March 22, 2016

Breastfeeding My Adopted Baby

I have been asked numerous times by many people to write about my experience and nursing Norah. Many people I meet are not even aware that it is possible to nurse an adopted baby and even some nurses and doctors are having to learn more about this sort of "as they go." It's not super common, but totally possible.
Before I ever adopted, I spoke with a mother who had adopted two sons many years back and told me that she had nursed both of them and produced milk without even having to supplement. The idea kind of set me off... to be completely honest I sort of thought it was weird and told myself that I would just stick with the bottle, thank you very much. But the conversation never really went away in my mind. When we got our foster son, Koa (now adopted), I found myself wishing that I could connect more with him since there was already the barrier of being a foster mom, the barrier of him grieving the loss of his birth mom (yes, even newborn babies go through a grief process). According to research, "Even if you adopted your child as a newborn, he experiences grief that he might not be able to articulate until later in life as he loses his birth mom and the familiarity of her voice and heart beat."
Obviously, in foster care it is very rare that you would have the opportunity to nurse a baby since the plan is most always "return to home." So I bottle fed Koa, but hoped and prayed that I would have time to prepare to nurse our next adopted baby. I started researching and I ordered a book with some great information. I also read up online about it often.
When we had our failed adoption about a year ago, I had quite a bit of time to prepare to nurse the baby. I consulted with my OBGYN and turns out they have a specific protocol that they follow in order to produce milk or re-lactate. It involved taking a medication called Regalin and pumping about every three to four hours. Miraculously I began to produce milk (about a 1/2 ounce at a time) and I started freezing it to prepare for this baby. Well, long story short, the adoption failed and I had no choice but to let my supply dry up. The freezer milk ended up going bad when we had a problem with our freezer and it was pretty sad. I will say right here that Regalin does have the side affect of depression so definitely talk with your doctor if you are considering going on it. There is another medication called Domperidone, but it is very expensive and not FDA-approved. I went on this for awhile with Norah, but due to other issues I did not stay on it.
Norah's adoption was very sudden (we had one night to prepare for her!) and as a result I had no time to prepare to nurse. Luckily there are these awesome things called Supplemental Nursing Systems or an SNS. The SNS is basically a bottle that you wear as a necklace with tiny tubes attached to the end where the milk/formula comes out. You attach them to your chest and nurse just like you typically would, except the baby gets the milk from the tubes.
When I was in the NICU with Norah, I had a team of nurses and lactation consultants who were eager to help me on the journey. They were so kind and, even though much of this information was new to them, they went and researched articles and information just to be supportive and helpful to us. It was so awesome.
I won't lie. It was hard at first. I kept getting frustrated when things were not working out. Initially I used a nipple shield and a temporary SNS, but eventually Norah got the hang of it and now she is able to nurse without the shield and using the long-term SNS.
I made the decision to nurse Norah strictly for bonding purposes. There were several reasons why I decided not to re-lactate. The main one was that it was IMPOSSIBLE for me to be able to pump every three hours while taking care of a newborn, Koa, and two other toddlers that I babysat on the side. It was becoming a stressful thing and I believe I found the perfect happy medium of using formula, but still nursing with the SNS 90% of the time (we use a bottle in emergency situations).
I feel incredibly bonded with Norah. I think nursing was a gift to us because I am her main source of nourishment and comfort, without having the extra stress of it all.
I would say that the main thing (if you are considering doing this) is to not give up right away. It is a process, that's for sure, and it took us a full 4-5 weeks to fully "get it," but after that it became easier. I had really awesome encouragement from my mom, my MIL, my sister, my best friend, and my husband. Plus, I had a lactation consultant with whom I met and she gave me her phone number to call anytime if I had any questions, needed anything or just wanted to be reassured that I was doing the right thing.
Some things that I believe have helped us bond even more are wearing her in my front pack and doing the bottle as little as possible. Sometimes if she has the bottle too much she can get confused and getting used to the SNS again can be hard. I wear Norah A LOT. I try to wear her every time I go into a store, every time I am doing housework that doesn't require a lot of bending over, any family outing, and any time she is fussy I slide her right into either the Moby or the Ergo. She loves to sleep in it. She loves the closeness of me and I love her right there near me so I can feel her breathing. It really is special.
She really is such a happy baby and I feel like she is very bonded to me. I don't know if all that can be attributed to nursing, but I like to think it is.

*Update: Norah is now 2.5 years old and I was able to breastfeed her using the SNS for 17 months! I am so thankful for the people who educated me about nursing an adopted baby and that I was able to have this bonding experience!
//The VHS would like to give a special thanks to Naomi for sharing her incredible story! Shop Naomi's Store!