Breastfeeding the Adopted Child

It's an option you can consider.

Sonia Billadeau January 08, 2014
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Although it may sound counter-intuitive, adoption and breastfeeding can go together. It’s a very personal decision– and not everyone’s cup of tea (or milk, more to the point). Having the option to breastfeed your child can be a wonderful, although perhaps unexpected, gift of the adoption journey.

Not just a boob job

Breastfeeding is not only about feeding, nor is it only about breasts. Aside from the pregnancy, nothing ties a mother to her child more closely– mind, body, and soul– than the physical act of providing nourishment from her own body.

Although lactation is simply the secretion of milk by the mammary glands, a seemingly straightforward biological function, the nursing of a child involves much more than the fleshy bulges on the front of a woman’s body.

The connection between brain and breast is as tangible as itch to scratch, and mammals on both sides of the nipple instinctively understand the cues that indicate that it’s feeding time for Junior. Ungulates, hoofed mammals like deer and cows and giraffe, rely on a nudge and gush system, with the baby doing the nudging, and the mother responding with breakfast. A nursing human mother’s milk can be stimulated by less violent gestures, such as a glance at a clock showing nap time is almost over, or a baby’s hungry cry.

Lactation expert Dr. Jack Newman has these encouraging words for mothers considering breastfeeding:

You are about to adopt a baby and you want to breastfeed him? Wonderful! It is not only possible, it is fairly easy and the chances are you will produce a significant amount of milk. It is not complicated, but it is different than breastfeeding a baby with whom you have been pregnant for 9 months.

Not just newborns

It can be easier to get the process underway with a newborn, but older infants have been breastfed by their adoptive moms too. With either, it takes planning, dedication and will, but many women who want to nurse their adopted children are able to so.

The two primary hurdles that must be overcome are basic: one, you need to produce at least some milk, and two, your baby must take it from the breast.

There are many resources to turn to for guidance in both areas. The La Leche League provides advice, coaching, and products for adopted newborn and older babies. Adoption.com has everything from discussion boards and forums, to manuals, tips, supplements, and fact sheets that will explain, illustrate, encourage and inform.

Get started early

If breastfeeding is something you would like to have as an option with your child, you will need to start preparing as soon as possible, as it can take a while to get things flowing, so to speak. Even if you are not able to produce enough milk to satisfy all the baby’s needs, the bit of breast milk you can provide, combined with the experience you and your child will enjoy from the process of this tender sharing, will go a long way toward building the loving relationship that will carry through the years.

Although it’s true that breastfeeding is not only about breasts, breasts are certainly involved. There may be some who will take issue with drafting them into use with a child you haven’t gestated. Family members and friends made aware of your preparations to nurse your adopted child may have questions, concerns, or judgments.

Because milk and mind are so melded, chances of success in breastfeeding will be seriously degraded if you find yourself second-guessing your decision or rethinking your dedication. You will need a strong commitment from the beginning and a comfort level for the duration that allows the relaxation and focus necessary to produce milk and provide your child a stress-free experience. Educating loved ones, or convincing, or ignoring–whatever works–is required.

If breastfeeding your baby is important to you, and if you’re willing to make the commitment and do the work it takes, it is possible. They’re your breasts and it’s your baby, so you make the call.

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Sonia Billadeau


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