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A device to measure breast milk intake?

Recently, an interesting thing popped up on my Facebook news feed: a device that claims to measure how much breast milk you produce, and how much your baby drinks. It’s a little gadget that you place on the breast before and after baby feeds. It supposedly uses electromagnetic signals to measure the volume of milk in the breast before and after the feed, and the difference is assumed to be how much baby drank. Sounds amazing, right? Taking the guesswork out of breastfeeding? Well, perhaps not. I have a few concerns with this, as I’ll explain here.

Device to measure breast milk - title

How accurate is it actually?

First off, I have some serious doubts about the ability of a short electromagnetic pulse to accurately measure the amount of milk in a breast. I’m prepared to concede that technology can do some amazing things, but I would very much like to know how the physics of this situation works. I tried to look for information on this on the internet, but it is impossible to find. If anyone knows more, please enlighten me! Based on what I know about the methods that are used to determine body fat percentage, I suspect the science on this is a bit dodgy.

Putting aside my concerns about the device itself, there’s one big assumption we need to be aware of: the assumption that the volume before minus the volume after equals the volume baby consumed. Even if the device could measure the volumes in the breast 100% accurately, it’s leaving out one big part of the equation: the amount of milk that the breast is producing while the baby is drinking. I don’t know whether the manufacturers realized this, but the breast secretes milk 24 hours a day, regardless of what else is going on. So the breast is actually busy refilling even as baby is drinking. Their oversimplified equation doesn’t account for this.

Is the information useful?

Here’s the kicker: knowing how many milliliters of breast milk your baby consumed is not actually particularly useful. How do I know this? From years of working in NICU, where most babies can’t breastfeed, but get expressed breast milk. As the dietitian, it was my job to calculate how much milk the babies needed – and that figure could be anywhere from 150 to 220 ml per kg, a huge range. How did we know what was the right amount? We took an educated guess, based on baby’s health profile, and then monitored weight gain to know whether we needed to increase or decrease the feeding volume. So we judged adequate milk intake not on milliliters consumed, but on weight gain over time. Which is exactly what you do if you’re breastfeeding “the old fashioned way.”

How likely is it to help you breastfeed successfully?

I must be honest, all this measuring and data capturing and monitoring sounds downright exhausting! Because, you see, it’s not as simple as “baby must drink so many milliliters at each feed”. Babies have some larger feeds and some smaller feeds during a day, just like adults have large meals, light meals, snacks and drinks. So you would have to monitor the intake per 24 hours. Oh, but wait, babies have growth spurt days where they drink more, and sleepy days where they drink less, so we’d have to average several days. But how many? Five? Seven? Thirty? This is rapidly getting out of hand! And remember, you have to do all this in a sleep-deprived fog of new-baby hormonal porridge-brain. Personally, I much prefer the “old fashioned” method, i.e. feed the baby whenever the baby seems hungry, and stop when the baby has had enough.

My final problem with this device is the message that it sends to mothers: your instincts are not good enough, and your body is unreliable; you cannot possibly raise a baby without some hi-tech help (at a price, of course). It’s preying on women’s insecurity and anxiety about wanting to give their babies the best. It tries to convince you that you’re no good at reading your baby’s cues; that you should rather put your trust in technology. Well, I firmly believe that learning to read your baby’s cues is one of the most important things that breastfeeding teaches you, and that it’s part of the reason why breastfeeding mothers develop such a strong bond with their babies. Learning to read your baby will serve you well for the rest of your time as a parent, so rather than spending your time adding up numbers and analyzing figures, just concentrate on getting to know this new little person in your life.

The real thing

So, the question remains, is there a reliable, accurate milk measuring device on the market? Well, as it turns out, yes: check it out here! And for the details on how that particular device works, look here.

What do you think, would you use a device like this? Do you disagree with my distaste for this particular technology? Leave me a comment!

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