Breastfeeding An Adopted Older Child

Breastfeeding An Adopted Older Child

I’d like everyone to meet Jenny! She is a rock star in the breastfeeding world!

1. Tell us about your personal breastfeeding experience with your children:

My daughter joined our family via adoption when she was 10 months old. I had followed the Newman-Goldfarb Protocols for Induced Lactation (www.asklenore.info/breastfeeding/induced_lactation/gn_protocols.shtml) for the previous 12 months so that I’d be able to breastfeed her. I amazed both my husband and myself when I was able to bring in a significant milk supply by the time we traveled to Ethiopia to pick her up. I knew at 10 months old, there was a chance she would not accept nursing at the breast. In fact, she didn’t. My daughter had been bottle fed since birth and quite possibly had never seen a breast in her life. She regarded mine as if they were alien beings and wanted nothing to do with them. But boy did she love her momma’s milk from a bottle! So for many many months I pumped around the clock and fed her my milk from a bottle, then later in a sippy cup. To make a long story short, just after she turned two years old, and just when I’d about had it with pumping and was considering stopping, my daughter decided to latch to the breast. It took about 3 weeks for us to learn to nurse comfortably and regularly. Now we are nursing pros. Even though my daughter had already been home with us for over a year when she started nursing, it has still been a wonderful part of our bonding and attachment to each other. There is a mutual vulnerability and respect when she nurses. And there’s a one-of-a-kind connection that we both recognize. It’s beautiful.

2. What is your view of breastfeeding in public, and why?

(A quick word about breastfeeding in Italy, which is where I live. People here couldn’t care less where I feed my daughter. I love it! If they see us they look, notice, smile, acknowledge and move on. It’s just considered a natural beautiful thing and not indecent in the least. Living here, it’s become very clear to me how hung up the American society is about breastfeeding in public.)

Breastfeeding in public: As a lactation consultant I have always encouraged moms in this area. I had to put my own courage to the test when my two year old finally started nursing. I chose my “first time” carefully. We went to a park on the military base where I work. Ha! Lucky for me it was deserted. We sat down on a bench in the middle of the playground and I nursed my toddler. We saw only one person the entire time my daughter nursed. I don’t think the person was even close enough to realize what we were doing. Still, it was a bit nerve-wracking and I spent the time furtively looking around, checking for observers. Since then we have nursed at the pool, the park, the food court, restaurants, shopping centers and my office at work. My view is, my daughter deserves this milk, it’s not at all about me and my comfort level. That attitute got me over any public shyness very quickly. When nursing around Americans I do try a little harder to be discreet than when I nurse around Italians or other Europeans. And if I do feel a bit uncomfortable, I just look at my daughter and ignore what’s going on around me. But you know, one thing I’ve noticed is I have NOT gotten any odd looks or comments from anyone, even on base. I know Europe is breastfeeding friendly in general, but who would have imagined a military base could be? How cool.

3. What is your view of sustained breastfeeding, and why?

There is a great fact sheet on Extended Breastfeeding at Kelly Mom (http://www.kellymom.com/store/freehandouts/extended_bf_factsheet.pdf). It lists several benefits of sustained breastfeeding to both mother and child. The most impressive benefits in my opinion are the nutritional and immunoprotective. Did you know that a nursing toddler can get about 1/3 of her daily calories from breast milk? Isn’t it interesting that non-nursing toddlers get sick more often and their illnesses last longer than nursing toddlers? I also really like the practice of allowing the child to decide when to wean. So much of nursing my daughter is about her comfort and security. As her mother it comes naturally to provide her as much of that as she needs. So you can guess by now that I am in favor of sustained breastfeeding. Actually, I should say I am in favor of child-led weaning, at whatever age the child is when s/he decides to end nursing. No age limit.

