Monday, November 16, 2009

The Tale of Breastfeeding My Adopted Children

by Jody Wright of Infant Massage USA

I have five children, and I breastfed the three that I adopted as infants, along with one I birthed. It was a warm and loving experience that I would not have missed for the world. Let me tell you the story of my first nursling.

I read about nursing adopted babies in a book a few years before I adopted, and realized how meaningful that would be to me. Of course I was sad to miss the pregnancy and births of my children, but I wanted to develop an intimate relationship with them – and breastfeeding seemed like a key to doing that.

Through La Leche League, I found someone who was nursing her adopted child and visited with her, to learn what was involved. I decided to use a supplementer, a device designed for giving a baby supplementary milk while they nurse at your breast. And I was able to obtain one before I got my baby. I pumped with a bulb pump (this was 1980, and I did not know about electric pumps) several times a days to help my breasts mature and prepare for a baby.

My baby was born at her mother’s home with a midwife, so our introduction was very intimate. We stayed with her mother for four days, and we worked on nursing during that time. Olisa also nursed her mother a few times. We had some latch-on difficulties – my nipples were soft and not well-formed. Sometimes she would latch on to nurse, and after some minutes she would get tired and begin to whimper, as she was just too tired to continue but did not know if she would be able to latch on again. The kind of supplementer I was using only allowed a small amount of milk through at a time – so nursing took at least 45 minutes. But after a few weeks we got it down.

Olisa was a determined nurser. She would not allow anything else in her mouth besides my breast (and the tiny flexible tube of the supplementer). She had no interest in bottles, pacifiers or even lint off the floor as she got older. She would not eat food until she was nine months old!

Nursing in public was a challenge with a supplementer. I needed to see what I was doing in order to hook us up right and make sure that the milk was flowing. In addition, Olisa was Black/Asian and I was white – so it was pretty obvious that our family was formed through adoption. I got used to answering people’s questions about how we could nurse: “If you put a baby to your breast every couple hours for about three weeks, you start producing some milk.”

Nights also posed special challenges, since I had to sit up and see what I was doing to nurse. After a few nights of getting up with a crying baby and going to the refrigerator to fill a supplementer, my husband developed a new system. We purchased several supplementers, filled them with milk, and lined them up in a small ice chest. We filled a thermos with boiling water and provided a quart size yogurt container to put the two together in. Everything was lined up next to my bed, and it just took a minute for the supplementer to warm up, while I nursed my baby without it. I used a dimmer switch I kept near me at night to keep the lights as low as possible, and lots of pillows to lean against and rest my arms on. Soon we were pros at nursing at night!

As Olisa grew up, I worked hard to increase my milk supply. At that time there was no pharmaceutical protocol for increasing your milk supply. Nursing often, using herbal galactagogues, and drinking lots were the primary recommendations for increasing milk supply. I probably only provided about a 10th of her milk needs from my body. But I felt like it helped her health a lot – that I was supplying important immunities and digestive enzymes through the milk I did give her.

I also found, personally, a profound hormonal benefit to breastfeeding. I might sit down to nurse in a harried state, and a few minutes later realize I could not even remember why I had been upset. Breastfeeding has an amazing ability to relax you, clear your mind and focus your thoughts on this lovely little child who is looking up at you with such trust. At night I found that I woke up just as she did – we had that hormonal connection that nursing mothers often have.

When Olisa was two years old, we adopted another little girl. The two of them nursed side by side, or traded off nursing times. I think it helps sisters to nurse together – feeling the wonderful flow of oxytocin and other warm and loving hormones from breastfeeding, while at the same time cuddling with your sibling. What better way is there to create family?

Eventually, I eliminated supplementors, when they were no longer needed. And eventually Olisa weaned on her own when I was pregnant with my third baby.

I loved the warm relationship that developed between me and each of my babies. A warmth and sharing that I cannot imagine I would have found in bottle feeding. Each of my children, though each one is from different birth parents, have been wonderfully healthy. I wish I could have given them 100% breastmilk, but I can see that even the amount I gave them has been very positive.

Nursing a child makes them 100% dependent on you for feeding. I think your continual presence is important in ensuring the bond grows with any child, but perhaps even more important for a child who has already gone through a loss (and any adopted child has). I adopted another baby after giving birth to my third child. And I nursed her too. I wouldn’t have missed it!

[Read more about breastfeeding an adopted baby.]

Jody Wright, CLC CEIM ITIM, is one of the founders of the International Association of Infant Massage, located in Sweden (www.iaim.net). She has worked with parents and babies for 25 years, as an Infant Massage Instructor and Trainer, as a Certified Lactation Counselor, and as the President, from 1986 to 2005, of Motherwear, a catalog and website for breastfeeding mothers. A mother of five, she specializes in breastfeeding, massage and bonding with the adopted child.

Contact Information:
Jody Wright,
Infant Massage USA
jody.wright@infantmassageusa.org
website link: http://www.infantmassageusa.org/

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