Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Adoptive Breastfeeding Journey

By Teglene Ryan © 2010
Read more from Teglene at The Breastfeeding Mother



I always knew I wanted to breastfeed my children. I couldn’t imagine doing it any differently. I was lucky enough to give birth to two beautiful boys and I enjoyed breastfeeding them both. Not that it was easy or without struggle, but it was what I wanted to do and loved doing it. In fact, I liked it so much, and felt so passionate about breastfeeding that I became a La Leche League Leader, so that I could help other breastfeeding moms. I really took to the idea of “Mothering through breastfeeding”. It wasn’t just a feeding method for me, but a relationship with my child.

My husband and I always talked about adopting a child who needed a family. We thought, if we can’t have kids of our own then we will adopt. Even if we can have kids of our own, maybe we will still adopt. After the birth of our second son it became clear that going through another pregnancy was not going to be good for me or our family. My doctor told me not to risk it, that my health was at stake. But we wanted another child. Well, here was our chance to adopt!

We chose to adopt a child out of foster care. We found an adoption agency that places foster children into adoptive homes. We went through all of the training, the homestudy, and all of the waiting. We were open to adopting one or two children (there are lots of sibling groups needing homes) between the ages of 0-5 years old. I knew that I really wanted to breastfeed another baby. I also knew that it was much more likely that we would get a toddler. There was also the issue of would it be okay to breastfeed a foster child? Would I just not tell anyone and do it anyway?

Either way I spent hours researching adoptive breastfeeding. I joined adoptive breastfeeding discussion boards like Ask Lenore and Four Friends. I read every book on the subject, including Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby and Relactation. I read the article Foster Breastfeeding over and over. I tracked down foster moms who had breastfed their foster babies in California (some successfully, and one who described a baby being taken from her home after the baby’s doctor “turned her in”).

On Monday July 6, 2009, we drove to South Lake Tahoe (about a 2 hour drive) to meet with a social worker. We were one of a few families they were considering placing a newborn girl with. We knew that the baby was a “safe surrender” baby, and that she was born premature. They had already asked if we would be able to go stay in Reno (where she was in the hospital) so that we could have daily visits with her in the NICU until she was ready to come home. It would be a few more weeks until she was ready.

We learned at that meeting that we had been chosen to bring her home if we wanted. Also, the hospital had just called and she was ready to go home! The social worker asked if we could go out to Reno, spend the night in the hospital with the baby, and take her home the next day. Of course we said yes (and I cried, a lot!).

At one point in the meeting the social worker looked at me and asked, “Are you going to breastfeed her?” For a moment I wondered if this was a trick question. My heart skipped a beat. But it wasn’t a trick. “We were so excited to see that you are a La Leche League Leader, and were hoping that you would plan to breastfeed her.” I knew this baby needed to be breastfed and I wasn’t going to have to do it “behind closed doors” as many fost/adopt moms told me they did.

I told them that I would if I was allowed. They couldn’t think of any reason why not, but decided that we would not talk about it any more, or put it in writing anywhere. You just never know how someone might react. People can be weird about breastfeeding.

In that meeting we also learned that this little baby was a bit of a miracle. All of the doctors and nurses at the hospital could not understand why she was alive and doing so well. She was born in a campground in the mountains above Lake Tahoe. Her birth mother did not know she was pregnant. In fact she did not know she was giving birth until she heard the baby cry. The birth mother was taken to a local hospital while the baby was flown to the NICU in Reno. To this day I don’t know if the birth mom ever saw the baby, or even knows if it is a boy or a girl. She gave very little information at the hospital when she surrendered the baby (I won’t get into the paperwork mess that her in one hospital and the baby in another at the time of surrender lead to). She said that she drank alcohol about every other week and smoked a half a pack of cigarettes a day. She told them she did no illegal drugs, however she tested positive for THC (as well as alcohol) at the hospital after the birth.