4. What is your view of adoptive breastfeeding, and why?

Adoptive breastfeeding amazes me. Physiologically I think it is literally incredible that a woman who has never even been pregnant is able to bring in a full milk supply in order to nurse an adopted infant or child. It’s also evidence of the immense well of love, adoration, determination, empathy, and respect that a mother has in regard to her children. It comes from the deepest mothering instinct a woman can have – to protect and nourish a vulnerable young one. You know how touching those photos are of a mother dog who adopts and nurses an orphaned kitten? Or the story of the 130 year old giant tortoise in Kenya that adopted the baby hippo in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami (www.owenandmzee.com)? Those stories are so moving because they underscore one of our greatest fears, being alone with noone to love and care for us, and illustrate the mutual joy of adoption. While adoptive breastfeeding is a phenomenon most Americans are surprised to learn of, many many adoptive mothers have discovered the healing and bonding powers of their breastfeeding relationships with their children. 5.Is there anything you find unique about your breastfeeding story with your children?

Each mother and child’s breastfeeding story is personal and unique. :-)

6. Is there anything you wish you did differently?

Nope! My daughter learned to nurse on her own time, when she was ready, and she’ll continue to nurse as long as she wants to. This experience has been incredible for our whole family, even my husband and teenaged stepson. My stepson is learning what breasts are really for, that it’s natural and normal to nurse your baby/child. What a healthy thing for a teenaged boy to learn! Breastfeeding is so special to my daughter that she often wants to share her milk with her other parent, her dad. She’ll point to my other breast while nursing, wanting her dad to nurse too (no,we don’t do that, but we think it’s so sweet of her to offer!). Or, she’ll want her dad or brother to sit right next to her while she nurses so she can put her arm around his neck or play with his hair. There are so many awesome things about my daughter breastfeeding. At the very least this has been a wonderful bonding experience for all of us, we wouldn’t change a thing!

7. Is there anything you would like to add?

I am a wife, mom, nurse and internationally certified lacation consultant. I live and work at a US military base in Italy. My daughter is featured on my public blog at www.mygirlscurls.blogspot.com.



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33 comments

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  1. Zoe 17 June, 2011, 21:12

    I’d love to do this, but I don’t want to take the hormones to try and make it happen. Having never been pregnant, I’ve been told it would be tough. But I plan on doing lots of body contact to foster the bonding!

    Reply this comment
    • Jamie 17 June, 2011, 23:35

      I don’t blame you for not wanting to take anything to start milk production. It creeps me out. I can’t imagine it being good for your body. I know there are herbs that can start it up, too…but I’ve heard if you haven’t produced before it is a long shot (plus even herbs can had weird side effects)…

      I am part of an adoptive parent breastfeeding yahoo group. It is tough even with the prescribed medication according to those women. Most don’t make very much if they make anything at all.

      I know one mother on there was able to get her baby to latch on and even though she didn’t produce milk it was a way to bond! That seemed cool to me. Like a human pacifier!

      Reply this comment
    • Darillyn Lamb Starr 10 September, 2013, 09:25

      Taking hormones is optional! It works well for some moms and not for others. Moms who just get the baby suckling the breast on demand, using the Lact-Aid or SNS to provide supplement, usually provide a significant amount of milk. There are a few never pregnant moms who don’t produce milk, but at least 90% do. The few who don’t have the option of taking domperidone, or just enjoying nurturing the baby at the breast, using formula or donated breast milk in the Lact-Aid.

      Reply this comment
  2. mytwocents 22 June, 2011, 14:36

    I think Erimentha is dead wrong. I am the adoptive mom a son I adopted from birth. I am a single parent and have never lactated before. I was opposed to taking any supplements, etc. to encourage me to lactate, so my son was formula fed. However, if I were naturally lactating for a child I was currently nursing at the time I adopted my son, I would have certainly breastfed my adopted son. Without a doubt!!!

    I think it’s fantastic that you are nursing your son. Normally, I might find it a bit strange to still be nursing him at age four. But under the circumstances, I think can see it’s usefulness in helping him and your biological son understand his place in your family.

