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Crying Over Spilled (Breast)Milk

Nov28

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Hi, Amy,

Looking for a little advice. I’ve been wracking my brain and can’t think of a good analogy, and I just know you’ll have something witty and spot on. Every day we send four bottles to day care with my nearly six month old (just a couple of weeks older than Baby Ike). The fourth is a spare – a “just in case”. It’s the only fully breast milk bottle (two are mixed milk and formula, one is straight formula, b/c I can’t keep up with him pumping).

Anyway, around 8:30 tonight I realized today’s bottle four had never made it back into the fridge. It wasn’t even remotely cool anymore. It was yesterday’s milk, and after being cooled for 24+ hours, then sitting out for 3+, I figured it had to be dumped. Tears welled up into my eyes as I poured out a half day’s worth of pumping. My husband did not get it at all. He doesn’t see the big deal. Any suggestions on how to open his eyes to what it means to pour that much effort down the drain?

Thanks,
Crying Over Spilled Milk

Hey everybody, let’s eeeease our way back into things after the long holiday weekend with a little brainteasing writing exercise: What’s a good metaphor for wasted breastmilk? I came up with two.

First, in the immortal words of Ellen Feiss:

For me, pumping has irritatingly been more about boosting/maintaining supply rather than the actual liquid output, which is historically paltry — but there was a glorious period after Ezra’s birth where my boobs inexplicably responded to the pump as well as the baby and I was able to actually keep significant amounts of pumped milk on hand. Bags of it! It was glorious.

And then our power went out while we were out of town and everything in the freezer went bad, including my precious breastmilk. I couldn’t tell for sure when it defrosted, but judging from the rank meat, melted ice and warm temperature in the freezer it was mostly no longer okay to use.  My reaction was not nearly as chill as Ellen’s “bummer” up there, it was more of a rage-y adult temper tantrum. All that work! Literally going down the drain because of a technology failure.

So: Wasting pumped breastmilk is like working really, really hard on a paper or proposal or *something* on your computer, only to get the Blue Screen of Death during your final sentence, then discovering that the auto-save feature didn’t work and you have to start ALL OVER AGAIN.

Second:

Despite my less-than-stellar production via pump with Noah, I damn well tried to send breastmilk in with him to daycare whenever possible, even if it was just a small two-ounce bottle they could give him before the Main Event of Formula. (Our daycare wouldn’t let you mix the two, because they insisted on heating formula and breastmilk in separate Crock Pots lest OMG BOOB COOTIES, or something.) Anyway, one week I stockpiled a couple days’ worth of pumped milk and managed to fill a bag with almost six full ounces! Six! That was huuuuuge for me and my crap supply, so I was quite pleased. I even carried the bag out to the living room to show my husband (who was like, “That’s cool.”). I then went back in the kitchen to prepare the daycare bag. I opened the storage bag and set it down on the counter by the sink while I turned to get a bottle and…

I knocked it over with my elbow. All six ounces, gone in a flash while I stood there slackjawed.

So: Spilling breastmilk is like putting something important in your back pocket — cash, your phone, your keys, sold-out concert tickets — and reminding yourself that your back pocket it probably not the best place for it but you know, it’s just for a few minutes while you find your purse or whatever. And then you forget about it and lo and behold, by the time you remember it your back pocket is horribly, depressingly empty and the contents likely lost forever.

Too dramatic? Not dramatic enough? Hit me, intrepid commenters! And even if you don’t have a metaphor to contribute but want to talk about The Time You Spilled Your Breastmilk that’s fine too. I will hold your hair while you cry about it.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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35 Responses to “Crying Over Spilled (Breast)Milk”

  1. Isabel Kallman
    Isabel Nov 28 at 11:37 am Reply Reply

    This is one of those things that happens to so many moms that it is seems to truly only be understood by moms (and sympathetic family). And when you tell someone it has happened to you the look on the other mom’s face is an equal mixture of horror and empathy. I remember post the massive NYC summer blackout of 2003 so many moms in my baby group were verklempt by the loss of their frozen breastmilk. I lost a freezer worth of breastmilk during that blackout. It was heartbreaking.

