Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mother's Milk and the Fifth Taste

Little A and I are now 2 weeks into the weaning process. I don't know how successful we've been, as those blasted websites make it sound so easy. "Replace a feeding with a bottle once every 3-4 days, and within 2 weeks your baby will be completely weaned." Or maybe it is easy for other parents and we are the exception?

The plan was to replace the afternoon feeding first, then the morning one, and save naptime and nighttime (pre-sleep) feedings for last. But the websites don't tell you what to do when your child has had less than a dozen bottles in his first year and so flat out refuses and just goes on milk strike. Formula was ruled out immediately because any attempt to get him to drink it resulted in instant vomiting. So I moved on to fresh cow's milk. I say "fresh", but I really mean pasteurized, boxed milk. He reluctantly accepts it, but only when heavily diluted with water, and in minuscule quantities. Pre-naptime he alternates between the breast and the cup (a plastic drinking glass, not a sippy,) spending a few seconds at a time with each.

It's not easy, and I have no idea how to address the boredom feeding that happens every time we get into the car, let alone the mid-nap and sleep feedings. But a part of me understands why Little A is so reluctant to give up his mother's milk. It is the best and most natural food for a baby, after all.

Much press have been given lately to the so-called fifth taste, umami. In addition to salty, sweet, sour and bitter, this new taste is what makes us crave for more. It addresses the palate's sense of "deliciousness."

Glutamate is said to be the main ingredient in creating umami, and surprise, surprise, one of the things found to contain a very high content of glutamate is breast milk. No wonder Little A is so loath to give it up, and no wonder cow's milk (which, when given too early in human babies can cause kidney damage due to its high sodium and potassium content!) is such a poor second.

Calves (and all bovine creatures, I presume) have 4 stomachs and a special digestive process to allow them to break down what they eat. Between birth and 8 weeks of age, when they are weaned, cow's milk develops the 4 stomach formation in a young calf. So how can a human baby stomach in its singular form cope with digesting cow's milk, and, for that matter, is it really the best thing to give toddlers from age one onwards? Certainly, it makes them sleep longer, but all of my reading says this is precisely because formula (cow's milk-based or otherwise) is more difficult to digest than breast milk.

I'm on the fence on this one. While Little A's increasing teeth make breastfeeding more uncomfortable, I do wonder if there is a better alternative to cow's milk out there. Maybe the pediatrician will know. When we see her next week, I will be sure to ask.

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