    Reply this comment
    • Jamie 22 June, 2011, 15:33

      Thanks!
      I actually was warned in advance by a pro-adoptive breastfeeding advocate about this. She told me that there are actual groups/communities of people that say they are adoptees that scour the internet looking for a fight with adoptive parents (with this being my first negative comment and I got four more from adoptees in the same hour I am guessing that is right)….

      Take it with a grain of salt and don’t get too upset about it. We don’t know the background of a lot of the negative comments coming from people claiming to be adoptees, and it is hard to get upset and defensive if people possibly have dealt with a lot of trauma, abuse, and neglect.

      We know what is best for our kids, so it seems so silly to have someone tell you how offensive it is.

      I understand that there is a community of people out there that believe this, but I completely disagree with it and I will always be an advocate of breastfeeding. I will not allow any negative comments , because I have come to realize the only reason for them is to start an argument and I hate that.

      Reply this comment
      • Dyan 12 July, 2012, 09:15

        I am an adoptee and I think it would have been wonderful if my adoptive mother had breastfed me. I also gave a child up for adoption and would have been more than happy to hear that his adoptive mother was going to try to breastfeed him. When my 2nd son was born I breastfed him until he self-weaned at 2.5 years of age.

        I think its wonderful!

        Reply this comment
        • Jamie Lynne Author 12 July, 2012, 23:18

          Dyan what a great comment explaining your background! It is so great to hear the view of someone so connected to adoption (but not an adoptive parent) – Great perspective!

          Reply this comment
  3. Peta 28 June, 2011, 07:57

    Wow what a beautiful and moving story! I think it is the most special bond you can share with your children and I agree with you about the helping with the bonding part.

    You are blessed and so are your children!

    Reply this comment
  4. Jenny 28 June, 2011, 11:35

    Wow, how great for Samuel. I can imagine how being able to nurse has helped him trust you, feel loved, be nurtured and understand that he is your son and Aram’s brother. I can imagine because I breastfeed my adopted daughter (also Ethiopian) who just decided to latch to the breast for the first time in her life at 2yo. I also think it’s great that you have photos of your boys tandem nursing. Viewing these photos from time to time as they grow older will surely strengthen their bond as brothers. Both fed from the same breast. Awesome.

    You totally rock for posting this stuff on your blog. It may seem weird or at least unusual to a lot of people. But the more exposure to adoptive breastfeeding and breastfeeding in general, the more and more familiar and accepted the idea becomes. Thanks for representing all of us breastfeeding moms!

    Reply this comment
  5. Peggy 28 December, 2011, 14:02

    This is so lovely! It will be interesting as they grow up to see if your adopted son is not as affected by adoption as many others evidently are (Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier or the new Joan Didion book) because he has such a bond with you. What a marvelous mom you are ;-)

    Reply this comment
  6. Christa the BabbyMama 7 March, 2012, 07:30

    I think it’s awesome that you were able to do this! What a fantastic way to facilitate bonding! :)

    Reply this comment
  7. Emmanuel 11 May, 2012, 02:12

    You are a marvelous woman and mom.keep it up we love you

    Reply this comment
  8. Matt 20 May, 2012, 00:03

    It’s really great to see women, finally, at the forefront of social change. That this change is a headlong rush into oblivion doesn’t matter – what counts is to be ahead of the curve.

    Poor western women! What a sad, sorry joke they’ve become!

    Reply this comment
  9. Julie (Ginger) 12 July, 2012, 13:05

    I failed miserably with adoptive breastfeeding, between all the meds I was taking to induce lactation, etc. (12 pills/day at various intervals) If I was already lactating, I would’ve absolutely breastfed my adopted children.

    Reply this comment
    • Jamie Lynne Author 12 July, 2012, 23:19

      I think you still are a rockstar mother- breastfeeding or not.

      Reply this comment
    • Darillyn Lamb Starr 10 September, 2013, 09:18

      I’m so sorry that you had such a negative experience trying to induce lactation! The protocol works great for some moms and not good at all for others. Were you aware that the meds are optional? You could have just gotten the Lact-Aid and started using it to feed and nurture your baby at the breast. That’s what I did. In most cases, drops of milk show up after anywhere from a few days two weeks. Most moms produce a significant amount of milk from the suckling, alone. My kids were very healthy on a combination of my milk and formula, from the Lact-Aid and we had the same relationship as any nursing pair.

