I was very fortunate to meet my now husband when we were in our late teens. When we decided to get married, one of the things we agreed upon was adoption. He readily agreed and was on board with my proposal of having one biological baby and adopting another baby.
Fast-forward to many years later, after the birth of our first child, I came to know and learn so much about breastfeeding. We decided to follow natural- term weaning and it was such an amazing journey. Along the way, between taking care of a child and just living day-to-day life, our desire and dream to adopt was put on the back burner. Every so often, when we would talk about another child, we would end up feeling overwhelmed and underprepared to care for another baby. Adoption seemed a very daunting process then. It took nearly five years before we felt ready.
When we applied for adoption, I expressed my desire for a baby rather than an older child because I was keen on breastfeeding. By this time, I was often passionately talking about breastfeeding and I was informally helping women in their breastfeeding journeys on various forums. It only took two months before our child came home. During those two months, I learned as much as I could about adoptive breastfeeding, by joining related social media groups and speaking to other parents who had undertaken this journey.
When we laid eyes on our child for the first time, we instantly fell in love with her little smile! She was four months and three weeks old. She was overall quite healthy considering the resource crunch in most adoption centres, but had an ongoing eye infection, cough and cold. I could not help but think about how much breast milk would improve her health.
At this time, my older one was five years old. She would breastfeed occasionally, mainly while going to sleep. Whilst I was obviously making milk, I knew it wasn't enough for my baby. I had decided not to pump much ahead of the new baby’s arrival since I didn't think it was suited to my situation (I had had some stressful experiences pumping for my older child).
Two days after her arrival in our home, with the lowest of expectations but a flame of hope and a fluttering stomach, I used a nipple shield and dropped formula from a bottle into it. She latched on and suckled for almost 15 minutes! All babies have an instinct to breastfeed which lasts for several months, but it may have also helped that she had also been wet-nursed during her stay in the hospital as a newborn. We were told that at the district hospital where she was born, the staff usually request mothers of newborns to nurse premature babies who are not their own (according our baby’s medical records, she was born at 32 weeks and spent 40 days in the hospital).
I made a lactation aid (also known as a supplemental nursing system or SNS) at home by watching YouTube videos, to help her stay interested in the breast and learn how to nurse. A homemade version can be made at a very reasonable cost using a sterile tube (such as one designed for feeding premature babies in the NICU). The tube runs from a feeding bottle to the nipple of the parent, where it can be taped if necessary. My adopted baby was very cooperative and continues to be a cooperative child. She happily participated in all our breastfeeding experiments. Lo and behold, in a matter of days, we had found our nursing sweet spots!
We co-slept, did a lot of skin-to-skin, had baths together, and I wore her in a ring sling and a wrap. All this helped us not only bond but also helped my body to start responding to her needs. Within a few weeks, I was able to cut her formula consumption of about 27oz in half, and at night she was only on my breast (without the aid). Though I could not completely wean her off the aid, we were able to reduce her formula by a significant amount.
I had a lot of help and support from some amazing friends, LLL Leaders and lactation experts. I could bounce my ideas off them and share my experiences, while being encouraged and cheered on!
A few months after our adopted baby came home, we needed to pay a visit to the adoption agency for some paperwork. When they saw that she was breastfeeding, they were quite stunned! Even during our pre-adoption paperwork, when I expressed my desire to breastfeed, I don't think they fully understood what I meant. This was the first time they had ever come across an adopted child being breastfed.
From this experience and from talking with others, I have deduced that very few prospective adoptive parents (“PAPs”) or adoptive parents (“APs”) in India are aware that adopted babies can be breastfed. I believe the Central Adoption Resource Agency (“CARA”) in India should consider allocating resources for counselling PAPs about breastfeeding during the adoption process.
Although breastfeeding is nature’s perfect food, and the physical closeness is a great way for new parents to bond with their adoptive baby, inducing lactation can be tough. It requires a support network and help from lactation professionals. So I don’t believe that PAPs should receive any pressure to try breastfeeding, but I do think they should be made aware that it is an option, among other options to encourage bonding such as co-sleeping, babywearing and skin-to-skin contact.
In a week's time, my adopted child will turn five years old. We have decided to follow natural-term weaning this time around too – I don't think I could have it any other way! She goes to school most of the day, is busy playing in the evenings and only remembers to nurse to sleep, just once since she started sleeping through the night. Our breastfeeding bond still continues today. And as many mothers have reported, it is with bittersweet thoughts that I daydream of the day she will wean!
Close to the Heart Vol. 20, No. 3 (Late-Year 2019)
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