  2. liz Nov 28 at 11:40 am Reply Reply

    Add in the guilt about the pumping, that not every drop of precious milk is going straight from the source into your child. That pumping means that there are feeding times away from your child, or that bf’ing didn’t work out, or whatever.

    So it’s lost effort, and lost opportunity, and guilt, and sorrow.

    Plus being tired and hormonal and whatnot.

  3. Elizabeth Nov 28 at 11:47 am Reply Reply

    My husband came to my work one time when my son was little and took the pump home with him, in the car, so I wouldn’t have to carry it home on the bus. How nice, and thoughtful and helpful of him!
    And then he left it in the car overnight.

    So I got up the next morning to do the standard “pack the pump” routine and had a panic attack. He knew instantly how bad this was and apologized for hours, but yeah. That blows, all that time and effort and unpleasantness literally down the drain!

  4. DMD Nov 28 at 11:57 am Reply Reply

    When my son was born via emergency c-section after 27 hours of laboring drug-free, I was sobbing. My dad was in the room and said, “What’s the big deal? You still get a healthy baby; who cares how he’s delivered?” I feel it’s this way with the OP’s husband – you still get a healthy baby, just more formula-fed.

    Well. I told my dad that it was like a quarterback who spends all season preparing, training, practicing, gearing up for the bowl game – only to win on a technicality. Yeah, you still get the win, but “a win isn’t a win.” The QB is distraught, frustrated, feels his work was in vain, and just plain disappointed that he didn’t get to do what he worked so hard for.

    So yeah, I find that sports analogies help :)

  5. Olivia Nov 28 at 12:08 pm Reply Reply

    Oh, that sucks so HARD. I’m another working mother who had trouble pumping enough for my baby everyday so we supplemented with a bottle of formula each day. I remember one Sunday afternoon when I realized I had forgotten to refridgerate the pumped milk Friday after work. OMG, did I cry and rage! And my husband did not get it. He just shrugged and said, “Oh well, so she has formula only on Monday.” “NO!” I yelled. That was not the point. The point is that I sit in a dingy locker room three times everyday, listening to that maddening whoosh, whoosh trying to produce enough milk to feed our baby and all that work I did was for nothing. It’s like I just ran the race of my life only to be told at the finish line, “Sorry, the race is actually tomorrow. Try again.”

  6. Karen Nov 28 at 12:12 pm Reply Reply

    A friend of mine is pumping at the moment, preserving every drop, and her husband keeps leaving the fridge door cracked – he’s just not paying attention and it’s not fully closing. She was wondering what she could do to explain how the pumped milk going bad is not like losing some nice cheddar. So analogies aside, I suggested that she hook him up to her breast pump every 3-4 hours on a Saturday (on low, no torture necessary) and make him “clean” the pump afterward. I don’t think she went that route, but I really think men/dads often need a bit of experience to fully understand…

  7. Stephanie Nov 28 at 12:31 pm Reply Reply

    When my daughter was 9 weeks old, we went on our first trip. We went to Chicago so I could go to a conference for work and then go to my in-laws after the conference ended. I lovingly packed all my pumped breastmilk so my husband and in-laws would have it handy while I was downstairs attending the conference. We asked for a refrigerator in the hotel room, plugged it in, and put all the chilled breastmilk I had brought, only to discover, hours later, that the plug where it was plugged into didn’t work. Oh, I was mad, and upset. So was my husband, who didn’t have anything to feed our baby. Instead, I had to take breaks to come up to the room and feed her. It was a mess!

  8. Jenn Nov 28 at 12:34 pm Reply Reply

    Oh, yes. I know. The worst was when I knocked over a full pumping sessions worth of milk – 6 oz – with my elbow at work and it spilled all over me, the floor and my desk. Not only had I lost all my awesome milk, but I stank of spoiled milk all day. I called my mother sobbing because I knew my husband wouldn’t understand. He would be sweet, but wouldn’t understand.

