As an adoptive parent, I'll admit that I hadn't ever considered breastfeeding. We had planned to adopt for a long time and in my mind, breastfeeding wasn't an option. I was surprised, somewhere during our process, to learn of parents who breastfed their adopted children. While I did not have an interest in breastfeeding either of my children, I did want to learn more. It's important that adoptive parents be aware that it is possible to breastfeed an adopted child.
Some adoptive parents are already breastfeeding an older biological child at the time they adopt. That makes it simpler to breastfeed your family's new addition. However, even if you've never been pregnant or breastfed, it's still possible to breastfeed your adopted child! According to information on La Leche League's website, "Most mothers are able to produce at least a little milk." La Leche notes that one way to induce lactation is to use a breast pump every two to three hours. If you're interested in learning how to produce milk, visit La Leche's webpage on adoptive breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding a child is important to parents for a variety of reasons. Breast milk offers nutritional value that formula is unable to match. Perhaps even more important, particularly in adoption, is the bonding opportunities the act of nursing offers. Nicki Bradley, a Texas mom of four, breastfed her three biological sons and her daughter, who was adopted as an older infant. In fact, she breastfed her daughter until she was over two years old, even though she experienced issues with milk supply. "The lack of milk never played a role," says Bradley. "For [my daughter], nursing was a bonding activity, a way to meet her sucking need, and a way to soothe and relax her. Of course, it helped me bond, too."
Other people's perceptions
Some parents find that others don't understand why -- or how -- a mom breastfeeds her adopted child. Family and friends may not understand the purpose or benefits, and strangers might stare if you and your child are not the same race. For those closest to you, education goes a long way. For the rest, you have to decide how to handle it.
Bradley received a lot of support for her decision to breastfeed her adopted daughter. "I had major support from those who had never heard of such a thing -- some curiosity and polite questions always followed by support," she says. She even mentions how interesting it was to her that the same people who wondered why she would continue to nurse her biological children after they reached a certain age were "so quick to proclaim what a gift it was to be able to nurse" her adopted daughter at the same age!
The bottom line
Breastfeeding your child should be a good experience. Surely it may include some difficulties or hurdles, just as breastfeeding in general can, but don't let it consume you. Bradley offers some very valuable advice: "Adoption and bonding are stressful enough without adding in the stress of your own heightened expectations and goals." She approached adoptive breastfeeding with a relaxed and flexible attitude and recommends other parents do the same.
If you want to learn more, refer to La leche League and also google "adoption and breastfeeding." There are several resources available to adoptive parents who are interested in breastfeeding their adopted children.
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