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Adoptive Breastfeeding: Nursing Max

Sharon A. Larson
New Castle, Delaware, USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 13 No. 1, January-February 1996, pp. 8-9

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

My initial understanding that it was possible to nurse an adopted baby came during a cross-training session at the hospital where I was working as a labor and delivery nurse. The lactation consultant began the breastfeeding lecture by saying: "Any woman can breastfeed a child. Mothers can nurse twins, triplets, and even adopted babies." That's all it took to plant in my brain the seed of information that it was possible.

Approximately two years later, toward the end of the emotional roller coaster ride of infertility treatment, my husband and I had the opportunity of a lifetime fall into our laps. A young woman in the early stages of pregnancy was creating an adoption plan for her unborn baby. She chose us to parent her child. As her pregnancy continued, my psychological pregnancy began. I truly wanted to nurse our baby. I went to the local library and obtained every book I could get my hands on regarding breastfeeding, including THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING. I brought them all home and looked in the indexes for entries about adoptive breastfeeding. Unfortunately, few books contained more than two pages on the subject. Most claimed it could be done, but that it took great effort and perseverance.

Many of the books suggested contacting La Leche League for help. I called several Leaders in my area. Some were more knowledgeable than others regarding induced lactation, but they were all extremely supportive. I ordered the booklet NURSING THE ADOPTED BABY from La Leche League and devoured it as soon as it arrived. I heeded every suggestion offered for making adoptive nursing work. I utilized breast massage in the morning after a shower. I did nipple rolls to elongate my nipples. (I was concerned that they did not protrude enough to nurse a baby.) I went without a bra when I was home. I even lay out in the sun with my breasts exposed when I was off work (we have only a semi-private back yard so this was not always easy!). All were efforts to toughen my nipples.

As the weeks went by my husband became more educated about what I was doing. He tried to do his part of nipple stimulation, but we always ended up being quite giddy. I tried to express any "milk" I could by squeezing my breasts; later I read that you have to be careful doing this as you can permanently damage breast tissue. At times I could get a tiny drop of cloudy white fluid from my breasts.

We began to tell a few people of our hopes to adopt a baby. We never gave any specifics, because we had already made that mistake during infertility treatment. We were tired of explaining and sharing our sadness. My husband's best friend from high school was visiting us one night when our birth mother called, so we told him about it. I also mentioned that I hoped to nurse the baby. He very matter-of-factly told me his mother's friend had nursed her adopted son. He told me how she would wear a "pouch" of milk with a tube connected from the pouch to her nipple. Baby nursed and received infant formula and any breast milk that she had while stimulating her breasts to produce more milk. I could not believe he knew someone who had actually done it. I contacted his mother's friend in California, and she became my mentor. I was so excited just to talk with her. She did not pump her breasts or utilize breast stimulation prior to the arrival of her son. She simply used the supplementer at every feeding, with the goal of being able to nurse her son, but did not expect to lactate. It was not until her physician asked her when her last menstrual period occurred and she could not recall the date, that he discovered she was lactating. What a surprise, yet she nursed her son for eighteen months.

Approximately two months before Max, my son, was to be born I contacted the lactation consultant who had given the lecture mentioning breastfeeding and adoptive mothers. I was so happy to have found another source of support.

I began pumping my breasts. I only did it when I felt emotionally strong, when I had confidence that some day I would really be a mother. I still had worries that the adoption might fall through. The first time I pumped I felt moisture on my breast. I actually thought it was perspiration or condensation. Later I realized that the wetness was milk.

Max was born a of couple weeks early. His birth mother had an unmedicated birth without any intervention. We knew it would be six to eight weeks after Max's birth parents signed relinquishment papers before we could bring him home. This was going to be a challenge in my efforts to breastfeed. I made many phone calls to find an experienced La Leche League Leader or lactation consultant who could be present for my initial nursing with Max. One Leader I spoke with even offered her home while we awaited the completion of the adoption paperwork. Her hospitality meant so much to me.

Max was one week old when my husband and I met him. Fortunately, he was ready to eat. We went in the back bedroom of his foster parent's home. I set up the SNS, and he latched on immediately. All my expectations had been met. I actually felt what it was like to have a baby suckle at my breast. Max's foster mother invited me to stay in her home for the next month while the paperwork was completed. Although she did not know much about it, she was extremely nonjudgmental of my desire to nurse Max.

We brought Max home when he was one month old. He did receive an occasional supplemental bottle using a NUK nipple. I used the Medela SNS for feedings at the breast. Nipple confusion or nipple preference was not a problem for us as it is for some babies, although this had been a great fear of mine. I began attending La Leche League meetings and was invited to be a part of the evaluation/enrichment meetings at our Leader's home. Every mother was very accepting of Max and me. We were there to nurse our babies and support one another.

But at other gatherings, some would ask questions about our adoption. Not meaning to hurt my feelings, they would ask intrusive questions about the "real" mother or the "natural" mother. I made valiant attempts to teach positive adoption language by saying, "Oh, you mean the birth mother," as I did not consider myself either an "unreal" or an "unnatural" mother to my son. I was simply his mother. Occasionally, someone would ask about my milk supply, which was very awkward. Does any mother ever know how much milk she produces? Granted, I was probably hypersensitive about my journey to mothering, but I did not feel as though these women truly could relate. They often shared birth stories and pregnancy stories. As an infertile woman knows, these can be emotionally painful stories to hear.

I decided to start a support group for mothers like me. When Max was about ten months old, I took the plunge and advertised in an adoptive parents' group newsletter. I received a couple of calls and set up a meeting at my house. My group was small but intimate. We shared resources, networking, and support. We offered encouragement to one another.

Max continued to nurse until he weaned from the breast. I hope our story can help empower adoptive mothers who are thinking about breastfeeding. There are not many of us out there. so it is almost magical to talk to one another. I encourage you to share your experiences with others about the benefits of mothering through breastfeeding.

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