Ain't nothin' like the real thing: Adoptive moms can breastfeed, with some added effort

Breastfeeding is not just for biological moms. With the right support and some basic equipment, adoptive moms are discovering that breastfeeding is a viable - and beneficial - way to get babies off to a healthy start.

It's not as simple as putting a baby to the breast, says Dr. Anne Eglash, medical director, at the UW Health Lactation Clinic. A woman's hormones need stimulation before the body knows to produce milk. "The breast has to develop, like a tree in the spring," says Eglash. "When a woman becomes pregnant, hormones tell the breast to develop. As the breast ripens through pregnancy, the hormones of the placenta tell the body to get ready, get set."

If a woman has given birth - or had a miscarriage or an abortion - she has an easier time lactating. Breastfeeding is obviously more challenging for a woman who has never been pregnant, and adoptive mothers shouldn't expect to have a full milk supply, but it can work. "The goal should be to put the baby to the breast and nurse," says Eglash.

When Janet Parker and her partner, Walt Novash, decided to adopt a newborn, they found a La Leche League book, Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby and Relactation. "I actually didn't realize it was possible to breastfeed an adopted child, but when I learned about it I thought I would give it a try," says Parker, who is breastfeeding her adopted daughter, Masha, 7 months.

"When I'm breastfeeding in public I like to tell people, because otherwise they might wonder what I'm doing if they know that my baby was adopted," says Parker. "Like so many good parenting and baby-care strategies, this has always been common in traditional societies and in other parts of the world. It's been sort of forgotten about in our society."

The American Association of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continuing for one year or longer, stating that breastfed infants have lower rates of respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal problems, allergies, obesity and more. Considering these health benefits - and the bonding that comes with the physical contact - it's only natural that some women are willing to undertake some rigorous preparation to nurse babies they didn't give birth to.

As Masha's birth approached, Eglash suggested frequent use of a breast pump. Once Masha came home, Parker used a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS), a bottle with tubes that can be placed next to the nipple. When Masha sucked, she got milk from the bottle (either donated breast milk or formula) along with the milk that Parker produced, and the suckling stimulated milk production. Eglash says some women benefit from birth control pills (which essentially simulate pregnancy but need to be stopped at least a month before breastfeeding) and drugs that increase milk supply. Other women use herbs, like fenugreek.

Monica Vohmann, a family medicine and obstetrics physician at Group Health Cooperative, had already breastfed her biological daughter when she and her husband adopted their son Jaden when he was 10 days old. "He was very interested in breastfeeding from the get-go," says Vohmann. "Around month three, he was still wanting to nurse on me all the time, so I decided to just do it." She dedicated a 10-day vacation to relactation, latching Jaden onto her breast every three hours. The combination of the SNS, pumping, Chinese herbs and a couple months of taking Domperidone (an anti-nausea drug sometimes used "off-label" to stimulate milk production) worked.

Vohmann nursed Jaden for 15 months. "It was very nice when Jaden was three or four and he would come home from preschool and say, 'Was I in your belly?' I'd have to say, 'No, you weren't in my belly, but I breastfed you; you were at my breast all the time.' That physical connection, I think, meant something to him."

Eglash says it's fairly rare in her practice for women to inquire about adoptive breastfeeding. "Most of my patients who adopt would never consider it. I think they don't see it as part of adoption. One thing that makes it really challenging is that they don't know when they will get the baby."

"It was very challenging," says Lia Gima, a full-time mom and home-school educator in Milwaukee. She and her partner, Barbara Basaj, began considering adoptive breastfeeding about a year before they adopted. (Their children are now 9.) Gima's mother, a lactation consultant, started them both on herbs and supplements, and both women began pumping and filling their freezer with milk as the birthmother's due date approached. On the morning the biological mother went into labor, the couple discovered they were adopting twins.

Gima says it was tricky keeping enough milk in the house for two babies and coordinating nursing with the SNS tube. But it was worth the struggle.

"Breastfeeding and co-sleeping really helped with attachment, which can be tough for adoptive families, as children who have experienced trauma often have trouble receiving the love their parents have to give," says Gima.

Despite the fact that their twins began life in NICU incubators, they are now "amazingly strong and healthy," says Gima. "I credit the breast milk."

"I feel probably the same as any mother who breastfeeds," says Parker, baby Masha cooing at her breast. "Having those times every day of calm and close time with my baby is really special. All those benefits are equally important for a child who is adopted."

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: When mom gets a new roomie

This past week, against both my will and better judgement, I accompanied 50 or so middle school kids to the Future Problem Solvers Wisconsin State Bowl, a popular academic and skit-writing competition. It was my husband who had originally signed up to chaperone the event, thinking that spending a few days with his 11-year-old daughter and her compatriots would serve as an excellent anthropological experience. But when an unexpected work obligation made it impossible for him to attend, it was me left holding the bag

Mama Madison: Earth Day awareness

It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.

Mama Madison: Parents should know and understand school codes of conduct

I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.

Helping your kids stick with music lessons

Some clever-clogs is playing Rachmaninoff on the piano at a party, and there it is again, that oft-heard adult lament of lost opportunity from a dejected onlooker: "I wish I could play. I wish my parents hadn't let me quit music lessons. I was just a kid -- how was I to know?" It's a reasonable complaint.

