As our culture continues to normalize breastfeeding, it is important to note that in adoption, breastfeeding is much less common. And perhaps even a bit taboo. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done though and shouldn’t be talked about! Many adoptive mothers are choosing to induce lactation in order to breastfeed an adopted infant and have various reasons for doing so. There are also good reasons for expectant mothers to consider breastfeeding before placement.
Health Benefits for Mom – One of the first benefits of breastfeeding for a new mom is the release of oxytocin (the same hormone that brings on labor contractions), which naturally helps reduce the size of the uterus and minimizes the chances of hemorrhage following birth. Long-term benefits include a decreased risk of breast- and ovarian-cancers and a faster return to pre-pregnancy weight (with proper nutrition). Even a short amount of time breastfeeding will heed these benefits.
*As a side note, many birth mothers are choosing to continue lactating and donate expressed breastmilk after placement, whether to the child they placed, milk banks, or local Newborn Intensive Care Units.
Health Benefits for Baby – Breast milk is nutritionally perfect. It has everything your baby needs, in perfect balance, to grow and thrive. When breastfeeding your child prior to placement, he or she will likely only be receiving colostrum, sometimes called “liquid gold.” Thick, sticky, and yellowish in color, colostrum is low in fat and high in protein, antibodies, and carbohydrates. It is a natural laxative and helps baby begin passing meconium, or the first stool, which lowers their chances of experiencing high bilirubin levels. Colostrum is easily digested and helps protect baby’s sensitive gut. The antibodies in colostrum are passed from the mother, giving the baby better protection against illness.
Bonding – The hormone oxytocin, mentioned above, is also known as the “love hormone.” Since it is produced during breastfeeding, it helps bond mother to her child. When breastfeeding before placement, this benefit makes the decision to breastfeed difficult. Some women want to bond with their child before placement; some feel it will make separation more difficult. Each woman must make this decision for herself. Other bonding benefits are skin-to-skin contact and being the only person who can provide nutrition for baby.
No Regrets – Although breastfeeding does bring mother and baby closer prior to placement, it is important to have no regrets about the time spent with your baby. Most regrets about the time prior to placement includes things that were NOT done, not things that were done. It is difficult to regret giving your child the very best nutritional start to life.
Future Breastfeeding Success – Even if you only breastfeed for 2 or 3 days before placement, learning how to help your infant properly latch and understanding breastfeeding will lead to future success. Breastfeeding your baby will also lead to future breastfeeding success for the adoptive mother, if she chooses to breastfeed.
As an adoptive mother, you can breastfeed a baby to whom you did not give birth. It is possible to breastfeed if you have never been pregnant or even if you have reached menopause. Breastfeeding an adopted baby is different than breastfeeding a baby after being pregnant, but it can be achieved through the process of induced lactation.
There are several different methods used to induce lactation when you have not been pregnant. It may also be possible to breastfeed your adopted baby with no preparation at all. However, if you have advance notice that you will have a new baby joining your family, you may wish to explore methods that stimulate milk production before baby arrives. The same methods can be used by traditional adoptive mothers, mothers whose babies were born to surrogates, and even the female partners of birth mothers.
If you are very fortunate to have an open discussion, birth mother and adoptive family will want to discuss breastfeeding. What a birth mother wants will be part of her hospital plan. All parties should respect each other’s decisions and help find a successful solution to breastfeeding.