I recall the first time I talked to my sister after giving birth to our son. She was in Australia, I was sitting at home on my bed, breastfeeding. I remember saying to her “Can you believe I’m breastfeeding a baby?!” and it kind of freaked me out, but I loved it. It was a time of closeness and bonding for me and this new little life. It was relaxing, and I really enjoyed that, for the first time in my life I could wear a larger bra size than A! My son nursed for longer than most people are comfortable hearing. He was 2 years, 8 months old when he weaned.
When we felt led to adopt a newborn, the idea of adoptive breastfeeding was very intriguing to me. So I did what I always do when I’m interested in a topic – I researched it to death. I joined an adoptivebreastfeeding yahoo group, read Dr. Newman’s protocols, and made an appointment with my Doctor to get a prescription for the drug I would need.
I also ordered a Lact-Aid to supplement with formula in case our daughter wasn’t getting enough milk from me alone.
Our dream of all dreams came true when we were told our daughter’s birth mother was going to be induced – and would we like to be present for her birth? Of course! I was excited to one day be able to tell my daughter that I was with her from the first moment she drew breath – but the miracle of being able to breastfeed her so soon out of the womb was astonishing.
Early on in my research, I had decided against the tyranny of the breast pump. Some mothers said that they would wake up every 3 – 4 hours at night to pump – in hopes of having enough milk when a baby joined their family. Months later, they might have been disappointed by not having a match yet, or even having matches with birth moms fall through. In that case, the full breasts were just a cruel reminder of their empty arms. I knew myself too well. I couldn’t handle the stress of being matched with our second birth mom (first one chose to parent) with the very real chance of this mom changing her mind as well. To be sleep deprived before my baby even arrived home in order to have produced milk that she might or might not take to. I only took the Domperidone pills (Domperidone is considered safe for mom and baby for acid reflux – a common side effect is that it causes lactation). I started at only about 1/4 of the maximum dosage, then slowly building up to about half when we knew the baby’s due date. I was able to express a few drops of milk only 5-7 days after I began taking the drug.
Our daughter was born as scheduled; I was present with her from her first breaths. I cut her umbilical cord… and a short while later, birth mom agreed to let me breast feed her. I wasn’t sure that I had enough milk to satisfy her completely – but she spit up a little bit of milk a short while after I nursed her, so I knew she got something! It was an exhilarating moment.
The nurses at the hospital didn’t know what to do with me. They had never had an adoptive breastfeeding mother there before. One nurse said something about “when your colostrum comes in…” but I knew I wouldn’t have any colostrum. I was afraid to give our daughter too much formula from a bottle (nipple confusion?), but even more afraid that she wasn’t going to get enough nutrition from me. God sent us an angel nurse. She normally worked at a different hospital and “just happened” to be on call at this hospital on this particular night. When she found out what I was doing, she told me that she “just happened” to have another type of nursing suplimentor in her bag that I could use (SNS) and helped me to get her latched.
It was still a struggle for a few weeks. I would breastfeed her first, and when I could tell my milk was dry, I would turn on the supplimentor for her to fill up with formula. It was frustrating to get the supplimentor positioned correctly, so sometimes it would take us multiple tries for her to get the milk. She would cry and get frustrated, I would cry and feel badly and wonder if I shouldn’t just give up. A friend encouraged me to give it 6 weeks. After 6 weeks, she assured me, it would get easier. I persevered, and it did get easier -much easier. A few weeks later, I was taking up to 12 pills of Domperidon a day, and soon had enough milk that if I missed a night feed, I would wake up a few hours later in pain needing to nurse her… which was amazing!
When my daughter was about 8 weeks old, she refused the supplimentor. She would gag and fuss and refuse the breast when it was on there. So, we switched up our routine. I would always breastfeed her first, then she could top up with a bottle (as she grew older we discovered she has a very sensitive gag reflex so I’m glad I didn’t try to force her to continue with the supplimentor). And she did this faithfully. She also enjoyed breastfeeding so much, that I rarely had a battle with her about wanting the bottle only. Every 3-6 months she would go on a nursing strike. I would grieve and prepare myself to wean her… and just as I was resigned, she would start up again with a vengeance.
She nursed until she was 2 years, 2 months old. And I count the battle, the constant remembering to take the pills three times per day, the uncertainty, the frustration and tears… all a privilege!
One of the difficulties I personally encountered was that the drugs made me very constipated. It took about 6 months off the drugs for me to feel that I was back to normal. I also battled plugged milk ducts at least monthly if not more often. They were uncomfortable, but never persisted into something more serious. Overall those were, for me, a very small price to pay for such an amazing, bonding experience.
A common misconception is that you can only teach newborn children to nurse. In fact, there are many mothers who have taught older babies and even toddlers to breastfeed after coming home (check out http://www.nancymohrbacher.com/blog/2011/2/8/we-are-breastfeeding.html). It often takes immense patience and perseverance, but the reported benefits in attachment and mental healing are astounding.
Denise and her husband are blessed to be the parents of one son by birth, one daughter by adoption (USA – at birth), and a Haitian daughter they are anxiously waiting to bring home.