A summer camp quiz for parents

If you're checking out summer camps for your child, there are many issues -- some obvious, some less so -- to keep in mind. Here's a list to keep handy when you contact camps and camp directors, looking for the perfect spot for your kids to have fun, relax, and learn this summer.

Mama Madison: Lessons in dining out

I know, in the grand scheme of things, that my kid issues, when it comes to dining out, absolutely pale in comparison to those of parents whose kids have special needs. Many kids, especially those who are on the autism spectrum, are disturbed by changes in their routine, or anxious around noisy places. They may not be able tolerate waiting for a table or standing in line. So unfortunately, many of these families just avoid eating out at restaurants altogether.

Mama Madison: Natural vs. un-natural parenting

It's weird to admit this, especially in a city surrounded by as much outdoor beauty as Madison. But frankly, I'm just not that into nature. I'm more of an indoor kind of gal. Give me an afternoon at the Chazen or the Wisconsin Historical Museum over the Arboretum or Olbrich Gardens any day.

Mama Madison: Theatrical talent close to home

Lavish costumes, gorgeous sets, a full orchestra and a concession stand where nothing cost more than two bucks and you have a pitch perfect experience at the theater. Oh, and did I mention the ticket prices were just $10 dollars apiece? One could afford to take the whole family for a live theater experience for less than an evening at the Lego movie would cost including popcorn.

Mama Madison: Race to shame

I think the first time in recent years that I've felt a real sense of shame, as both a parent and community member, was last Tuesday evening as I sat in a crowded elementary school LMC to listen to Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and his colleague, Torry Wynn, present key findings from the 2013 Race to Equity report to our PTO group.

Hancock Center addresses bullying through body movement

It's Wednesday morning at Allis Elementary School on Madison's east side, and 16 third-graders -- 10 boys and six girls -- enter into an open-space classroom in typical wiggly, giggly style. Some are making goofy faces at one another, some are bouncing around hand-in-hand with friends, and others are just trying to stay out of the whirling-dervish path of activity.

Mama Madison: Get in the picture

Of the 789 poorly-composed, way-too-dark and out-of-focus photos currently living on my iPhone, I can count on two hands the number that show my kids and me together. And my husband is in probably no more than three or four of those.

Mama Madison: Welcome to the Parenting Olympics

Something kind of magical has happened these past two weeks during the Sochi Olympics. There is no question, debate or disagreement on what will be watched on television once all homework is done. Everyone in the family makes time to sit down together to watch an hour of so of the primetime televised games.

Mama Madison: Facebook's instant nostalgia fix

Truth be told, though, this month I'm feeling a bit cinematically fried. In some ways, I already feel like I've spent the last week or so at a film festival. A festival specializing in minute-long glimpses of ordinary lives all ending with credits that feature the ubiquitous blue thumbs-up. Yes, it's been the February of the Facebook movie.

Mama Madison: The kindness question

Just last week, on precisely the same day the Momastery post was getting over a million well-deserved views, Madison mom Suzanne Buchko was telling a similar story. Not on a blog but instead in the confines of the modestly circulated Franklin-Randall Elementary School weekly newsletter.

Toddlers take to tablets

Late last month, the Madison Metropolitan School District adopted a five-year, $27.7 million technology plan calling for all district students, including those in the primary grades, to have significantly increased access to their very own tablet or notebook computer by 2019. Some parents, as well as education professionals, questioned whether elementary-aged kids, especially kindergarteners who aren't even able to read or write yet, will gain much benefit from introducing yet another screen into their lives.

Mama Madison: Science or study hall?

This past Monday, had winter's unrelenting weather allowed, Middleton Cross Plains School District teacher Andrew Harris would have once again been at the helm of a classroom. After nearly four years of fighting his dismissal from Glacier Creek Middle School for viewing and passing on sexually explicit material on district computers, MCPSD has been legally forced to reinstate Herris, this time as a seventh-grade science teacher at Kromrey Middle School.

Mama Madison: MTV provides a teachable moment

In a study published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics have found that the 16 and Pregnant series may have played a significant role in the recent decrease in U.S. teen pregnancies.

Mama Madison: Planning for the MLK holiday

In our house, sad but true, we've rarely spent the Martin Luther King holiday discussing race, social justice or the power of non-violent civil disobedience. Instead, the third Monday in January has historically been treated as just another day off school, just another long weekend. And it's been a missed opportunity.

Mama Madison: The long vacation

It's not something that happens very often, but last Friday, as news of the impending arctic cold snap reached our house, my kids were rooting for Governor Scott Walker. They were rooting for him to take Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton's lead and cancel school throughout the state. They couldn't care less if he had the authority to do such a thing -- if he called off school, he'd be their hero.

Mama Madison: Cheating 101 at Middleton High School

Late last semester, as students were packing up their backpacks one final time before winter break, Middleton High School principal Denise Herrmann and assistant principal Lisa Jondle were co-authoring a note home to parents informing them of a widespread cheating scandal involving nearly 250 calculus students at the school.

Emails from Isthmus Parents feature event highlights, story links, site updates, and occasional special offers from trusted sources. Name and email address are required. Thanks!