      I’m sure you did a great job raising your baby with bottles. My first two were mostly bottle fed. I nursed them some, but didn’t get real far with it. They were loved and bonded as much as my breastfed babies, but I still longed to nurse them, especially when they were sick and I knew there was a good chance they wouldn’t be, if they’d been getting breast milk. With my third baby, I finally made it.

      If you are planning to adopt again and are interested in trying to breastfeed, maybe you could look into the natural ways of inducing lactation. You can find me on Facebook, if there is anything I can do to help!

      Reply this comment
  10. Brenna @Perfectly Imperfect Mom 13 July, 2012, 16:36

    I love this! I am a huge breastfeeding advocate. I wanted to nurse my son for at least a year but unfortunately didn’t make enough milk for him and by 3 months he rejected the boob because he wasn’t getting enough. I was so upset over it. I tried everything from natural remedies to Reglan to help supply and nothing worked. I am hoping with the next baby things will be different. I admire you for being so open. I wish breastfeeding was normalized more in America.

    Reply this comment
  11. Rose 15 July, 2012, 05:55

    Oh! I cried reading this!! And such a beautiful pic.

    Reply this comment
  12. Kimberly Deuster 15 July, 2012, 07:53

    This is so beautiful! What a great gift you are giving Samual. This also helped open up a conversation about adoptive breastfeeding with my husband. Keep up the great work – your a “hall of fame” mother.

    Reply this comment
  13. Marty 15 July, 2012, 08:16

    This is a really unique story, thank you for sharing it.

    Reply this comment
  14. Ann 2 June, 2013, 07:21

    Ive been trying to do some research on giving my adopted son- now 18months- breast milk after my next child is born. He will be 22 months, is it too late to give him bm? He just seems to be sick more often than my biological daughter, and I’d like to boost his immunsystem. Is that even possible?

    Reply this comment
    • Kathleen 18 June, 2013, 18:17

      Hi Ann! It is not too late! Absolutely not! You can express into a cup, or offer him the breast. Whatever you feel most comfortable with. It will be wonderful for him. Good luck mama. :)

      Reply this comment
    • Darillyn Lamb Starr 10 September, 2013, 09:03

      Yes, absolutely give him some breast milk! Even a few ounces a day can work wonders in protecting the child from getting sick. My youngest child weaned, at 20 months. For the previous 3 or 4 months, she hadn’t even been nursing every day. When she did nurse, I didn’t think she was getting much of anything. For the first few months after she weaned, however, she was sick about half the time. She’d very rarely been sick, prior to that, and anything she did get was minor. Your son might even want to try nursing, when he sees the new baby nursing. Good luck to you!

      Reply this comment
  15. Skyla 18 June, 2013, 22:06

    Jamie! I love how you’ve been posting about these families who are doing things slightly out of the “norm”
    I think you are really helping to expand what people are comfortable with, so thank you!

    And Jenny, you are amazing! Thank you for giving your daughter the best- she is so lucky to have you!

    Reply this comment
  16. Denise 18 June, 2013, 22:35

    I love this! My best friend induced lactation and we’re now waiting for her adopted son (13 months) to figure it out and latch. We can’t wait for that day!

    Reply this comment
  17. madison 1 August, 2013, 20:47

    For any women interested in stimulating lactation without hormones, check this page out!

    http://www.lact-aid.com/faq-about-nursing-adoptive-babies/

    Reply this comment
    • Darillyn Lamb Starr 10 September, 2013, 08:53

      That is exactly what I did, starting with 30 years ago! I produced a significant amount of milk and my last four babies nursed until they self weaned. I think anyone who is interested in breastfeeding an adopted baby should know about all of the possibilities for stimulating a milk supply, but I’ve been very concerned about the way the protocol of used birth control pills with domperidone, in advance of placement, has often been advertized. It is often said that it is a requirement, or that adoptive moms are unlikely to produce milk without it. If it was really a requirement, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. That protocol has only been around since 2000 and my last child weaned in 1997!

