Webster Groves MO USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 6, November-December 2007, pp. 259-261
Breastfeeding my two sons was a such a wonderful experience -- both for my boys and for me. I could see that they were healthy, bright, confident, and secure thanks to our breastfeeding relationship. So when my husband and I decided to adopt our third child, I knew that I wanted this child to have all of the amazing advantages that breastfeeding had to offer, just like his or her brothers.
Excited about the prospect of nursing my adopted child, I shared my intention with the director of our adoption agency. Her response shocked me a bit. "You know," she said, "You might not be able to do it. You La Leche League mothers think that you can't mother a baby without breastfeeding. What are you going to do if it doesn't work out?" Ouch. I quickly assured her that I could mother a baby without breastfeeding if things didn't work out, secretly not really being so sure how I'd do it. Luckily, I didn't have to find out!
I began voraciously researching adoptive breastfeeding. I knew that breastfeeding would have extra challenges for me as an adoptive mother, so I wanted every bit of information I could find to maximize my success. I also sought lots of support and found it, of course, from my La Leche League pals. They believed in me and were very happy for me -- that was worth more than anything I could read in a book or on the Internet.
One of the first things that I learned when researching adoptive breastfeeding was that most adoptive mothers do produce some milk, but it is rare for an adoptive mother to produce a full milk supply. For the first time in my parenting, I had to consider using some formula. I was distressed at the idea of feeding my baby formula, but my husband reminded me, "Honey, this is what formula is for." He was right. I had to redefine my definition of successful breastfeeding. In her book DEFINING YOUR OWN SUCCESS: BREASTFEEDING AFTER BREAST REDUCTION SURGERY, Diana West states it so well:
Defining your own success means looking beyond conventional definitions of breastfeeding success and determining for yourself, according to your own needs, abilities, and unique circumstances, the true value of your efforts.…You must view your experience with a deep appreciation of the mothering and lactation abilities you do have rather than feeling deprived of what you cannot have.
I decided to follow a protocol for inducing lactation developed by Dr. Jack Newman and Lenore Goldfarb, an internationally board certified lactation consultant. (See www.asklenore.com if you want to know more about it.) Basically, the protocol uses pumping and galactogogues (drugs, herbs, or foods with a reputation for increasing milk supply) to simulate the normal process of lactation. There were certainly pros and cons to the protocol, but after consulting with several health care practitioners I felt it was a good choice for me.
Meanwhile, adoption plans were progressing. After four months of waiting, we had a match with a birth mother! It was sort of like seeing that positive on the pregnancy test -- I was very excited but tentative and nervous at the same time. I shared my intention to breastfeed with the birth mother and she was quite shocked to say the least! But after some thought, she decided that she was pleased with my decision to breastfeed because she knew that it was best for the baby.
The birth mother invited me to attend the birth and care for the baby in the hospital. This was an unexpected bonus! During a tour of the hospital before the birth, I learned that the hospital policy did not allow adoptive mothers to breastfeed in the hospital. However, they would provide me with a pump and a place to pump. So during the hospital stay, I would be pumping my milk (I was producing a significant amount by then) and then feeding the baby formula. I was very disappointed, and, at first, it seemed ridiculous. But, after some thought I began to understand some real problems if I was to breastfeed this baby in the hospital. Because the birth mother cannot sign relinquishment papers until 48 hours after birth (about time to leave the hospital in the case of a normal birth), this baby would not be my child in the hospital. The birth mother was still the one responsible and having me breastfeed could make boundaries very unclear. Furthermore, knowing that I was breastfeeding (even if it was in another room) could be very emotionally upsetting for the birth mother during an already difficult time. Although I was disappointed, I agreed not to breastfeed until we arrived home with our baby.
I was concerned about nipple confusion. I was afraid that it would be difficult for the baby to accept the breast when he or she was used to bottle-feeding during the first few days. I spoke to the hospital's lactation consultant and she suggested finger-feeding. Finger-feeding involves putting formula in a syringe with clear, plastic tubing running from the tip of the syringe to the forefinger. Baby sucks on the finger while the person feeding gently presses on the syringe to release formula. Experience has shown many babies to be less susceptible to nipple confusion when finger-feeding than bottle-feeding.
The plan was in place and I was pumping more milk every day. By the time the birth mom went to the hospital, I was pumping 15 ounces per day! During labor, I stayed with her and her family except when I had to leave to pump every two to three hours. I was thrilled to be included in the labor and delivery, but I also welcomed the respite of going to another room to pump every few hours.
It was a long day, but finally at midnight "our" beautiful daughter, Rosa, came into the world. It was quite a thrill to see birth from the other end! Rosa and her birth mom were healthy and doing well. I spent the night on an air mattress on the floor of the hospital room. The birth mom and her mother slept through the night, while I slept on and off caring for Rosa as she needed it.
During the hospital stay, I finger-fed Rosa and she did well with it. After two and a half days, Rosa and birth mom were given the okay to go home. At the same time, the social worker arrived with the relinquishment papers. Papers were signed and Rosa was dressed in the special going home outfit that had been chosen by her birth mother. We said our difficult goodbyes. We were on our way home at last!
My plan upon arriving home was to take a shower, change my clothes, and get Rosa into some more comfortable clothes and a new diaper. We would then cozy up in our special nursing station and have our first breastfeeding. But with the paper signing, dressing Rosa up, saying goodbyes, and the hour drive home, it had been several hours since Rosa last fed and I last pumped. So as we often must do in parenting, I ditched my idealized plan and did what needed to be done. We walked into the house and I immediately put Rosa to the breast for the first time. She latched on right away! What a relief, thanks most likely to the finger-feeding. We did end up having some minor latch difficulties, but it was just normal breastfeeding stuff, which we resolved over the first few weeks.
I very carefully monitored Rosa's diaper output, weight gain, and satisfaction after nursing. I expected that I would likely need to supplement, but all the signs showed that Rosa was getting enough. In fact, during the first few days home, I felt a bit engorged -- just like a normal breastfeeding mom! As Rosa grew, I never took for granted that I was producing enough and so I kept watching the signs. When she was three to four months old and still doing well exclusively on my milk, I began very slowly weaning myself off the galactogogues. By six months old, I was no longer taking any galactogogues and still exclusively breastfeeding.
Today, Rosa is 23 months old and still loving her "nursies." Can adoptive mothers really breastfeed their babies? Yes!