Part 1: Whether to Milk Mom
When the babies are on the way we always worry about our little ones getting colostrum, getting enough milk and gaining weight. As owners we always like to push the process along because after all – we don’t want complications later ! Alpaca don’t always have a time frame that matches ours. Every alpaca and every human is different. As owners I encourage you to try to know your alpaca and work with them to meet their needs instead of approaching mama and baby needs as ‘one size fits all’.
Before we talk about milking mom – there is something very important to consider. Why are you milking mom ? Some owners automatically milk out the colostrum and directly give to their little one to eliminate the question of whether they get enough in the beginning. Some owners like the feeling of knowing how much milk a baby is getting in the first few hours and some have challenging moms or births that require “milking out” mom. If you want to know some strategies for milking mom the best method is to watch baby’s methods. I’m a believer in letting nature take its course because I often find that there is a reason for the process. I am not suggesting that humans shouldn’t intervene! Sometimes there are important reasons to be an advocate for that babe.
My first suggestion is to realize how nervous you are or aren’t. Like human babies, moms and babies pick up on anxiety levels of owners and will often respond accordingly. Deep breaths and a calm attitude will get you much further than acting like a nervous nilly. Sometimes our first instincts are to put a halter on mom and have someone hold her so you can move into your owner mode and help things along. In reality that might be a choice that is more harmful than helpful because alpaca are smart and have good memories. Don’t be afraid to observe before you decide about your next step. I’d always imagined that a new mom couldn’t be handled by one person until I started watching mom to see what SHE needed. Now I rarely need a helper and usually don’t want one. Don’t misunderstand – I’m not criticizing those who have helpers and like them. I’ve just been in so many circumstances when I didn’t have help and find that I really didn’t need them. Other times I’ve had moms that needed a sling to give them a gentle lift so they couldn’t kick baby off – but that was after I’d tried bonding methods that were less intrusive to mom. Even using a sling can be a one person job. I often wonder when I hear about someone who talks about a maiden or mom who is a bear about having teats checked or being milked whether the approach was more aggressive than mom understood so being a bear was a reaction.
Moms have a very small waxy plug on each teat. It might not be necessary, but if you can pull that plug off the teat, milk flows a bit easier, especially for babies that don’t have a strong suckle reflex. As soon as they get that taste of milk their instincts usually kick in because they want more. Moms milk may or may not be “in.” I frequently see moms that won’t let their babies nurse immediately after birth. Owners want the little one nursing but mom kicks them off or won’t stand for them, yet after that placenta is passed they are more than willing. It’s part of the process that we can’t force even though our instinct is to try. Moms milk might not be fully in until that placenta is passed, so shoving a baby under mom isn’t going to help mom, baby or owner.
Babies sometimes don’t immediately latch on. They will mouth their way around and not find a nipple or they’ll put their head in the front and in the back and walk in all of the wrong directions. As humans our instinct is to try to get baby to latch on by helping find the nipple and sometimes even holding the head in place. Usually that only makes us feel better because until they are strong enough or ready we’ll see them licking the nipple or fighting our hands. When they are ready the first thing you will see them do is to use their nose to ‘punch’ at moms bag around each teat. That process stimulates let down and when they nurse they’ll have milk flow. Watch carefully that they do go from teat to teat so they are draining each one.
In our next blog post we will explore several methods that may work for you in the event you decide to milk mom.