Reader: I’ve heard that it may be possible for an adoptive mother to have a breastfeeding relationship with her child to foster bonding and attachment. Can you give me some idea of how one would go about this? Is it necessary for you to have given birth or nursed before? If it turns out you can’t lactate for some reason, can you still have a nursing relationship? Any information you can provide would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks for approaching this topic. Many prospective adoptive moms and adoptive moms desire to breastfeed, but lack the support and education to do so. Thankfully, there are some fantastic resources that have become available in the past few years, empowering adoptive mothers to make an informed decision.
First, why is adoptive nursing something adoptive mothers should consider? Bonding is very important to any parent-child relationship, but it’s especially crucial in adoption. Young adopted children, whether newborns, toddlers, or preschoolers, can benefit tremendously from having a nursing relationship with his or her new adoptive mother. These children come to their parents with a history, sometimes one that includes neglect or abuse, and at least one break in their attachment continuum, if not many. It’s important for adoptive parents to understand that even adopted newborn babies have a Primal Wound, which is defined by Nancy Newton Verrier, author of The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child, as the “postnatal separation from the biological mother” resulting in “abandonment and loss” which is “indelibly imprinted upon the unconscious minds of these children” (1). Verrier argues that the Primal Wound “permeates even the best of adoptive relationships” (3). One way to attempt to foster attachment between the new adoptive mother and the child is through adoptive breastfeeding. Of course, the physical benefits of breast milk are numerous.
There are several ways an adoptive mother can have a nursing relationship with a child she adopts. First, she can induce lactation, which is possible to do even if the woman has never been pregnant, given birth, or breastfed before (much to the surprise of many!). There are several ways to induce lactation: with medication, with herbs, with pumping, with using a supplemental nursing system (SNS), or a combination of these factors. Second, a mother can feed her child at the breast, without inducing lactation, by using a SNS containing either formula or donated breast milk. Thirdly, a mother may comfort her child at the breast (basically becoming a human pacifier) without any food source from either the breast or from an SNS. Mothers who do this might choose to bottle nurse, which involves resting the bottle on the bare breast, so the child feeds from the bottle while gaining the benefits of skin-to-skin contact with the mother. All methods are thoroughly examined and explained in the book Breastfeeding Without Birthing: A Breastfeeding Guide for Mothers Through Adoption, Surrogacy, and Other Special Circumstances.
Many breastfeeding experts agree that inducing lactation takes commitment, time, energy, and patience, and oftentimes money (from purchasing medications, herbs, breast pumps and supplies, milk bags, SNS systems and supplies, lactation consultant fees, etc.). However, women who attempt to induce lactation often are able to produce some (and sometimes all) of the supply their children need. Women who are able to provide some milk for their children supplement with formula or donated breast milk, either through an SNS or via a bottle.
There are some key individuals who you will want to be on board with your decision to nurse your adopted child. First, you need the support of your partner. The demands of breastfeeding can be emotionally and physically challenging for any mother, but adoptive nursing often takes much more effort and patience. Second, you need a breastfeeding professional, such as a lactation consultant, to guide you through the ups and downs, provide you with encouragement, and keep you educated. Third, it’s helpful to have a network of breastfeeding mothers to cheer you on and answer your questions. The beauty of social media is that you can have plenty of support at just a click away!
As Alyssa Schnell, an adoptive mother herself and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Le Leche leader, shares in her book Breastfeeding Without Birthing: A Breastfeeding Guide for Mothers Through Adoption, Surrogacy, and Other Special Circumstances, that nursing is ultimately about relationship, not about making milk. So no matter how much you produce (if any!) or how you choose to nurse your baby, you are bonding with your child and building a wonderful relationship!