      The Lact-Aid has been around since the 60s and has changed very little since then. Probably 95% of moms who use it on a regular basis produce a significant amount of milk, and have the same relationship with their babies as any other mother and baby!

      Reply this comment
  18. Darillyn Lamb Starr 8 September, 2013, 14:17

    My oldest daughter, and fourth adopted child, became a nursing baby the day before her first birthday. This was back in 1991. She was born with a serious birth defect; a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. She had spent several months in the hospital and had several surgeries, the first of which was very major and definitely saved her life. When she was placed with me, she was six months old, weighed only nine pounds, and was fed mostly through a gastrostomy tube. At the time, I had a two year old, also adopted, who was still nursing a little bit. Back then, the only way to produce milk, for most moms, other than having given birth to a baby, was to get a baby suckling the breast, which I did, with the help of the Lact-Aid. There were a few women who could pump a little bit of milk, but most who pumped exclusively didn’t see more than drops until they started nursing a baby. (Domperidone and much better pumps have changed that.) Starting with no milk at all, there would be drops within the first week and ounces by the end of the first month. My supply peaked at about 35-40% of the milk they needed before they started solids (those who started nursing as newborns, that is). By 1991, Reglan was being used to improve milk supply. I took it for three weeks and it did help a little, but made me so depressed that I couldn’t function at all. The only way I could get milk to my children was by them suckling.

    My early attempts to nurse Julia resulted in both of us crying. She didn’t even want me to hold her! I decided that trying to get her breastfeeding would have to take a back seat to getting her to accept me. I started carrying her as much as I could. At first, she would only allow me to hold her balanced on my hip and supported by my arm, facing AWAY from me. If I tried to turn her facing me, she would turn her head away and put her little hand out and push me away. After a couple days, I could hold her facing me, and by the end of a week, she was spending hours a day in a front pack. She was attached to me, but would start to freak out if she couldn’t see me. I was her third mother and she didn’t understand why the first two, her birth mother and her foster mother, weren’t there any more. I decided not to go anywhere that I couldn’t take her. I still wasn’t getting anywhere at getting her to nurse, though. Instead, I set out to get her feeding by mouth so the tube in the gastrostomy could come out and the hole could heal.

    They had been feeding her about 15% of her formula from a bottle with a preemie nipple, because she supposedly was too weak to suck from any other kind of nipple. I looked at the situation closely and realized that there were basically three major problems. One was that she had a very sensitive gag reflex and very small stomach. Then, there was the formula; Pregestimil. It contained partially predigested proteins and fats. It was slimy and bitter and enough to gag anyone! The other problem was that she actually had a very strong suck! When she sucked on the preemie nipple, she got a big gulp of it. It was no wonder that she would only take a tiny bit from a bottle, and threw most of it back up!

    With a milk based formula, and some slow-flow, newborn nipples, she learned to love to suck! She still couldn’t take more than an ounce and a half at a time, so, I fed her an ounce and half of formula, every hour to hour and a half, and at least twice overnight. After three weeks, she was up from nine to eleven pounds and we had done it without using the tube. She was happy and rapidly catching up on her development. She was very prone to pneumonia, however, which was more dangerous because of her underdeveloped lungs. I knew she needed breast milk, but knew of only one way to get it for her. I also wanted her to have the emotional benefits of breastfeeding. (I guess I should also mention that, because AIDS was still a death sentence at the time, it was a difficult time to find donated breast milk.)

    At that time, the only written material I had seen on the subject had said that four months old was about the cutoff for being able to teach a baby to nurse. I called a lactation consultant and a La Leche League leader. Both said that they didn’t think it was possible to get her nursing and that I should just be happy with how much better she was doing, bottle feeding well. I WAS happy about that, but I still wanted her to have the benefits of breastfeeding.

