Adoptive Breastfeeding with Supplemental Nursing

One mother shares the special memories she has of bonding with her child during breastfeeding, and the book that helped her figure it out.

Supplemental nursing

My five-year-old son crawled into bed to cuddle with me this morning, as is his habit. In the quiet dawn we leafed through his adoption book: his sonogram; me and his very pregnant Mama T; himself as a newborn held close in her arms. I expected him to linger over the evidence of his connection to his first mother, but instead he stopped at a picture of himself nursing at my breast and asked—although he has long known this bit of his history—”Did I get milk from you, Mama?” As I held this long-legged kindergartener, I was grateful for the decision I made five years ago. “Yes, baby,” I answered. “You did.”

I had chosen to breastfeed Nathaniel (using a supplemental nursing system) as a way to stamp our relationship with a mark of union. But today I realized that adoptive nursing did more than accelerate our connection; it also preserved a fundamental experience for my son.

With its tubes and tape and formula, supplemental nursing offers none of the conveniences of either bottle- or breastfeeding, and I never produced much milk. And instruction is hard to come by. Many lactation consultants have scant experience with adoptive nursing, and despite today’s wealth of books on breastfeeding, few offer much for adoptive mothers.

The only book I found dedicated exclusively to the subject is Breastfeeding the Adopted Baby, by Debra Stewart Peterson, a certified lactation consultant and adoptive mother. Despite its disorganized tangle of anecdotes and simplistic assertions, the book offers practical information about various supplemental nursing systems and their use. Most important, it offers well-illustrated instructions for using, maintaining, and positioning the nursing tubes, clarifying the mechanical difficulties of supplemental nursing.

I’d be the first to say that adoptive nursing is not for everyone. It requires preparation, support, time, energy, and patience (or, in my case, mule-headedness). But I am grateful that this morning, as my son snuggled with me, the pleasure of nursing safe and warm at his mother’s breast was secured in his memory bank.


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