This is our adoptive breastfeeding story, and why it was such a positive experience.
In our case, Samuel was breastfed up to the date of his relinquishment. Having been breastfed by my mother until I was six, I was aware of the importance of breastfeeding during a time of stress or trauma. Breastfed children do not normally use an inanimate item (such as a blanket or stuffed animal) to comfort themselves. They often use the closeness that breastfeeding provides from their mother.
So, not only was my child taken away from his homeland, culture, language, and family (most importantly, his mother) – he was also stripped of the main action that provided him comfort.
Being able to breastfeed Samuel for almost a year was a beautiful experience.
I wish I could say it was my idea. Truthfully, I thought he was too old to latch on to a new person for the first time.
I was wrong.
Samuel had been curiously watching me breastfeed his brother (Aram, 2.5 years at the time). He didn’t speak English, but in his curiosity he was able to convey that he was also interested.
He seemed too timid to ask outright. You could tell his fear of rejection when he showed the initial interest. When I asked him if he would also like to breastfeed he smiled and jumped right on my lap. During our first experience breastfeeding, I could tell it was something he missed dearly; something from home I was able to give him.
I am so happy I was able was able to provide him with the comfort he needed to get through trauma, trauma most people will never experience in their entire life.
Other interesting observations about adoptive breastfeeding:
- Every person from Ethiopia I’ve encountered finds adoptive breastfeeding and extended breastfeeding normal. (Wet/cross-nursing is still common in certain areas of the country.) One Ethiopian woman said- “If there is milk we use it!” She said breastfeeding eight-year-old children is not an uncommon practice (and biologically it is a normal length of time for primates).
- Due to lack of exposure and understanding of this topic, most Americans are horrified by it.
- It helped my attachment and bonding to him.
- It helped his attachment and bonding to me.
- It helped Aram understand Samuel’s role in the family, and that he was completely equal.
I definitely think that there is great reason (sometimes even more so than with a biological child) to practice “extended” breastfeeding with an adopted child.
I don’t think it is the end-all-be-all for attaching with your adopted child. If this is not an option for you, it is nothing to worry about. I do, however, want to bring this to the attention of other adoptive parents that may find this helpful for their own family.