Carlie felt strongly about the benefits of breastfeeding; she had seen firsthand the health benefits and bonding experience facilitated by breastfeeding with her biological son, Jalen. So when her daughter, Hallie, was born in 2010, Carlie was determined to do it again — this time, as an adoptive mom.
Breastfeeding an adopted baby is possible and increasingly common. Below, Carlie shares her personal experience with adoptive breastfeeding and gives advice to other adoptive mothers who are interested in nursing their new babies.
How did you first hear about adoptive breastfeeding?
When we first decided to adopt, I had heard about donated breastmilk but didn’t know much about it. At the time, my sister-in-law had a newborn baby, and she invited me to go to a local La Leche League meeting with her. Going to that meeting introduced me to donated breastmilk, but also to adoptive breastfeeding.
I was intrigued, so I looked further into it. Luckily, the woman who ran the La Leche League meeting was able to direct me to Ask Lenore’s protocol for inducing lactation. I printed out the protocol and took it to my OB. He didn’t know much about it at first, but he was supportive and helped me get started.
What was the adoptive breastfeeding process like for you?
My doctor started me on a specific birth control recommended by the protocol. It kind of mimics pregnancy and gets your hormones and breast tissue ready for when the baby comes.
As soon as we knew the baby was coming, I stopped the birth control. I started two different herbs and a medication that is safe to take for breastfeeding mothers — the only side effect is breastmilk production. I started pumping while taking the medication. I got nothing at first, but slowly over time, I started to get milk.
At the same time, I got this thing called a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS). It’s a little container you pour the milk in, and it’s got these two teeny tubes that come out of it. You tape the tube where your nipple is, and it releases milk for the baby. You use the SNS because at first, you don’t have enough milk to sustain the baby. The SNS helps get them to the breast and get them used to nursing.
On top of all that, we had also worked with a direct donor to get donated breastmilk. There are tons of mothers out there who are breastfeeding their children and have an abundant supply. They donate it out of the kindness of their hearts because they know how important breastmilk is and they want to provide for another baby. These women who donate are feeding their own babies this milk, so you can feel safe giving it to your baby. You can also always ask for a health background from your donor.
Thanks to our donors, we had a deep freeze full of breastmilk before we even got our daughter! I would fill the SNS with the donated breastmilk and continue pumping until I built my supply up. I did that for two and a half months — nursed her, used the SNS, gave her donated breastmilk and continued pumping.
Why was it important to you to breastfeed your daughter?
My daughter never had a drop of formula — she’s only had breastmilk. It’s just awesome. She’s so healthy, and I know a big part of it is because she was fed breastmilk.
I also think it’s important with adopted babies to facilitate that bond between the mother and the baby. She and I are so close, and we always have been. I would love for more adoptive mothers to know they can do this, and to also know about donated breastmilk.
What are the benefits of breastfeeding an adopted baby?
By far, I would say the bond and the health reasons are the biggest benefits. The bond is number one. Naturally, it’s what all babies want, adopted or not — to be close to their mothers. Depending on how much milk you produce, you could also say convenience is a benefit. Breastfeeding is so much more convenient than formula!
Also, any mom can nurse using the SNS, which I think is huge. If a mom’s committed to using the SNS, she can breastfeed a baby and still be giving it formula, if she’s not open to donated breastmilk. The baby will still get a major bond, and it’s awesome.
Did you face any challenges throughout the process?
At about 2.5 months old, we were still using the SNS, but it wasn’t the most convenient thing. I didn’t want to use it out in public — I had to be completely exposed, taping the tubes, and it just wasn’t convenient. I started giving her a bottle of breastmilk while out in public, but the flow rate in the bottle is much faster than the flow rate of breastfeeding, and she got what’s called nipple confusion. Babies who have had bottles get confused when you try to nurse them, because it’s not coming out as fast as they would like.
I was bummed, but I stopped nursing her at that time. We continued to give her the bottle of breastmilk and I continued pumping about 12 ounces a day until she was 20 months old.
Would you do it again?
It was definitely a learning process for me. I knew nothing about it before I started. It was hard work, but I would definitely do it again. For me, the benefits way outweigh the challenges, and I believe that it was so worth it.
What advice would you give other adoptive moms?
You really have to be determined — and I think the same goes for any mom who wants to breastfeed. There are going to be bumps in the road. Some women have pain, some aren’t producing enough, and many women give up because they think “I just can’t do it.” But if you’re determined and if you get through those bumps in the road, you can do it.
A lot of people have no idea that you can breastfeed an adopted baby. I had never thought about adoptive breastfeeding or donated breastmilk until I had my daughter. So I think it would be really awesome to get the word out there.
Please read the following for more information about breastfeeding an adopted baby.