  9. Myriam Nov 28 at 1:22 pm Reply Reply

    I was lucky enough not needing to pump too much (yeah Canada and our 50 weeks paid maternity leave!!!). I still breastfeed my almost 1 year-old and pump once at night and mix the breastmilk with the formula, mostly for the taste. I like Olivia’s analogy with the race… it’s not just about the milk, it’s about having to start over, with all the effort involved. On top of that, it’s not like there is an unlimited supply of the stuff!!! I don’t think you should try to explain the importance of breastmilk over formula to your husband, but maybe focus a little more on the effort involved in pumping…

  10. Wendy Nov 28 at 1:23 pm Reply Reply

    Trying to save a freezer full of breastmilk turned me into a petty criminal once. Our power went out (in Arizona! In August! So it was like 110 degrees outside) and I panicked at the thought of losing my milk stash so I hopped into the car and drove to the nearest gas station to buy bags of ice. Got there, grabbed the ice (it was in a cooler outside the store) and then discovered the store was closed because they didn’t have power either. I stood there for a second, looked at my sleeping kid in the car seat and took the ice and drove right home. I shoplifted ice, basically, so I could save 75 bags of milk. And I would do it again in a heartbeat. I was going back to work the next week and I couldn’t bear the thought of having no milk supply for him.
    I did go pay the store back after the power came back on.

  11. JenVegas Nov 28 at 1:31 pm Reply Reply

    You knooooooooow sometimes there are somethings a husband just isn’t going to understand unless you totally freak the F out on them.
    Not, you know, a giant long raging freak out. Just a short burst freak out. The kind that lets him know that you are serious and upset to the point that you can no longer contain it inside your brain. 
    I’ve tried all sorts of things with my husband but really only the short winded, precise freak outs have actually gotten into his brain past the sports trivia and stuck.

  12. Brooke Nov 28 at 2:25 pm Reply Reply

    My partner made up all four bottles for daycare the night before so I could just get to bed. And then left them on the counter overnight. I used them anyway though.
    Also, I left Fridays pumped milk in the pump bag until Saturday morning. I cried. A lot.

  13. Megan Nov 28 at 3:00 pm Reply Reply

    I used to feel like that, but for me – it’s kind of the cost of doing business. It happens occasionally, and my husband does understand how much it sucks. But my daycare tosses anything the baby doesn’t eat, so I had to get used to wasting milk early on. I don’t have a ton in the freezer, but I have enough that if I skip a pump session or didn’t get enough in one day, I can still send milk to daycare. So I just don’t get that worked up about it the occasional spill or spoilt bottle.
    It’s spilled milk – luckily I CAN make more.

  14. LBH Nov 28 at 5:17 pm Reply Reply

    Wired Magazine had an article earlier this year about the market for breastmilk… selling anywhere from $2 to $5 an OUNCE (I think Milkbanks normally sell pasteurized for around $3?) This one person they interviewed made about $1200/month selling hers.Not be unsentimental, But I printed out the article and handed it to spouse and said, “THIS. READ IT.” and that, he understood more than anything else (the 2am wake-ups, the hours upon hours spent pumping, the soreness, etc, etc) why I was upset when I had to dump the liquid gold..

  15. LBH Nov 28 at 5:19 pm Reply Reply

    Here is the article should you need it (heh)..

    http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/05/ff_milk/all/1

  16. Sam Nov 28 at 6:11 pm Reply Reply

    I have almost 100 ozs in the freezer and still feel a sharp stab in the gut whenever a bottle is wasted or OMG how many times have I forgot to put away the milk I pumped the day before at work. 

  17. kari Weber Nov 28 at 7:38 pm Reply Reply

    My story is with my first son. I exclusively breastfed and pumped for his first 7 months. A pretty monumental achievement considering that I am a teacher, and had to go back to work when he was 8 weeks old.  After spending every lunch hiding UNDER my desk in my classroom pumping (in case a janitor forgot and accidentally let a child in for something… which HAPPENED! SEVERAL TIMES!!!) I was done. But near the end, when it was getting hard to keep up with my son’s demand for at the babysitter… I was awake early one morning… groggy due to lack of sleep (surprise!) and accidentally poured an entire 8 oz pumping bottle into the bottle for the day… only to realize too late that I had forgotten to include the drop in liner into the bottle.  I sat there, like Amy, slackjawed as my precious hours of work went blup*blup*blup all over the counter. I screamed, and cried, and maybe kicked a few things.  It sucks.  I don’t know if there is really a way to accurately get a husband or significant other to understand, as no one really knows how YOU feel about the pumping but YOU. Every woman has a different experience, but they are all unified in that they are something NO MAN will ever experience. My hugs to you.