The baby weighed 3 lbs 2.8 ounces at birth. She was exposed and unreachable by rescuers for 30-45 minutes after the birth. (Even a full term newborn can quickly succumb to hypothermia right after birth, not to mention a 3 lb baby.) At first they expected she whould be in the NICU for about 2 months. She surprised everyone when she needed no help breathing and was quickly eating and gaining weight.

When we went to meet her at the hospital she was 17 days old. The NICU nurses were very nice. They had all “adopted” her temporarily. It was clear that she was a very special baby to all of them. However, she was exclusively bottle-fed formula that whole time and I was wanting to breastfeed her. I was told by the NICU nurses to “just shove it in there” when I held the bottle nipple to her mouth, waiting for her to open like she would for the breast. I was shown the “right” way to hold her and give her the bottle, with her on my lap, away from my body.


She was to be fed on a strict every 3 hours schedule. We were told to not hold her too much. “You can’t hold her so much like that when you get her home. You need to put her down so that she can sleep. She really needs to rest.” I smiled and nodded, knowing that we would be leaving in a matter of hours and that when we got home this baby would not get put down for the next several months.

The NICU doctor told us that we MUST keep her on the special 22 calories per ounce formula until she was 12 months old, no matter what her pediatrician said, no matter how well she was growing. Again I smiled and nodded, knowing full well I was going to do everything in my power to get her off of this formula. I had my own “special formula” in mind for her.

We gave her a name we had picked out for a baby girl years earlier. The next morning when we took her home she weighed 4 lbs. 0.8 ounces.

When we got home I called my LLL co-leader and she drove into town and up the mountain to my house to bring me a hospital grade, Medela Symphony breast pump and a Starter SNS. I needed to get started on bringing in a milk supply! I also went on-line and ordered a Lact-Aid, the at-breast supplementer of choice of adoptive moms. On-line I also ordered domperidone (a prescription that has the side effect of increasing prolactin levels, that is not available in the US) from a pharmacy in New Zealand.

I took my baby up to my room and lay back on the pillows on my bed. I took off my shirt and put her in only a diaper. I put her warm, tiny little body on my bare chest. She wasted no time. She threw herself down and latched onto my right breast. She started sucking and her body completely relaxed. She was home. She had found her mommy. Now, I just needed to make some milk!


The first few weeks I tried to put formula in the Starter SNS and then the Lact-Aid and feed her at the breast. She could latch on great, but her suck was weak and she could not get any of the formula through the tube. I went ahead and got a full sized SNS to try as, unlike the Lact-Aid, liquid would flow out just with gravity. I bottle fed, and then tried the SNS a couple of times a day. Eventually she could get an ounce from the SNS. Gradually I increased the number of feedings at the breast. Soon she could nurse with the Lact-Aid and get formula from that as well.

After about a month I did all of the daytime feedings with the Lact-Aid. I ordered more parts so that I only needed to wash and prepare the Lact-Aid supplies once a day. Soon I fed with the Lact-Aid around the clock and completely eliminated all bottles. I stopped pumping at this point, as she was nursing very frequently. I encouraged her to nurse for comfort, or for what little milk she could get between formula feedings.

She was such a good little nurser! She would nurse for a while on one breast, then let go and move to the other side. This is what breastfed babies will do naturally after finishing one breast, but I had to move the tube over to the other side so that she could keep eating. She would nurse and nurse for hours, even when she was getting very little milk. We would often take “nursing vacation” days when Papa took her big brothers out for the day. I carefully watched her weight gain to make sure I wasn’t being too stingy with the formula. I wanted to give her the smallest amount she needed so that she would nurse more and get more from me to help stimulate my supply.

Soon I was able to nurse her first thing in the morning and satisfy her. I would just keep nursing her until it became so frequent that it was clear she needed some formula.


I was so excited when I realized I could go from about 3am until 10 am without using formula. Then I could go until 11am, then 1pm, then 3pm! Before I knew it she would get formula at about 2 am and I didn’t need to give more until about 4 in the afternoon. I could go out of the house with her all morning and not need to bring bags of formula! I was exclusively breastfeeding for more than half the day! She soon gave up her pacifier that she came home from the hospital with. Once you have the real thing, no substitutes will do!

