Most people have no idea that adoptive breastfeeding is even a possibility. Though I had a vague idea that it could be done physiologically, I didn’t realize that it’s actually a reasonable proposition… but it’s a real thing and it can work successfully.
I breastfed our first daughter until she turned 2. I thought that maintaining my supply from Little Jacks would give me a leg up on trying to breastfeed Jack Jack. I began to research methods to make the idea into reality.
However, one of the issues that quickly became apparent in my reading is that many birth moms feel really uncomfortable with the idea of the adoptive mom breastfeeding the child. Please see this thread for a robust discussion about the issue. Many birth parents feel that if an adoptive parent is breastfeeding, that somehow they are attempting to create a biological connection that doesn’t exist. I can totally see how those feelings could arise, and I don’t generally think that adoptive parents are trying to deny the adoptive part of their relationship with the child. I think instead it’s about wanting to do what is best for the baby both in bonding and nutritionally. However, with the great nutrition provided by formula these days, it seems really reasonable to do what is best for the whole triad (birth parents, baby and adoptive parents).
Because this is such a huge issue for so many birth moms, I would caution all those considering breastfeeding to have an open and honest conversation about it during the match time period. It’s far better to come to an agreement beforehand than to have misunderstanding and hurt feelings in the early days of an adoption.
All of this shouldn’t dissuade you if you are very committed to breastfeeding. There are many birth moms who would love for their child to receive the benefits of breast milk, despite the many who would prefer no breastfeeding. It’s just a matter of finding the right match, and breastfeeding is one issue that may help in narrowing the choices.
With the socio-cultural discussion out on the table, let’s get to the technical aspects!
First, breast milk production is triggered by a parade of hormones that includes estrogen, progesterone and prolactin. When a woman delivers a baby, the high levels of estrogen and progesterone in her body fall to low levels, while the level of prolactin remains elevated. In order to lactate, you have to imitate this process chemically.
There are several protocols on the web about how to do this, but one of the preferred methods (Newman-Goldfarb) involves taking birth control pills for a period of time and then stopping this about 2 months before you plan to breastfeed. At this point, your care provider will have you start pumping every three hours (including at night) with a hospital grade breast pump. If you are lucky to have a provider who will prescribe it for you, you can use Domperidone in conjunction with pumping. If you don’t have such a large lead time, there are also accelerated protocols which you can use.
When doing the full protocol, you may already have a small amount of milk available to the baby at the time of delivery. If you and your birth mom are committed to your plan, it is worth letting the folks in the nursery know that you plan to breastfeed, so that they can avoid giving the baby a bottle in order to prevent nipple confusion (which is controversial, but why take the chance!).
In order to encourage the baby to take the breast, some people use a Lact-Aid or SNS system to allow the baby to get formula while at the breast. This can be helpful in the early days of breastfeeding the adopted child (or any child for that matter where the milk supply is low). There are also other supplements that may be helpful to boost supply including fenugreek, blessed thistle tea, reglan, and oatmeal to name a few. Putting the baby to breast frequently is essential. The actual act of suckling is probably the best hormonal stimulation for milk production and in many traditional cultures, this is all that is needed to induce lactation.
With our already hectic family life, that I couldn’t commit to the protocol. Couple that with our birth family’s views on breastfeeding and the possibility that our match wouldn’t actually happen, and we decided that we weren’t going to go this route. The best that we could do was to use the rest of my freezer stash from Little Jacks to feed to Jack Jack by bottle. There was enough milk for Jack Jack to have 2 bottles a day for almost six months! I was pretty wistful when I thawed that last bag and fed it to her at such a young age, but I did have a sense of peace that we did what was best for the entire triad.
There are 2 goals in breastfeeding the adopted child: one is a mechanism for bonding with your child and the other is nutrition. Some find that the nutrition is the less important aspect and are content with a very small amount of milk produced as long as they have the bonding experience of breastfeeding. For us, the nutritional aspect was the most important, as Jack Jack and I quickly bonded without the need for breast feeding! If this is the most important aspect for you, donated milk is a great option. We have friends who used some of our milk for their adopted baby while I was feeding Little Jacks. You could check for friends with leftover freezer stash or you could look online for sources.
Here is a great comprehensive resource if you want to learn more: http://www.drmomma.org/2010/04/induced-lactation.html
Are you going to try adoptive breastfeeding? Please let me know how it goes if you are!
Mrs. Jacks on Adoption part 15 of 151. Which Road Should We Take? by Mrs. Jacks
2. Baby steps by Mrs. Jacks
3. Doubts and dreams by Mrs. Jacks
4. Preparing Little Jacks by Mrs. Jacks
5. We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy! by Mrs. Jacks
6. Even more choices… and these are heavy! by Mrs. Jacks
7. Impressions by Mrs. Jacks
8. Creating an adoption profile by Mrs. Jacks
9. Openness in adoption: striking the right balance by Mrs. Jacks
10. The birth story, adoption-style by Mrs. Jacks
11. The birth story, adoption style Part II by Mrs. Jacks
12. The birth story, adoption-style Part III by Mrs. Jacks
13. Monthly birth parent updates by Mrs. Jacks
14. Where to begin? Maybe at the end… by Mrs. Jacks
15. Breastfeeding the adopted child by Mrs. Jacks