is shaken early from a difficult start, as mine was, a scale in the home can ensure that a struggling baby is continuing to move in the right direction. Weighing the baby daily gave me the confidence that I was continuing to improve my milk supply and that the baby was successfully removing enough milk.

Visits to lactation consultants and feeding centers often now routinely include weighings of babies on ultra-precise scales. I think this is a useful tool for consultants to confirm what they observe in a clinical visit. But if things are going well, I generally like to see mothers encouraged to “trust the baby, not the scale” as much as possible.

I’m not sure what is to be gained by quantifying a feeding into ounces for the mother other than to create a not-very-helpful comparison between breast milk and artificial baby milk. The amount of breast milk required each feeding in the first days of life is quite small, especially if feedings are frequent. These amounts may seem quite small to a new mother compared to the full bottles of formula that mothers are used to seeing babies, and even newborns, eat. While a consultant may be quite clear that these small numbers are positive amounts, if the mother takes this information home to less informed friends and family, they can seem alarming.

On routine visits to feeding centers (a great service when available, sometimes recommended by hospitals with associated centers), I’d love to see mothers taught to focus on the cues they can see in their baby and how they feed at the breast to feel confident that they are nourishing their baby, and can continue to watch for these signs as the baby grows. I get antsy about healthy babies whisked off to scales post-feedings as their anxious mothers wait for the externally-measured and not-always-available confirmation that their breastfeeding is “good enough.”

In summary, I believe that scales have their uses – certainly a scale was critical in my success. But I tend to be wary of creating a dependence on measuring a relationship and a process in such a quantitative and scientific way that can be assessed as effectively in ways more accessible to mothers.

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