When it got to the point that she needed two, 2-4 ounce servings of formula in the evening I stopped using the Lact-Aid. If I had to fill one more bag or clean out the tubing one more time I was going to go crazy!! She was 5 months old when she was only breastfeeding with the exception of two bottles of formula in the evening, getting a total of 4-8 ounces per day. She would nurse both before and after the bottles of formula. I really wanted to breastfeed exclusively, but this was pretty darn good!

At 6 months old I started to offer her solid foods. She LOVED them! She was on WIC and they gave her an obscene amount of jars of fruits and vegetables and boxes of baby cereal. She gobbled it all up. Within a week we had dropped one serving of formula and the next week we dropped the last one. She was now EXCLUSIVELY BREASTFED! (Well, along with some solids, but close enough!) She never had a bottle again. In fact, the one time I left her at 9 months old for a few hours, she would have nothing to do with a bottle.


I thought that when she turned one year I would stop taking the domperidone. As I tried to wean off of it my supply really dropped. Baby got pretty frustrated. So, I did some more research and decided it was safe for me to continue to take the domperidone longer and ordered another 6 month supply. Making More Milk describes a study showing no adverse effects for people taking 120 mg/day for over 10 years, and although for a while I took as much as 160 mg/day, I am down to only 90 mg/day.


At 15 months old she is still going strong. I really enjoy nursing her to sleep at nap time and bedtime. I love cuddling in bed with her early in the morning and hearing her gulp down my milk. I can’t imagine stopping any time soon.

When I breastfed my boys my goal was to nurse them for at least two years, as this is the suggested minimum by the World Health Organization. I learned about so many benefits of breastfeeding well into toddlerhood, that I really wanted to do this. Sadly, I only nursed my boys 14 months each. We ended early for different reasons with each, but both times I was disappointed that I did not make my goal. I still feel like I let them down, even though I know that I did the best I could at the time with the given circumstances. I am hopeful that I can nurse my daughter at least 2 years, and as long as she wants. I got another chance.




~~~~

For further information about nursing your foster or adopted baby and induced lactation see:

The Adoptive Breastfeeding Resource Website

Dr. Jack Newman & Enith Kernerman: Breastfeeding Your Adoptive Baby or Baby Born by Surrogate

Adoption.com's section on breastfeeding

Induced Lactation

Another mother's experience: Breastfeeding My Adopted Child

Dr. Jack Newman Lactation Aid (homemade instructions)

Ask your local La Leche League leaders and/or lactation consultants for names of mothers who have nursed their adopted children.

Books:
Breastfeeding the Adopted Baby, by Debra Peterson
Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby and Relactation by Elizabeth Hormann

Many of the same techniques used to trigger milk supply for working mothers who must be away from their babies all day, every day, are the same gentle parenting measures that will help adoptive moms increase supply as well. For further information on these natural-hormone boosting ideas, see: Balancing Breastfeeding: When Moms Must Work.

For breastmilk donations, look into a variety of resources available.

Additional breastfeeding resources can be found here.

~~~~

42 comments:

  1. Such a beautiful, wonderful story! Thank you for sharing.

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  2. Yay! What a gorgeous breastfed baby and so lucky to have a mom like you! Wonderful story. I wish more adoptive moms knew this was an option with adoption!

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  3. Awww, I love that last picture of the little girl in her dress!

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  4. A very beautiful and inspiring story! Your daughter is blessed to have such a tenacious and dedicated mother.

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  5. I really love this story. Thank-you for the inspiration and the details. Families need to know that adoptive (or surrogate) breastfeeding is possible and worth it but certainly not easy.

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  6. This is lovely! I had never heard of the possibility of breastfeeding an adopted child until the last year of so... it's great that you were willing to share your beautiful story. Hopefully, this will enlighten more moms to what is possible if you just persevere.
    Thank you!

