When I brought my third son home from the hospital, I was sure I had everything figured out.
I breastfed my first two, and knowing what I knew, planned to introduce a bottle early to our littlest guy. I learned the hard way that if you wait too long, your baby might never take a bottle, and I really wanted to make sure I’d be able to have a break here and there.
I started creating a freezer stash of pumped milk early, and when my baby was about four weeks old, I warmed some up for him and offered him a bottle. But he was not having any of it. As the milk touched his mouth, he pursed his lips and turned away.
Hmm. Maybe he was still too young? Didn’t like the nipple? Wasn’t hungry? There was no way to know for sure, but I didn’t think much of it at first, knowing we’d try again. And try again we did—and again, and again, and again. I bought every type of nipple under the sun. Got others to try feeding him. Held him in different positions. Nope—he would not take a bottle.
Trouble was, I needed a break every once in a while, for my own sanity. If our little man wouldn’t take a bottle, I could never be away for longer than three hours, max. I was so frustrated. Why couldn’t I make this work? Then I felt guilty for wanting it to work so badly.
After a few weeks, I warmed up some milk to try again. In doing so, I caught a whiff of it. Whoa! It did not smell right. It reminded me of metal gears grinding together—the sort of smell you’d encounter around railroad tracks. It tasted worse than it smelled—my husband agreed. When I went to check some of my frozen stash, I found it was all the same. No wonder my guy didn’t want to drink it. It tasted all kinds of wrong!
As I searched for an answer to this bizarre discovery, the term “lipase” kept cropping up. I didn’t know anything about lipase then, but I know an awful lot about it now.
Lipase is an enzyme that’s an important and beneficial component of breast milk. It helps to emulsify fat, making breast milk easier for babies to digest, says Jane Healey, a pediatrician at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, Ont. But when lipase activity is high, the fat gets broken down too quickly, making milk taste and smell gross (usually either metallic or soapy). Sometimes the change to the milk happens within a few hours of pumping, and sometimes it takes a day or so. The enzyme stays active in cold temperatures, so freezing it promptly doesn’t help.
According to Healey, some mothers’ milk may be more susceptible to high lipase activity than others. Some moms, like me, even have different experiences between their own babies.
Thankfully, the realization that my boobs contained overactive lipase with my third kid didn’t mean I could never pump and bottle-feed. There was a simple solution to the lipase problem.
Turns out, lipase can be deactivated by scalding, says Healey. This prevents the rapid breakdown of fat that leads to the unpleasant taste.
When I learned that scalding my milk could potentially solve my problem, I was skeptical, but I tried it as soon as I could. The process itself only took a few minutes (see “How to scald your breast milk,” below). Afterwards, I popped the milk in the fridge and checked it every few hours. It smelled like…nothing. A very good sign.
I gave my husband instructions to feed our babe while I was out one day. I called to check in, but of course he didn’t answer the phone (grrrr). So naturally, I came home like a whirlwind assuming all hell had broken loose. But instead, he told me our baby drank it. Every. Last. Drop.
Life changed for us after this discovery. My little man took a bottle no problem once the milk tasted pleasant and familiar. The sweetest relief. I was finally able to take the odd break to preserve my sanity—and trust me, that was good news for everyone.
How to scald your breast milk
To scald expressed breast milk effectively, you have to do it before the yucky taste develops. Here’s how I did it:
- Put the milk in a small, clean pot on the stove turned to medium.
- Heat the milk until approximately 180 F. You’ll know you’re there when little bubbles appear around the edge of the pot. Do not let the milk come to a full boil, or you risk destroying some of the essential good stuff!
- Cool milk fully before refrigerating, freezing or serving to baby.
Note: Regardless of the smell and taste the lipase causes, it’s still safe to drink. Many babies don’t actually mind it at all. If you suspect you have high lipase activity but your baby drinks the milk without issue, there’s no need to scald it.