Breastfeeding is a choice for adoptive moms too


P’nina Shames
Focus on Adoption magazine

Many people assume that breastfeeding is not an option in adoption. P’nina Shames interviewed two Kootenay- based adoptive moms, Carol and Sherri, who were successful. Here they share some of their secrets.

Why did you breastfeed?

Carol: I wanted to create the same bond with my adopted child that I have with my biological child. Besides being good for the baby, studies show that it helps reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Sherri: I wanted to give my baby the best nutrition possible, and it was another way to bond.

How did you get the milk going? 

Carol: I had less than a week between learning about the baby and having him in my arms. Since I nursed before, I was confident that I could do it again. I got information by Dr. Jack Newman from the Internet, and my doctor gave me a prescription for Domperidone (10mg three times a day for 30 days.) This is a medication that is prescribed to help move food through the stomach; a side-effect is that it stimulates lactation. 

After we picked up our son, we bottlefed him until we returned to Canada; then I used a lactation aid that supplied formula while I nursed him. The aid was a small bottle that hung around my neck with two tubes that came out of the bottom of the bottle. I would feed one end of the tube into the baby’s mouth (along with my breast) as he nursed. This way he was rewarded with formula for nursing. The suction of the baby nursing also works to stimulate breast milk production. Our baby did not like the lactation aid, but we kept going for almost two weeks until I had milk to nurse him.  Once I produced milk, I stopped using the lactation aid. During this time it was difficult to get him to latch on. There were a lot of tears from both of us. I lived through this with my first child, so I knew it was just a matter of time.

Sherri: I went on a birth control pill for 39 days with Domperidone (20mg four times a day). Five weeks before the due date of our baby, I stopped taking the birth control pill and kept taking the Domperidone—then I started pumping. An electric breast pump works best but has to be rented from the hospital. The Avent manual pump also works well. This stimulates the breasts and helps with milk flow. Manual pumps and single-sided powered pumps can be purchased in the baby sections of most department stores or baby specialty shops. By the time our son was born, I had plenty of milk for him, and once he started suckling, I produced more milk all the time.

Can women who have never been pregnant breastfeed?

Carol: I have friends who have never been pregnant and have successfully breastfed.

How long have you been breastfeeding now? 

Carol: I’ve been successfully nursing for over a year. At the beginning we supplemented the nursing with formula—I had milk, but not enough. I think that if I had been more persistent and didn’t rely on bottles when we were out during the day, I would have produced enough  milk to breastfeed exclusively. The reality was it was easier to feed the baby a bottle when we went shopping or out visiting friends. I sure wasn’t going to use a lactation aid outside of the home. I found a few bottles a day, with no lactation aid, to be convenient. By the time he was six months old, he refused to take a bottle and nursed exclusively. 

Sherri: My son is now six months old, and I have been breastfeeding with no supplementing since he was six weeks. I did use my frozen breast milk with the tube feeder. I had a six weeks’ supply of it. Your frozen breast milk or a formula can be added until you have enough milk. Or if you don’t get any milk, the tube feeder (lactation aid) is still an excellent way to nurse your baby and bond. I was nervous I wasn’t having enough milk on my own and afraid of starving him. Our GP did not want me to give him formula after I ran out of the frozen milk. Freeze any of the milk you pump—it’s like gold. We weighed him once a week to see if I had enough milk coming in, and I did.

Have you had any troubles with breastfeeding?

Carol: When my baby was three months old he was hospitalized for dehydration. He stopped nursing or taking a bottle. We could tell dehydration was a problem because he had “brick  straining” in his diaper. (The urine crystallizes and looks like the colour of brick.) It turned out that he had a throat infection, and it was painful to eat.  When he was seven months old he went on a nursing strike. This was a concern because he would not take a bottle. After two days I called the lactation consultant and she told me it was common for babies to go on strike. Eventually, he began nursing again.

Sherri: We didn’t have any trouble at all.

What are some of the helpful resources?

Carol: A lactation consultant who has worked with adoptive mothers is invaluable. I also made an effort to meet other nursing moms. They helped me learn and listened patiently as I explained my many problems. Check with your local health unit. They often know about  groups for new moms. 

Sherri: I e-mailed Jack Newman directly. Talk to the local La Leche League representative in your area it should be helpful. I was also lucky to have had two adoptive moms to talk to. One of them tried to breastfeed but it didn’t work, possibly because the birth control pill and herbs were not used at that time (this was about six years before I started). The other mom had had a biological child and maybe the pregnancy beforehand helped her to achieve getting milk. The information from both of them was so very helpful.

What advice would you give to other moms? 

Carol: I would tell them that it is an individual choice. It isn’t always easy to nurse a baby, but, if you are interested in trying, go for it. Do not be disappointed if you don’t produce much milk. Try a lactation aid but, really, just cuddle and enjoy your baby.

Sherri: Be patient. It’s a lot of work but worth it.

Why might some adoptive moms not succeed? 

Carol: There are biological changes that happen in the breast tissue when a woman is pregnant. These changes make it possible for her to lactate. If the breast is not going to produce milk, then there is no sense in feeling bad. I know of many biological mothers who choose to bottlefeed instead of breastfeed. The babies grow up to be healthy, happy, well-bonded babies.

Sherri: Milk supply may not come in for all women, this is just something out of our control. Remember, you can still breastfeed by using the lactation aid. It will be the same bonding experience. If it doesn’t work, don’t be too upset. There are a lot of biological moms who can’t breastfeed.

P’nina Shames, RSW, practices in the West Kootenays, contracting to adoption agencies.