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  7. What a beautiful story and a gorgeous baby.

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  8. What a beautiful story. Babies do know their mamas whether they are born to them or not. I love it that she knew what to do and so so glad you nurse her. Keep going!

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  9. I cried when I read how she immediately took to nursing! What a beautiful story!

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  10. Thank you so much for sharing such an inspiring story and being willing to educate others about the possibilities of adoptive nursing. What a beautiful journey!

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  11. YAY! What a wonderful story! My foster baby (got her at 6 weeks after a 3 week hospital stay, tiny and FAS) who just couldn't digest formula well at all. We got permission for my friend to donate milk and she got better so quickly. Foster wouldn't give me permission to breastfeed so I didn't try until she was a year old after adoption. I tried faithfully for a month with no luck but it was a great bonding experience to have my hormones upped. Good for you and your story, I hope word gets out about the possibility of breast milk for foster babies. They've been through so much already, what a great gift.

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  12. Bless you and bless your little girl. She is a lucky child to have such a devoted mommy. I love you're story.

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  13. Your story brought back so many memories! I nursed both of my sons (bio and adopted), and the nursing experiences were wonderful in both cases. The older one is 23 now, and the younger one is almost 12. Coincidentally, both children nursed until they were about 3-1/2 years old. If you're interested, I'd love to share my story in more detail.

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  14. This is absolutely the most beautiful thing I have ever read. If only every foster and adopted baby was loved like your daughter is loved... Tears were falling down my cheeks as I read how you took "nursing vacations" with her, how you knew she would be held always once you got home, how she ditched the pacifier when she learned she could always have 'the real thing.' Thank you so much for sharing. It is both inspiring and a cause for celebration. Much love mama!!

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  15. I am adopted and I thought I was lucky. What dedication and unconditional love. Good luck with your goal-my baby is 16 months and still nursing strong.

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  16. I LOVE your story!!! I nurse my 7 month old and pump exclusively for one other baby that I donate to. I get so frustrated when I hear of ppl giving up on their bodies and their babies.

    When someone thinks they CANT, they need to reads this post. One would think your body shouldn't have been able to nurse, but you manipulated it with diligence! awesome job!!!

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  17. Thank you so much for this story! I can see myself in her shoes some day. I have a son, and I want to try for another, although with my health I may only get one more pregnancy. If I have another boy, we will want to adopt a girl (we may well want to adopt, anyway, either gender).

    I very much want to breastfeed all my children, and I tried to find info on relactation, should I need to do that. I'm happy to find some resources here.

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  18. What a wonderful story, the picture her latched on brings back so many memories for me. What a beautiful little girl you have :)

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  19. Hello! We are right where you were. I have had three biological children and we are in teh process of trying to adopt a newborn as well. i strongly want to nurse this little one too. I nursed my three previous children, so i am praying that the social worker will be agreeable to teh matter. Reading your story gives me hope. :) Thank you fro posting it! i would love some tips on using a lactaid long term, just mom to mom tips, using it while out and about and stuff. I know its not likely you would get this post, but if you do, thanks. Anyway, thank you again fro writing this, so woncderful!!!

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  20. oh what a wonderful story :) made me cry. beautiful.

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  21. As an adopted child myself and now breastfeeding my second son, thank you so much for sharing your story, and for being so generous. Not only adopting a child, but also bf her. Hope more people would be like you.

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  22. What a beautiful story, pictures & little girl. Thank you for sharing!!!!!

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  23. this is so amazing and lovely, your daughter is beautiful and you are are AWESOME!!!!!

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  24. What an inspiring story. I wish I could give it to every person who gave up breastfeeding because it was "too hard"! You are truly an angel sent to this little girl who started her life with the odds stacked against her.

