Feeding Mammals

May 30, 2011

Last summer my husband and teenage daughter came home one evening and announced they were not alone. I had just gotten ready for bed and did not want a guest to see me in my nightgown.

“Who is it?” I called from the bathroom.

“Don’t worry,” they said. “It is not human.”

They had a shoebox and a mysterious small animal inside.

“We are not sure but we think it is a baby squirrel.”

They were both so excited. Apparently they found the little creature screaming at the base of one of the elm trees outside and they were worried that a dog might get attack it.

We googled “baby squirrels” and found a few websites that showed squirrels of varying ages. We had in our home a three-week-old orphaned baby squirrel.

Rob said to me, “you are the lactation consultant, you have to feed it.”

Now this is the part that amazed me.

All of the sites I found on how to feed this baby squirrel were very specific about how to handle the squirrel and how to handle the flow of rehydration solution. They were very clear about being respectful to the squirrel, not scaring the squirrel, keep the squirrel upright. Handle with care.

And it made me think of all the baby humans I see. It is so nice for a human baby to snuggle in with mama and nurse at her breast and get warm milk.

Like this baby squirrel that is not always the scenario for many human babies. We have separation of moms and babies and we have breastfeeding issues. We have the need for supplementation. There are times when a mom just cannot or will not breastfeed her baby.

I see so many gadgets to make feedings easier for parents as opposed to respectful for the baby. There are faster flowing nipples to pound the food into the baby faster. There are devices where a mom or caregiver does not even have to hold the baby.

I searched on the Internet to see if there were similar instructions for humans. There was plenty on how much to feed a baby but nothing about respecting the baby and being sensitive to the flow of liquid and keeping the baby in a safe and comfortable position.

I made up a solution of salt, sugar and water. I found a medicine dropper and cleaned it. I carefully held the baby; I spoke softly to her as I slowly rehydrated her.

It was late so we all went to bed. The baby squirrel lay in her box with pieces of the elm and a soft towel.

In the morning Rob went out to find the local “Squirrel Lady.” Rob leaves early and he has become friendly with Stella, who feeds the squirrels in our neighborhood.  Stella knew a squirrel rescuer who could come and get the baby in the afternoon but she thought we should try to reunite the baby with her mother.

I had to go see a human mom and baby and help them to get breastfeeding going in a smoother direction so Phoebe had a date to meet Stella at the elm tree outside our building.

Phoebe set the box down, slowly lifted the baby out and set her down. Almost immediately the mama squirrel ran down to get her baby. Stella and Phoebe were so excited.

I want to end the story there but I cannot.

In the fury to get her baby back up to the nest the mama squirrel made a leap from the high braches to a close by tree and Phoebe and Stella watched in horror as the baby dropped to the ground. Stella even tried mouth too mouth resuscitation on the baby.

We all learned something. We got to experience a different kind of nurturing. We got to consider the fragility of life. We witnessed our connection to another mammal. This experience made me even more thoughtful about working with babies.


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