    I had all ready tried to make her bottle feeds as much like breastfeeding as possible. I used a short bottle because it was easier to balance on my chest, so that I had a hand free to stroke her head or play with her little hand. I never let her have a bottle unless she was in my arms. I even switched sides in the middle of a feeding. I decided to try to come up with additional ways to make it more like breastfeeding. I started to lift my top, like I did to nurse he brother, and holding her against my breast. I was kind of stuck there, for a while, though.

    One day, I was thinking of how, if I took the bottle nipple away, when she was fed and mostly asleep but still sucking, she would open her mouth again, searching for the nipple. I started trying to quickly turn her to my breast, hoping she would take it, but I couldn’t get the bottle out of the way and get her into position quickly enough. I needed to find a way to get the bottle out of the way. I tried a nipple shield with a Lact-Aid or SNS tube under it, but, that still required her to accept being fed in a position she wasn’t comfortable in.

    Then, one night, it dawned on me that if I could get a bottle nipple to seal around a Lact-Aid or SNS tube, I might be able to feed her that way, without a bottle in the way. First, I got her started using a wide based nipple, rather than the narrower ones. I got a yarn needle, and threaded a tube through it. Then, I pulled it very carefully through the nipple hole. I pulled it back so that the tube was sticking through the nipple hole about an eighth of a inch. I sucked on it and found that it worked like a charm! The milk came through, but no air.

    Next feeding, I started her out in bottle feeding position, but then started to slowly turn her in toward me. After a few days, I was able to start feedings with the bottle nipple positioned right over my breast. I just fed her that way for a week or two, not wanting to risk pushing her too hard. Then, I started taking the bottle nipple out of her mouth, hoping she would take the breast. She would open her mouth but close it again when her tongue touched my skin. I got a nipple shield and we used that, with the Lact-Aid tube under it, for a few days, hoping it would be a little closer to the breast. It didn’t work as well as the bottle nipple did, and after a few days, when I moved it, she latched onto my breast, with the Lact-Aid tube! She didn’t want a bottle after that and even though she wasn’t nursing around the clock, like a newborn, I produced a significant amount of milk for her.

    The method I used has since worked for many other babies who have come to their adoptive homes as older babies. It may not work as well for children who arrive beyond their first 18 months or so, but the principle of following the child’s lead, and gently, gradually, guiding them toward the breast, is the same.

    My daughter is almost 23 now and a beautiful, talented and healthy young lady. She has told me many times that she appreciates the fact that I went to the extra effort so that she could be a nursing baby, like her siblings who came home when they were younger.
    She says that she remembers how comfortable and safe she felt when she nursed.

    The benefit of nurturing at the breast is especially important for babies who come home with a traumatic history, whether it is due to medical issues, parental abuse or having spent their early lives in an orphanage where the workers did their best but were caring for too many babies to give them all the nurturing they needed. Getting them to realize that it is something they will want to do can be a challenge, but with enough love, patience, and creativity, it can be achieved!

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    • Lee 31 January, 2014, 22:22

      thank you so much for all your detailed information , after trying for 13 mo . on amd off, with my adotive daughter all your tips worked SHE LACTED ON AND HASN’T STOPPED SINCE (3 weeks now )it is a miracle and i am thrilled now using the lact aid praying i can produce something. the only draw back is I hold her for hours and even taken her out of her bed to nurse her ONE HAPPY BABY AND MAMMA HERE!!!!!!!

      Reply this comment
    • sillysapling 10 February, 2014, 21:43

      Thanks to the OP and yourself for sharing your stories! Our baby is biologically ours, but our chance at breastfeeding was ended before it began due to horribly unsupportive medical staff. Even though I’m okay if our baby never latches, I’ve always hoped that one day our baby will. Hearing from people who have babies who latched from a year or older gives me hope that our chances for a breastfeeding relationship aren’t gone. I also really appreciate hearing how you managed to do it, so hopefully the same can work for us.

      Reply this comment

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