As our culture continues to (re)normalize breastfeeding, it is important to note that in adoption, breastfeeding is much less common. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Many adoptive mothers are choosing to induce lactation in order to breastfeed an adopted infant and have various reasons for doing so. There are also good reasons for expectant mothers to consider breastfeeding before placement.
Health Benefits for Mom – One of the first benefits of breastfeeding for a new mom is the release of oxytocin (the same hormone that brings on labor contractions), which naturally helps reduce the size of the uterus and minimizes the chances of hemorrhage following birth. Long-term benefits include a decreased risk of breast- and ovarian-cancers and a faster return to pre-pregnancy weight (with proper nutrition). Even a short amount of time breastfeeding will heed these benefits.
*As a side note, many birth mothers are choosing to continue lactating and donate expressed breastmilk after placement, whether to the child they placed, milk banks, or local Newborn Intensive Care Units. For more information, visit www.nationalmilkbank.org and www.lalecheleague.org.
Health Benefits for Baby – Breast milk is nutritionally perfect. It has everything your baby needs, in perfect balance, to grow and thrive. When breastfeeding your child prior to placement, he or she will likely only be receiving colostrum, sometimes called “liquid gold.” Thick, sticky, and yellowish in color, colostrum is low in fat and high in protein, antibodies, and carbohydrates. It is a natural laxative and helps baby begin passing meconium, or the first stool, which lowers their chances of experiencing high bilirubin levels. Colostrum is easily digested and helps protect baby’s sensitive gut. The antibodies in colostrum are passed from the mother, giving the baby better protection against illness.
Bonding – The hormone oxytocin, mentioned above, is also known as the “love hormone.” Since it is produced during breastfeeding, it helps bond mother to her child. When breastfeeding before placement, this benefit makes the decision to breastfeed difficult. Some women want to bond with their child before placement; some feel it will make separation more difficult. Each woman must make this decision for herself. Other bonding benefits are skin-to-skin contact and being the only person who can provide nutrition for baby.
No Regrets – Although breastfeeding does bring mother and baby closer prior to placement, it is important to have no regrets about the time spent with your baby. Most regrets about the time prior to placement includes things that were NOT done, not things that were done. It is difficult to regret giving your child the very best nutritional start to life.
Future Breastfeeding Success – Even if you only breastfeed for 2 or 3 days before placement, learning how to help your infant properly latch and understanding breastfeeding will lead to future success. Breastfeeding your baby will also lead to future breastfeeding success for the adoptive mother, if she chooses to breastfeed.
I was very fortunate to have an open discussion with my birth son’s mother prior to placement about our mutual desire to breastfeed. I wanted him to have the best start to life, and she wanted to experience breastfeeding and the special bonding that comes with it. We both respected (and were overjoyed by) each other’s decision, and subsequently helped the other find success in breastfeeding.
Did you breastfeed your birth child or adopted child? What was your experience? Please share in the comments below, I love to hear others’ stories and (respectful) opinions.
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Alicia Dermer, MD, IBCLC, Old Bridge NJ USA, NEW BEGINNINGS. “A Well-Kept Secret: Breastfeeding’s Benefits to Mothers.” Vol. 18 No. 4, July-August 2001, p. 124-127