  18. Jen W. Nov 28 at 10:40 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t have a witty analogy, but I can totally relate. The lactation consultant we saw once told me “people who don’t cry over spilled milk never spent an hour pumping it.” and I can say that is the honest truth. I spilled 4 oz. when my boys were just a few weeks old and it was the MOST I had ever pumped and I was already a sleep-deprived, hormonal mess and I JUST LOST IT.

    I don’t think your husband will ever really get it, but just so you know the rest of us moms do.

  19. Suzanne Nov 29 at 11:29 am Reply Reply

    @Wendy:

    So, morally, I see absolutely nothing wrong with steeling ice from a gas station during a power outage.   It would have melted anyway, and since they can’t sell half melted ice, they would have thrown it out and lost that money. 

    Since you paid them back later, they technically MADE money. ;)

    Even if you hadn’t paid them back, they lost no money in you taking that ice.. so.. *shrug*

    I remember when I was a kid there was a big power outage in my town (Pretty common in rural areas during summer lightning storms) and the corner store was giving away all the popsicles for free after their freezer wasn’t running for about an hour. They were still frozen at that point, but the guy said he couldn’t sell them anymore now anyway and rather make some people happy than have to throw them out in the back.

    It was great.

  20. Bethany Nov 29 at 12:18 pm Reply Reply

    After 2 weeks of absolutely miserable breastfeeding and lack of support, I decided to pump exclusively. My son had some formula in the first few weeks, but then refused to drink it. So my breastmilk sob story is that I had a whole bunch stored in the freezer when we realized my son couldn’t have dairy. I had to pitch the whole stash since I had been having a lot of dairy. So I started working on the stash again. I pumped and pumped and pumped some more. I ended up with another nice collection in the freezer. Then we discovered that eggs were also causing problems. Out went that stash of frozen milk too. I sobbed with every bag that hit the garbage can. And I cried everytime I accidently knocked over a bottle. My mom would try to comfort me with the whole “Don’t cry over spilled milk” thing, but I TOTALLY did. EVERY. TIME. I was a single mom and felt like I was doing double duty because I’d have to pump a bottle and then feed my son. It is completely rational to be upset over the loss of liquid gold!!

  21. Melissa @ HerGreenLife Nov 29 at 12:43 pm Reply Reply

    My 4 1/2 month old is teething, and basically didn’t touch the 12 oz. that I carefully thawed and left with Grandma for him yesterday. I know I need to throw it out, and I’m going to, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it last night, so it’s still sitting in the fridge.

    Fortunately, I haven’t had any major “everything in the freezer” type losses yet (knock on wood), and my husband actually gets (as much as someone who’s never pumped can) why I’m upset when I lose any of the liquid gold :-/

  22. M Nov 29 at 1:10 pm Reply Reply

    Oh man. It’s all the prep. I’m not a planner and neither is my hubs, but when our little guy came, all of a sudden I have been forced into being THE planner of the house. Sunday nights kick my butt. You have to pack his daycare bag, prepare his bottles, pack the pump, make sure every little plastic piece of the pump is washed and accounted for. Then Monday morning comes – pack the perishables: baby’s lunch, my lunch, hubs’s lunch, all on top of making sure everyone is fed a healthy breakfast. To have some cog disrupted in that machine of mundane life can be so frustrating. Any time I have lost pumped milk it feels like my efforts to keep everyone healthy and happy are a failure.

  23. Susan Nov 29 at 1:45 pm Reply Reply

    I have been traveling – many times – and continued to pump (to keep the flow going) but with no good refridgerated way to transport the milk back home… had to pour it all down the drain. Heart breaking!

