"How I Was (Sort Of) Able to Breastfeed"

I knew that adoptive breastfeeding was the best choice for my son. It wasn't always easy, but in the end it was worth it.

Frank was nourished through adoptive breastfeeding

After successfully nursing my first three sons, I was confident that I could breastfeed my fourth. Sure, my first sons joined our family in the usual way: pregnancy followed by birth followed by a short drive home from the hospital. We planned to adopt this time around, but extensive research informed me that you can breastfeed an adopted baby.

Breastfeeding made me feel good on several levels. I loved the surge of happy hormones that came with milk letdown, and the feeling of snuggling in with a newborn baby and giving him what he wanted, which only I could provide. I patted myself on the back for delivering those magical, breast-milk-exclusive health benefits to my children. They’d be less likely to get asthma, allergies, cancer, ulcers, cavities, acne, sassy attitudes…you get the idea. I also appreciated the convenience: no packing or washing bottles or mixing formula.

Our son’s birth mother chose us in November. He was due to be born in late February, so I had plenty of time to prepare. I followed the Newman-Goldfarb protocol for induced lactation, first described in Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding. It involves the drug domperidone, the herbs fenugreek and thistle, birth control pills, and a breast pump.

How adoptive breastfeeding works

Domperidone stimulates the pituitary gland and, as a side effect, promotes milk production. I started with 10 mg of the prescription med four times per day for the first week, and then moved up to 20 mg four times a day. I also took an “active” birth control pill each day. The birth control pill provides necessary hormones to suppress milk supply and simulate pregnancy. In early January, I stopped the birth control pills, continued the domperidone, and began pumping.

I’ll be honest with you. Pumping sucks. I’ve never been able to get much out of it (literally). But I was determined. My other sons had all gotten to breastfeed, and I wanted the same for my newest addition.

So I pumped, wincing, for the last month-and-a-half while waiting for my son. The swish, swish, swish noise of that hateful machine sounded like a windshield wiper scraping across a chalkboard. Still, prior to my son’s birth, I was getting about two ounces of milk per pumping session, so I felt optimistic.

Nurse from the first meal on

My son’s birth mother was on board with my plans to breastfeed, so I started as soon as Frank was born, with feedings every two hours. The hospital nurses were supportive, too, and encouraged me to nurse whenever I could, so that my milk supply would increase (theoretically, at least).

We had to wait for ICPC clearance before traveling home, so my son and I had plenty of time for feedings and skin-to-skin contact. During those two weeks, I nursed, pumped, drank special nursing teas, massaged my breasts, and took the herbs. I really wanted it to work.

My son had no problems latching on, but there wasn’t a lot flowing. He was a big newborn (over nine pounds), hungry and unimpressed with his light meals. He wanted a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings, not a PB&J on white.

Introduce a nursing supplementer

To meet Frank’s nutritional needs, I used the Medela Supplemental Nursing System, which enabled me to fill his stomach with formula via a soft, thin tube positioned at the corner of his mouth. The SNS is great because, while the baby is nursing (and, hopefully, increasing mama’s milk supply), he is getting the additional milk or formula he needs from the tube.

The downside is that it’s a pain to use. The long tubes have to be cleaned immediately after each use or the formula will dry in them. The mother has to be fully exposed from the waist up, so that the bottle can hang from her neck and the tube can fit into the baby’s mouth. I’m not overly shy, but it was awkward to nurse around anyone other than my husband.

Another downside: The tubes are unobtrusive to baby, which is a good thing, but they slide right out of his mouth if his hand (or his mother’s) snags them. When that happens, formula dribbles all over the place. You also have to remain upright, making snuggly nursing impossible.

Find your at-home routine

It was heaven to finally bring baby Frank home and be back with my big boys. But it was also a bummer, because the awkwardness of the SNS meant I had to sequester myself for the baby’s frequent feedings.

After six weeks, we introduced bottles and, wow, Frank loved them. He’d suck them right down. My pediatrician assured me that nipple confusion wasn’t a risk at that point, and I was growing weary of the SNS.

At about two-and-a-half months, I gave up on the SNS and informed my breasts that I was giving them one last shot. For the next couple of weeks, I nursed my hungry little babe on each side so that he could drain whatever milk he could extract, and then gave him a nice full bottle of formula. This strategy didn’t increase my milk supply, but it was a lot easier than the SNS.

Is it for you?

If you are interested in pursuing adoptive breastfeeding, you should give it a try! It’s always worthwhile to try something that could be of great benefit to your child. I suggest talking to your OB/GYN, reading Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding, visiting asklenore.info for support and advice, and contacting your local La Leche League group.


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