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  25. What a beautiful and inspiring Mentor you are. If you would like a hand clearing the Domperidone out of your system (and your gorgeous babe's) post lactation using safe, natural homeopathics, I'd be more than happy to assist you. Warmest, Allyson (Dr. of Natural Medicine)

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  26. A friend of mine posted this on Facebook. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I have also, for health reasons, been unable to have more children. I have three now, but I desperately want to be a foster mom. I have had questions about the appropriateness of breastfeeding foster babies, and have wondered if I still might be able to (my youngest is 7) Thank you, thank you for the wonderful resources! This comes at a timely manner, since I was just thinking about this today!

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  27. A friend of mine posted this on Facebook. I too have been unable to have more children due to medical reasons. However, I desperately want to foster parent. I have had so many questions about how appropriate it is to breastfeed someone else's child and whatnot. I have also wondered whether I still would be able to breastfeed since my youngest is almost 8. I had heard of this hormone to help you produce milk, but didn't know what it was called or how to get it. Thank you, thank you, for this wonderful resource!! What a beautiful story.

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  28. A beautiful story about another baby who had everything going against her but blossomed at her adoptive mother's breast! Two of my six adopted children came to me with very serious problems that made it so that everyone else who was offered the chance to adopt them had refused. My experience with the first of them, Thomas, was quite similar to yours with Olivia. Thomas didn't wean, completely, until he was four years old. He now has a beautiful little girl of his own! My daughter, Julia, was even more of a challenge. She came to me at six months old, with severe physical and emotional challenges. She was being fed primarily through a gastrostomy and had no idea that sucking was comforting. It took several months to figure out how to get her from wanting nothing to do with me and only being able to take a tiny amount from a bottle without vomiting, to a happy, securely attached little girl who loved to nurse, but it was worth all of the patience and creativity it took! Julia nursed until she was a little past two.

    I know many other stories of little ones who faced tremendous challenges, who have thrived at their adoptive mothers' breasts. It is a challenge, especially if the child meets his/her adoptive mom beyond the first few months of life, but one that is well worth the effort!

    If you have Debra Peterson's book, you have seen pictures of me with my fifth adopted baby, Joseph. We are the white mother and the adorable, chubby, black baby.

    Darillyn Starr
    noelani54@hotmail.com

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  29. I'm 28 and adopting my teenage sister's baby --- we're about 18 weeks pregnant right now. When I decided to adopt, while completely excited and thrilled about becoming a mother, I also knew I would be missing out on something very important that, until now, I only thought birth mothers got to experience; that unique bond between mother and child that is established through the joy of breast feeding. I have always wanted to breast feed my children, but since I have never been able to have children myself, I had almost given up on the hope that I would ever get to experience this. When I read these posts, and other stories like yours, I broke down in sobs --- mind you, this is a very emotional time for me, lol! But my tears were of joy that it really could be possible! I can actually do this and have this chance to bond --- truly bond --- with my baby! I'm not naive to think that I can just read what everyone says they did and try it out myself and have success. I know I am going to need guidance and help in learning how to make my body respond --- but my baby is worth it. So with that said, I want to breast feed, but I don't know how soon I should start preparing my body for breast feeding. Any suggestions???? I don't want to supplement with hormones and medications if at all possible, as I have chosen a more holistic lifestyle and refuse to inundate my body, or my baby's body, with unnecessary drugs or medications. Is it possible to prepare my body without the use of these???? Thank you so much for sharing your stories. It has definitely brought me hope again.

    Stephanie, from Maine.

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  30. This is amazing! You are an inspiration to mothers, dedicated and full of love for your daughter. I think, though, that if you had told people what you were planning to do in the NICU, you would have been pleasantly surprised by the supportive responses. In our NICU, we've had a few adoptive mothers breastfeed and it's completely supported by the medical community (except by some, who may be the same encouragers of putting her down, which I found a very odd suggestion from anyone in the NICU). I think that the comments about 22 calorie formula were just assuming you wouldn't be breastfeeding as this is so rare of an adoptive mother. Of course, breastmilk alone if the baby thrives on it is the best option, and is encouraged by medical professionals in the NICU! Just so you know, we in NICUs admire women like you!!
    Congratulations!