  24. I had stocked up quite a bit – I mean A LOT while Declan was in the NICU – and we had it stored in the garage refrigerator. Imagine my tears and anguish when there were electrical problems out there. I still mourn that loss. It was at least 2 months worth.

  25. karen Nov 29 at 3:24 pm Reply Reply

    For Melissa and anyone else who might come across the unused milk situation, LLL’s book, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, has a new edition out. In the section on freezing milk (p. 309) they have new content that reflects what my workplace LC has said, “Previously frozen milk that has been thawed can be kept in the refrigerator for up to twenty-four hours. If it hasn’t been used by that time, it should be discarded OR REFROZEN.”!!!! It can be saved! I did this with my pumped milk for my daughter since figured the worst thing that would happen is that it would go sour and she’d made a funny face. Well it never soured. Good to know LLL is on board now too.

  26. Butterfly Nov 29 at 5:39 pm Reply Reply

    Ohh, it’s so hard to explain the pain of lost breastmilk. It’s such a loaded topic, at every stage – because if you are pumping, you clearly are willing to go through massive inconveniences and often pain and major life disruption just to give your baby something you consider to be the very best, and be the very best mother you can be. That pumped milk is a symbol of all your most passionate and best intentions of motherhood. To have it lost or destroyed is like having your actual skills as a mother called into question, all your choices to go back to work, or anything. As in, ‘no matter how hard you work, you’ll never be good enough, and you will let down your child. All your sacrifices, and your choices – it’s for naught. You’re still a failure as a mother.” You can surely go to a deep dark place pretty fast!

    I remember when my girl was born she had to spend a week in the NICU due to some breathing issues – I couldn’t nurse right away, or for five days – and my heart was broken. I pumped like crazy – and was so proud of the 1oz bottles I was filling with colostrum! It filled the void of not being able to hold my baby. I would leave the bottles next to my bed (I didn’t have a fridge in my room, and couldn’t get out of bed) and the nurse would pick them up and bring them down to the NICU for special tube feeding. ONLY to find out that the night nurse had been finding these little bottles on my hospital bedside table and throwing them out because she didn’t know to take them down to the NICU. I wept, and raged, and even my sympathetic husband was bewildered by the depths of my postpartum despair and fury at this poor night nurse. The hospital, sweet people, immediately assigned me a new nurse and apologized a hundred times over.

    And that was at the very beginning!!! Before I knew what a dreary, painful slog pumping was. For me, it *is* like losing a term paper or a major project – but way more emotionally loaded. Maybe a man would understand this: like applying for a job, going through many rounds of interviews, and then finally being told you have the job, and congratulations – but then when you show up on the first day, someone else is sitting at your desk and they say it was all a mistake and they would never give someone like you a great job like this in the first place.

    You’re right, this *is* hard! =)

  27. Tracy Nov 30 at 10:09 am Reply Reply

    Tell him it’s like taking your last Viagra only to have your wife announce she has a headache. ;-)

  28. Susan Nov 30 at 10:26 am Reply Reply

    I once spilled 18 ounces. 18. I know too well the OP’s pain. My husband told me I was crazy for freaking out like I did. And, boy did I ever freak out. Tears like someone had DIED. For me, pumping felt like the one thing I could do for my infant while I was at work that kept our connection strong. It meant, like someone else said, that I was doing my very best for him. And, my husband totally didn’t get it. Luckily, my body did. I woke up and pumped in the middle of the night and managed to get 11 ounces. I was so proud of my sympathetic boobs : ) PS: After that, I purchased Dr. Brown’s travel lids (not the disks that block the nipple flow, they’re like a solid screw-on cap) for bottles and used them religiously. I even bought a set for my friend who was also pumping. They screw on tight and don’t leak like a bottle with a nipple on it.

  29. ksmaybe Nov 30 at 9:29 pm Reply Reply

    I was lucky/unlucky enough to have oversupply with my second. I had gobs and gobs of milk in the freezer….and she refused to take a bottle 99% of the time. She’d rather be hungry for 5 hours waiting on me to come home that drink a bottle. I dumped it in two batches, long after it’s 6 month date had come and gone. It was soooo painful! After pumping for my first until a year (I worked), pouring any milk out just plain hurts.

