As an adoptive parent, I wanted to experience as many norms as a biological parent would. After hearing “breast is best” so many times, I wanted to give my son the best, too. I also had the added testimony of a healthy, thriving, and intelligent biological son, whom I did breastfeed for over a year, as proof in the pudding. When we first started the adoption process, I mourned the loss of the bonding and health benefits of breastfeeding. Then I started wondering if I could also breastfeed the child we were hoping to adopt. At first I wondered how people would perceive me breastfeeding a child who wasn’t biologically mine. Was it weird? Unnatural? I got mixed responses when I started asking people’s opinions, but after hearing a lot of praise of the idea, if possible, I started researching more. Here’s what I learned in my journey:
1. The Protocol
I researched online A LOT and found there are many methods used to induce lactation or send signals to your body to lactate. I met with a lactation consultant, free of charge, at one of my local hospitals and talked to my personal doctors about the best options for me and my own health. A few good books, a lot of options, and a great support system put me on a path that I felt was right for me.
2. A Good Pump
Part of inducing lactation or re-lactating is having a good pump. You’ll need constant stimulation before the milk comes in to send the signals to the prolactin-secreting portions of the brain. You may find that you need to continue pumping between feedings as well if a full supply is not achieved immediately. The difference between a cheap pump and a high-grade pump can be comfort, suction, more natural simulation, ease, and speed. You can buy a high-end pump or rent one from the lactation department of a hospital. Sometimes, with a written prescription, your health insurance plan may cover the cost.
Whether you are going with a protocol that includes medication to mimic pregnancy and prolactin production, or you are strictly using a physical stimulation method to bring on lactation, there are some natural supplements that mothers have been using for a very long time. Some things you can use to increase milk supply are extra fluids, oatmeal, quinoa, Mother’s Milk Tea, Fenugreek, Goat’s Rue, Blessed Thistle, and more. But as always, before changing your diet or adding supplements, it is best to discuss with your healthcare provider.
You may have heard Colostrum referred to as “liquid gold.” It is the pre-milk that is a thick yellowish substance that contains a lot of beneficial antibodies that are passed on from mother to infant in the days leading up to milk coming in. The colostrum is a beneficial piece of breastfeeding and, unfortunately, something that cannot be produced with induced lactation. If your child’s first mother would like to breastfeed in the hospital before TPR, rest easy that it is not only her right, but highly beneficial to the baby.
By doing your research before inducing lactation, you will learn that many women who induce will never achieve a full milk supply. If you set your expectations on nursing with the intent of a natural bonding experience, you will not be disappointed. With my biological son, I never once supplemented with formula. If I had assumed I would have the same experience breastfeeding my son through adoption, I would have been extremely devastated with the outcome.
6. The Unexpected
Roll with the unexpected. While I personally used the medical approach of inducing lactation with hormone therapy, I had to learn that unexpected twists in the adoption journey can happen. The first woman we were matched with pre-birth was very supportive of my desire to breastfeed, but she decided to parent instead of place. While I fully supported her decision, I still had to take time to mourn the loss of the daughter I thought I would have. I stopped my protocol, and when our family was rematched and our son born 3 weeks earlier than expected, I hadn’t had the same amount of time to dedicate to the hormone therapy. His birth parents were also very supportive of me inducing lactation and were eager to see it work. While I did have some milk at his birth, I wasn’t producing enough to satisfy a whole feeding.
7. Supplementing Feedings
One thing you can expect is the need to supplement. While some women are able to achieve a full supply of milk without having given birth, it is extremely rare. You do have choices in how you supplement. Breast milk donation is one way to supplement your own breast milk production. Whether you have a friend or family member who is willing to help, the birth mother who wants to continue providing breast milk, or a breast milk bank, there are ways to continue solely with breast milk. But if you decide to supplement with formula, there are a variety to choose from, and supplementation systems designed to mimic the breast feeding bond. If you prefer to bottle feed, then your partner can also get in on the feedings and allow you some freedom in returning to work or leaving your child with a caretaker for periods of time.
The advances in formula over the last few decades have come in leaps and bounds. Formula can be used as supplementation or replacement for breast milk. It can be a crucial dietary lifesaver. “Failure to thrive” is when a child’s needs aren’t being met nutritionally, physically, or emotionally. Babies may have food sensitives, colic, acid reflux or other health concerns, and the type of formula you choose can assure that your child is getting his nutritional needs so he can thrive. There are many brands, recipes, and options that will fit the needs of your child.
So what if you don’t achieve a full supply of milk and you have to supplement with formula; have you failed? What if you never get any milk after diligent effort; have you failed? What if you research adoptive breastfeeding and decided it’s not for you; have you failed? The answer is a resounding NO! Feed your baby. No matter what method you choose, as long as your baby is eating and you are growing together as a new family, you have succeeded!
I was able to breastfeed my adopted son for the first month. While I had purchased an expensive pump, a supplementing feeding system, and many other tools to try to gain a stronger milk supply, I ended up accepting that he was thriving with the supplemented formula and eventually switched over to only formula feedings. I cherish that first month of skin to skin contact, gentle suckles, and his big blue eyes staring up at me while his tiny fingers clenched on to me. I may not have had the same experience I had with over a year of exclusive breastfeeding like I had with my first son, but I made new, beautiful memories with him, and for that I am very grateful.
No matter what method of feeding you decide on, enjoy every second with your new baby. As I sit here enjoying my morning coffee and the blissful sound of my 2 1/2-year-old son and husband playing with tools in the floor, I realize time goes by way too fast. Don’t sweat the small stuff.