There’s this moment in the movie “Tully” when Charlize Theron’s character is visibly defeated by a bag of freshly pumped breast milk spilling on the kitchen table. As a new dad, I get it. Breast milk is currency — a valuable one.
Everything I know about breast milk I learned in a course my wife, Kelly, and I took as we geared up for our daughter’s birth. That class laid out breast milk’s medicinal qualities, as well as the body’s way of regulating supply with the baby’s demand. But one thing it didn’t prepare me for? The inevitable moment when I’d have to replace my wife’s comforting nipple with a cold rubber one.
In the beginning, I left the product purchasing to my wife. She’s the queen of research, and after intense Google searches, mommy-blog cross-referencing and word-of-mouth investigation, we began acquiring a variety of baby bottles. But as we grew our arsenal, the bottle-feeding struggle revealed itself as more than just a question of which nipple my daughter preferred.
As first-time parents with no set strategy in place, we put our full confidence in the experts and friends who had been down this road before us. But as we came to learn, there is no magic fix when it comes to such parenting challenges.
A few months before our daughter was born, my wife and I were speaking with our breast-feeding teacher, and we raised the question about breast pumps that could be used on the job. (Cue the sound of screeching brakes.)
The notion of a mother going to work, and using bottles instead of the preferred nipple, made our teacher visibly concerned. She was a mother of three and made it known that she had been consistently breast-feeding for nine years straight. She expressed strong concerns over the notion of replacing the breast with a bottle. Although she applauded us for using breast milk instead of formula, she worried about a husband being the caregiver for a baby so young.
We both knew this perspective was outdated. But her concern over our daughter having “nipple confusion” was severe enough to give me doubts about my parenting abilities.
Kelly is a wedding coordinator. And this means that sometimes she’s away from home for upwards of 12 hours at a time. Because I make my living as a freelance writer, I set my own schedule and the majority of my work can be done from the couch. So, my transition to being a stay-at-home dad was a no-brainer. Except, of course, for the growing panic I had regarding keeping this tiny human alive.
For the first two months after Lily was born, I was able to keep my bottle-feeding anxiety under control, for the most part. We called on a lactation consultant who advised us to introduce the bottle at the two-week mark. This “simple transition” proved to be … difficult.
Our home turned into a mini baby-bottle store — bottles of every shape, size and material, and every type of nipple. And yet, every time I put my wife’s refrigerated breast milk in a different bottle and went in for a latch, Lily would give me a look of horror and a cry so shrill that I have since dubbed this mood “The Rage Baby.”
Poring over YouTube videos and testimonials from medical experts and mothers, all telling me which bottle worked best for their babies, helped me to a point. I ordered Foley Cups in the mail after watching one video. This method did not go over well. I read that feeding a baby through this method was messy, but that was an understatement. Lily thrashed angrily, and milk ended up on her face and chest, my lap, the swaddle and the floor.
After regularly spending time with her, attempting to build a bond similar to the one she’d established with Kelly, I began to get some headway with the Munchkin Latch — one of the original bottles my wife purchased back when this journey all started. But even after feeding her half an ounce in one sitting, I’d still be met with an outright refusal to drink.
With a little more Internet research, it hit me that Lily’s bottle may not be warming properly. After some comparison shopping of bottle warmers, I decided on the Dr. Brown’s Deluxe Electric Bottle Warmer — it uses steam instead of water, to uniformly heat and sterilize the bottle — and because I needed to know if this would work immediately, I drove 20 miles to the only Target in the area that carried the darn thing.
That night, for the first time ever, Lily drank a full two ounces during one feeding.
She was asleep when it happened — the “dream feed,” as they call it — but this was a big deal! For the first time throughout this whole struggle, I started feeling like we could do this.
As Kelly finally went off to her first big wedding job since being pregnant, I began to take an account of the work Lily and I had done up to this point. They say skin-to-skin contact, not just between the mother and child, but with the father as well, is important. While some people joked with me that I should go the whole “Meet the Parents” fake boob route, I decided to focus on bonding with my child in the ways I knew how. Whenever I changed her diaper, I did my best to make her laugh. When I put her to bed, I let her fall asleep on me, so she would recognize my scent and the touch of my skin.
At the end of the day, I found that the connecting I did with my daughter helped her feel comfortable enough to trust the bottle in my hand. But more importantly, it was a combination of patience and persistence that got us through that fateful day. My wife left the house at 11 a.m. and didn’t return home until midnight. And while Lily fought me all day on the bottle, I continued offering it to her every time she woke from a nap. It was during a very audible meltdown after bath time that she finally gave in and took the entire four-ounce bottle serving.
My tears of joy cried tears of joy.
The big day is now behind us and Lily has taken the bottle regularly since. We’ve reached the proverbial mountaintop! But alas, now, our daughter has discovered the joy of blowing spit bubbles — which was amusing until I noticed she’d much rather blow bubbles on her bottle than drink from it.
Parenting, am I right?
Aaron Pruner is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles.
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