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What Kittens Know

Last week, I put three fuzzy, squirmy kittens into a box and took them to the Berkeley Humane Society. No, I'm not an irresponsible cat owner: The Human Society had rescued them from an animal shelter, where they'd been dumped without their mother. I took them in to take care of them until they were old enough to be adopted. It was time for them to begin the journey to their permanent homes.

For four weeks, I was their mother. When I brought them home, they squealed unless they were against my body. I pinned up a long t-shirt to make a sort of kangaroo pocket, so that I coulIMG_0996d walk around and have my hands free while keeping them calm.

It was a lovely and intensely gratifying experience, and I'm sure my brain released tons of oxytocin -- especially when I'd sit down to read in the evening, and they'd cuddle up in my lap or between my shoulder and the back of the armchair.

But this is not still another post about how you can boost your oxytocin by loving a pet. I'm going to tell you a couple things the kittens told me about breastfeeding -- for humans, as well as kittens.

These little guys needed to be bottle-fed for the first week; I continued to give them the bottle for the second week, as they learned to eat solid food. They also preferred the formula to cat food.

Anyone who's had the opportunity to get to be around baby cats or dogs knows that they become individuals very early. When these kittens came to me at approximately four weeks old, the biggest one could inhale the bottle in two minutes. The other two had a really hard time figuring out how to suck from the bottle. The female never did get it. She would chew and chew on the rubber nipple; she finally chewed it off.  Luckily, she took to solid food the quickest.

The other male had difficulty for the first few days; he finally learned to center the nipple in his mouth and suck, instead of taking it between his teeth -- although he'd always take a few chews before he settled down to suckling.

To me, this says that there's only so much that a mother can do to help her baby breastfeed.  I know that mothers who unsuccessfully try breastfeeding can feel guilt or failure. Some babies simply may never get it.

I'll tell you what else I learned from the kittens in a later post.