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Breastfeeding My Adopted Baby

Molly D.
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 3, May-June 2001, p. 88

When I gave birth to my son in 1988, he was born with a very severe bilateral cleft lip and palate and I had no breastfeeding support at all. No one has ever wanted to breastfeed more than I did, but all the doctors totally discouraged me. I did pump my breasts for four months and gave Brian the expressed breast milk, but I so much wanted to be able to nurse him at my breast like all my friends. Unfortunately, I did not contact La Leche League. I later learned that there was a La Leche League Leader in my town who was still breastfeeding her son who was born with a cleft. I've learned that my son's cleft would have made feeding at the breast difficult even for someone who received lots of support, but I still wonder sometimes if things could have been different for us. Not nursing Brian at my breast was a huge loss for me and it left me more determined than ever to breastfeed my next child.

When Brian was eight years old, my husband and I finally felt ready to have another baby. Several months went by without a pregnancy. We began to consider adoption. Every time I thought of adopting a baby, my biggest concern was that breastfeeding would be difficult. Like many women who choose to breastfeed, I had many personal reasons for wanting to do so. I wanted the close relationship that breastfeeding fosters, the health and immunological benefits, the developmental benefits, and the me of not having to make or warm up or pay for bottles of formula. But most of all, it felt like a very important, emotional part of motherhood to me.

We planned five weeks of summer vacations that we were very much looking forward to as a family. We knew these would likely be our last vacations as a family of three. Two days before our first vacation, we came home to find a message from our lawyer telling us that a birth couple had just chosen us to offer their four-day-old baby for adoption. We were totally shocked and not at all prepared to adopt on such short notice. We thought about saying "no." But in the morning, it became clear that we had been asking for a baby for almost two years, and we do not always get to decide how things work out in our lives. We decided to say yes to this wonderful, if terrifyingly sudden, opportunity! We met the birth parents and the baby the next day and she came home to live with us three days later! Kia is a total joy and we are so glad we accepted this lovely baby into our lives.

Even though I always knew I would breastfeed my next baby, I had no idea I would have such a short time to prepare for it. I had done enough reading that I knew I would need a nursing supplementer in order to breastfeed my adopted baby. I had tried using a supplementer 10 years earlier, with Brian. There are two basic types of nursing supplementers. One system has a hard plastic bottle with two tubes coming out of the top, and the other consists of soft disposable "bottles" with a plastic top that attaches to the bottle opening, and one tube coming out of the top. Both types of bottles hang around the mother's neck and rest between her breasts, with the tube reaching to her nipple so the baby can get milk from the tube as well as from the mother's breast.

The first nursing supplementer that I used was the hard bottle type. I found the hard plastic bottle was difficult to conceal under my clothing. I used this system for the first seven weeks and it was often frustrating for us.

I learned later that other adoptive mothers had found the hard plastic bottle system awkward to use and I was encouraged to switch to the system that uses disposable plastic bottles, which has worked much better for me. The milk seems to flow better and when I wear loose clothing the bottle is virtually invisible.

Even though I knew I would need the supplementer system for a while, I had heard of women who were able to induce lactation and provide their babies with all the milk they needed in as little as three weeks time. I was determined that I would be one of them. I ate well, nursed her at my breast for every feeding, rented a breast pump to help encourage milk production, and talked to lactation consultants and other breastfeeding mothers.

Somewhere during this time, I also found a lot of interesting stories on the Internet about adoptive nursing. It was helpful to finally realize that most mothers are unable to produce enough milk for their adopted babies without supplementing. I definitely have milk I can express from my breasts. I have no idea how much milk my baby gets from me, but it really doesn't matter to me any more. I gladly returned the pump and let go of the guilt. I welcomed being able to nurse my baby, and accepted that the nursing supplementer would always be a part of our nursing relationship. I am so glad to be nursing my baby that I can accept the inconvenience.

Once I learned to nurse lying down while using the supplementer, night feedings became wonderful. Now I can sleep while she nurses. When we go out during the day, I pack up a small cooler with several bottles full of milk in it. I bring a wide-mouthed thermos with very hot water and submerge the bottle of milk into it for a short time to take the chill off before inserting it into the cloth bag I always wear around my neck, under my clothes. Each evening I wash all the plastic pieces, fill the bags, put the plastic tops on the bags, and store them in the refrigerator. If I am home, I simply take one out of the refrigerator, warm it in a little hot water and we're ready to nurse. I have learned to be so discreet that many people who have seen me nurse her for months have been surprised when they learn that she is adopted or that I am supplementing. Breastfeeding helps me to feel very close to her and I'm pleased that our close relationship shows to those around us.

There were many times in the beginning that I thought about giving up. Making formula and filling up bottles is time consuming, as is washing all the little parts every day. But I am so glad we persevered. My husband has been hugely supportive of me nursing our little one, and I can't thank him enough for his love, support, and encouragement.

Our baby is now a toddler. Her face breaks into a huge smile when I take off my shirt for a bath and she exclaims with delight, "MY MiMis!" Nursing is a wonderful opportunity to bond with your little one, to feel (and look) like a biological mother in many ways, give of your body to your baby, and to create wonderful, lasting memories for both of you. Even if you never produce a single drop of milk, the closeness of this special relationship is one you and your baby will always cherish. And if you are able to produce milk, you can be assured of giving your baby the best possible nutrition.

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