  30. Sarah Nov 30 at 10:36 pm Reply Reply

    Blood, sweat and tears goes into the liquid gold.  I have two years of pumping under my belt.  The first year of pumping, I didn’t know any better and my job didn’t either and had me sitting in a toilet stall to pump.  Seriously.  I had a manual pump with. My first and it would loose suction and I would have to take it apart and adjust the valve to make it work again.  Imagine my dispair when it was balancing on the toilet (without a lid, only the seat), trying to not drip milk all over my lap from my “tap” while I try to fix my pump without actually putting any piece down on anything because I am in a freaking toilet stall!!!! When I fumble and drop the valve on the floor.  And then I fumble again and drop the sucker part on the floor.  So far, the milk is safe.  So far.  I try to gather my pieces and my half full bottle to go to the sink to wash the pieces so I can finish what I had started (and I don’t know about you guys, but when I was pumping and my flow got to flowing, there was no stopping it – so I’m cold and wet in a bathroom now with several hours of work left for the day) and as I put the dirty pieces in the sink I just spazzed and threw the bottle in the sink too.  I THREW THE BOTTLE IN THE SINK!!!  I did that!  I wanted to throw up, I was so mad.  

    With my second, I had a very nice automatic double barrel boobie juicer that needed to plug in so the bathroom was out of the picture.  I had to use an office with a locking door.  And I only dribbled on that person’s chair a few times.  And he was really kind of a creep so I only partially did it on purpose.

  31. Pamela Dec 01 at 4:41 pm Reply Reply

    Butterfly said this: 

    That pumped milk is a symbol of all your most passionate and best intentions of motherhood. To have it lost or destroyed is like having your actual skills as a mother called into question, all your choices to go back to work, or anything. As in, ‘no matter how hard you work, you’ll never be good enough, and you will let down your child. All your sacrifices, and your choices – it’s for naught. You’re still a failure as a mother.” 

    EXACTLY. 

  32. Andee Dec 02 at 10:34 am Reply Reply

    I also absolutley agree with Butterfly’s comment!

    Butterfly said this:

    That pumped milk is a symbol of all your most passionate and best intentions of motherhood. To have it lost or destroyed is like having your actual skills as a mother called into question, all your choices to go back to work, or anything. As in, ‘no matter how hard you work, you’ll never be good enough, and you will let down your child. All your sacrifices, and your choices – it’s for naught. You’re still a failure as a mother.”

  33. JJ Dec 02 at 10:03 pm Reply Reply

    When my boy was 5 months, I had some minor dental work done. I asked before hand about breastfeeding after novocaine, and the dentist said “oh sure, you’ll be fine.” Then, as I was leaving the office, he said “well, we used a little more than I thought I would, so you should just discard the milk you make until you’re not numb anymore.” I was livid. Not only did I have to go pump and dump, but I had to put off picking up my baby from daycare early that day because he immediately wants to nurse (which is awesome) and I couldn’t. I haven’t gone back to that dentist since.

  34. Corinne Dec 06 at 7:29 pm Reply Reply

    I had two milk losses in the past week. Last week I took two bottles out of the freezer for my husband to feed our son while I was at school. He only fed him one bottle, the other one sat in the fridge until Wednesday when it would have been used, and it was not good anymore (clearly by the smell). 5oz down the drain.

    I forgot a bottle of pumped milk in my fridge at school on Friday, NBD, I’ll get it monday, right? The power went out in the building over the weekend. 4 oz down the drain. I cried at school when I had to do that. Luckily the only other person in the bathroom was a professor who also has a daughter and who totally understood.

  35. Liane Dec 19 at 3:48 pm Reply Reply

    @Bethany, I have almost the same story about my first son and his food allergies. I probably had 100 ounces saved up when we discovered he couldn’t have one drop of it due to food allergies that had been causing all kinds of problems. All those hours of pumping down the drain!! I made my husband get rid of it all one afternoon while I was out of the house, I couldn’t do it!

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