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Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby

Marcia Fisch Berger
San Rafael, California, USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 11 No. 5, September-October 1994, p. 155

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.

As a prospective adoptive mother, I wanted to do all I could to bond with my baby. I'd heard about adoptive nursing but wasn't sure I could handle it. One month before our baby's due date, with some trepidation I phoned La Leche League. Trepidation because years ago my sister, supported by La Leche League, proudly nursed her babies anywhere, everywhere, and past age three, which offended me at the time. But what did I have to lose by calling? LLL sent me a booklet about adoptive nursing and encouraged me to call Laura, the League's San Rafael Leader.

Laura asked good questions and objectively assessed my situation, including the demands of my full-time job, the uncertainty regarding whether the biological mother might change her mind, and my husband's and my concerns about the great time and energy demands involved in trying to induce lactation. We agreed after considering all these factors that it was not a good idea for me to try to induce lactation in advance. She offered to lend me a book about breastfeeding and encouraged me to attend the next San Rafael La Leche League meeting. By then our baby had been born in Arkansas, and we were there for adoption procedures. Although there was a lactation consultant in the area, I didn't contact her.

So we bottle-fed our baby during those first few weeks, but a voice inside kept nagging. Finally I called Laura again and attended the La Leche meeting in San Rafael. I explained how overwhelmed I'd been by the strong sucking action the one time I had held my two-day-old baby to my breast. It felt like a vacuum cleaner had gotten hold of my nipple. Seeing my pained expression, my husband had discouraged me from trying again, and we agreed to use the little bottles filled with formula provided by the hospital. Now I told the group at the meeting, "The bottles are convenient, he's drinking plenty, but still, I wonder whether I should try...." I'd read in a La Leche booklet about the Supplemental Nutrition System (SNS) which provides the nursing experience for babies of mothers who lack sufficient breast milk, but I wasn't sure I could handle it. I assumed that Laura would encourage me to try nursing.

"The decision to breastfeed is a personal one," said Laura. Was this really La Leche League? She wasn't saying I had to nurse. After further discussion I felt I had enough information to help me make the right decision. "There are other ways to be close physically," Laura added. "Take baths with your baby. Try a sling." She brought a baby sling out from a closet. A couple of others at the meeting said they preferred it to a front carrier. I tried it on with Avi who nestled in comfortably. Laura said she could tell me how to order the supplemental system for breastfeeding if I decided I wanted it, but she didn't have one for sale among her supplies on hand. I left the meeting believing that I would not be able to breastfeed. But on our way out one of the other mothers gave me a paper with the phone number of Cynthia, whom she'd met at a prior La Leche League meeting. Cynthia was an adoptive mother who was breastfeeding with the supplemental system.

I got a sling, which was great, and took enjoyable baths with my baby. Shopping in Berkeley a week later, I decided to call Berkeley's La Leche League Leader to see whether she had a SNS available. It was her family's dinner time, but she welcomed my call and let me come by to pick it up right away. She offered to help me figure out how to use it if I could wait an hour, which wasn't possible. However, she lent me an instructional videotape and gave me a sheet of paper on which she'd written the names and phone numbers of two women I could phone for help, both of whom had adopted babies and used the system.

After a few days of ignoring the device because it seemed to require extensive mechanical and plumbing ability to connect the parts, I phoned Cynthia, who had been feeding her now five-month-old baby girl exclusively with this system since birth. She explained step by step on the phone how to connect the pieces together. Another wonderful woman who had adopted and breastfed offered to come over to help. She assured me that my baby was latching on properly. From then on it all flowed--no pun intended!

After about a year of successful nursing, biting during feeding became a problem. I phoned Laura, and again, she asked good questions before offering a suggestion. She added that if I was inclined to wean (which I hadn't mentioned, but I'd been wondering about) this too was an option. By now I realized that she would not push anyone to breastfeed for longer than they wanted to. Her suggestion to stop the biting worked, and I realized it was not yet time to wean entirely (we are down to one nursing a day).

Laura explains her approach by saying, "I look at each individual and the total situation. I try to empower women to make the right decision for themselves and their babies rather than judge or decide for them."

My husband and I are thankful to La Leche League for helping us to nurture our happy, outgoing seventeen-month-old son. I believe that my gratitude for La Leche League's support is shared by countless others. Valuable information is provided in an atmosphere of total acceptance; each mother is encouraged to express her concerns and trust her instincts. The support carries over into many areas of concern to new mothers, including changes in spousal relationships, continuing employment, and full-time parenting. There is also a terrific lending library that covers all aspects of parenting.

I continue to attend La Leche League meetings and recently was delighted to be asked to serve as a resource person for other mothers who have questions about adoptive nursing.

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