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  31. This brought tears to my eyes. If ever a little person needed not just food but a warm loving grown up to hold her close, it's this little girl. Thank god you found each other.

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  32. Beautiful story I shared in on Facebook. She is perfect and thriving, thank you for your commitment to her. I am a proud breastfeeding mama too 16 months and beyond!!!

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  33. Stephanie from Maine, it is not necessary to use medications. Domperidone is usually helpful and sometimes extremely helpful at increasing milk supply, but I never had access to it. I usually didn't have a chance to prepare in advance, either. I just started feeding at the breast with the Lact-Aid when I got them home. It was only a few days before there were drops of milk and then it gradually increased until the demand started to decrease, when they were older. I needed to supplement (via the Lact-Aid) at least until they were on other foods, but I produced up to 16 ounces a day. I did use fenugreek and fennel tea, with my youngest son, which I think gave me a few more ounces a day. My kids did very well on a combination of breast milk and some kind of formula. I wouldn't have traded the experience of nurturing them at the breast for anything, though, even if I hadn't produced any milk. I was also one of those who always wanted to have babies and breastfeed. I remember the first time I saw a mother nursing a baby, when I was four years old. It was many more years before I saw a baby nursing again, but I always remembered the first time and knew that that was what I wanted to do.

    If you, or anyone else, would like to contact me, please do, at noelani54@hotmail.com. Please write something eye catching in the subject, because I get a great deal of email.

    Darillyn Starr

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  34. Congratulations for all your effort. You are unique!!! Thanks for sharing with us your beautiful story

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  35. I love hearing stories like this! Not many people know that you can induce lactation - or that the same protocols can help biomoms who have issues with their supply. I'm in month 14 of nursing my adopted DD, and it has been the best parenting decision I have made so far. Thanks to very generous milk donors and a Lact-aid, DD was EBF from birth on! Thanks for sharing this fantastic article. Kira

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  36. this is an amazing story! how lucky this little girl is to have such a dedicated mother! i only wish every adopted baby would have such great parents. thank you for sharing! wonderful!

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  37. You are a one of a kind, i have never heard anything like that! God bless you, you are an angel!

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  38. Thank you so much! I am in the process of waiting to adopt an infant and plan to breastfeed. I am fortunate that our agency is supportive of this, even though they have never had an adoptive mom breastfeed before. I'm also a nurse and hope that my journey through breastfeeding will inspire others with the agency to breastfeed as well. Thank you so much for helping to "normalize" this. I've gotten some raised eyebrows but have fortunately not had any negative reactions. There are so many ways to bond with an adopted baby to form attachments and breastfeeding is an excellent avenue to promote love and bonding. Thank you!

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  39. What a beautiful and inspiring story! Thanks for sharing and giving your babies the best in life,and what life has to offer them with a wonderful mom like you!!!

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  40. your story brought tears to my eye. i too am a mom that is breastfeeding an adopted child.... had 3 kids all breastfed and then adopted one and it seem odd not to breastfed her also. i have been able to breastfeed her from the day she was born. birth mom gave me permission in the hospital to care and nurse her... we had our own room and most of the nurses were very encouraging, one told me afterwards that i set a precedence in that hospital for nursing adoptive moms!! i induced lactation with Lact-Aid and just nursing for hours and hours. i didn't use drugs except for fenugreek. by two months she was totally breastfeed. she is four months now and i sometime wonder if i should give her a bottle in the evening when she seem frustrated with nursing but she is so close to being able to have solids we might just give her some a bit early. thanks for sharing your story. the more that we share our stories the more adoptive moms will be successful and the more acceptance from hospitals and foster care there will be.

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  41. Beautiful....absolutely, brilliantly and lovingly beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing this story. I have found a wonderful network of mom's who are doing the same. If I were to adopt an infant, I would do the same. Thank you for your honesty and leading the way...

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