Breast feeding and Adoption
We had no idea that non-childbearing women could breast feed until we started the adoption process. The idea sounded wonderful, I could experience as much of motherhood as any birth mum and my daughter could experience the nursing of a mother as if she had been born to her. We felt that this would create an even greater bond for all of us, mum dad and baby.
I want to share my experiences and feelings about breast feeding our adopted daughter and hope that this will give women looking to adopt the encouragement and motivation to perform this most wonderful act of bonding. Of course it’s not for every women nor for every child adopted and that’s ok. There shouldn’t be any guilt attached if you cannot, for biological reasons, nurse. But where you can or it is a possibility, I would certainly encourage families to explore this as an option.
I used Debra Steward Peterson’s book “Breast feeding the adopted baby” as a navigational tool, and her enthusiasm for breast feeding came through only to boost my own. I’m sure there are other books on the market, but this one is a good place to start.
Early on in the adoption process one is so concerned with the paper work, and the issue of what you are going to feed your baby doesn’t even come up. But as we trundled through and came closer to our goal we explored breast feeding more and more. I spoke to an adoptive mom who had breast fed her new born adopted son with much success. This made it a realistic option for me. At least I would give it a go. If it worked great, I would get the experience that I had wished for and if it didn’t work, I could say I tried and no harm would be done. My husband too, was greatly supportive and as enthusiastic. He felt there were immeasurable benefits and nothing to lose.
For me it was simply taking 20mg domperidone 4 times a day (this regimen I had learned researching the net and credible websites as well as the advice from my friend, the mom who had breast fed). Eventually I tapered the dose (around 3 months) and by 4.5 months I had stopped taking it all together (This is what I did, but it doesn’t count as medical advice and if you are considering doing this doing your own research is recommended). There are few if any side effects that I could find. I experienced some headaches at the higher doses. The day our daughter was placed with us I started taking the medication, just 2 tiny tablets, easy to swallow and easy to obtain (certainly abroad there are few restrictions at chemists). Just before every feed I would sit somewhere private where I wouldn’t be disturbed and latch her on for 5-10 mins each side (before giving her the formula feed). She took to suckling very easily. I suspect this was due to several reasons. She was just a couple of days old, the breast structure hadn’t been altered by pregnancy, that is the breasts were not enlarged or engorged and well I hadn’t been through a labour leaving me tired and exhausted, so I could spend time and effort getting baby to suckle. With 4-5 feeds in the day this created a great deal of milk stimulation and by 2 weeks I had the first drops of breast milk. Remember, I had no midwife no mom or no breast feeding expert to help me, and had little experience with other mum’s breast feeding, and I managed it! Over time the milk supply increased and I think if I had in addition, expressed, enough milk may have come to replace the formula. The idea of expressing on top of everything else was too much for me so I continued to give top ups.
It was such a satisfying feeling that my patience and perseverance had paid off and I could enjoy the unique time my daughter and I spent together. This only increased the love I had for her which I think helped with milk production too! We had no attachment issues. Overall I think I benefited greatly with a softening of my own self. It was natural for her too. She experienced more skin to skin contact and a closeness to my face.
Admittedly the first month was hard and tiring, but not so much that I would give up. A few words of support from my family and understanding of the difficulties of breast feeding, even a birth child made me feel I wasn’t alone and the hardship I was experiencing had nothing to do with the fact that my daughter was adopted. Also encouraged by my husband, I therefore persevered. This was a most positive step as eventually, around 2-3 months I was producing enough milk to get her through the night feeds without supplementing with formula milk. How great. Later I learnt to feed her with her lying next to me instead of in my arms which meant my nights were even less disturbed and I was more rested. This only meant for a great warmer and more enjoyable experience with my daughter during the day.
The 4.5 months whilst we were abroad getting paperwork sorted to obtain here visa, my daughter did not need to see the doctor for any illness, she didn’t suffer single cold or upset tummy. I can’t help thinking that my robust immunity had been passed onto her.
Yes, I did experience a little milk leakage when she cried just like a birth mum. The advantage I think I had was that I didn’t experience engorgement or mastitis and I can’t help thinking that this maybe because at every feed my milk was emptied.
Our daughter is now 16 months old and is now down to one bed time feed. I look forward to the closeness we share, the calm that I experience whilst breast feeding and the tender touches of her hands on my face as she too enjoys the closeness. Returning to work will mean I will come to the end of my breast feeding, and I can feel no regret as I have given myself and my daughter every chance at experiencing the closeness nursing brings.
Breast feeding creates a “mahram” relationships. This is also known as milk kinship. A common practice in centuries past and tradition amongst many Arab nations. This practice of milk kinship is supported by Islamic evidences.
There are many evidences for the different methods for creating the milk kinship. They vary in the volume of milk consumed by the infant, whether or not witnesses are required and the timing of this nursing/provision of breast milk. Like with many things in Islam, one has to do the research to the best of one’s ability and knowledge and take the strongest evidence to inform your practice.
Here are a few example;
“Sucking one or two times does not cause prohibition” Dawud and others say that three sips or more, cause prohibition i.e., create the milk kinship.
Ali, Ibn Abaas, Malik and Hanafi and others say that suckling whether little or much is sufficient to create the milk kinship.
The timings of the breast feeding is also informed by some Islamic evidences, 2 years seems to the age by which milk kinship can be created.
The questions around mahram-ship appear to trouble many families and they need not to be troubled so. However, if a family feel that they will treat the adopted child differently to one that was born of you, there may be a case to reconsider if adoption is really right for them at this time. Scholars, historically, have far too often been dogmatic on this topic where in fact the topic needs to be revisited. The psychological impact of a differential treatment of a child has been evidenced in much of the psychology literature and informs modern day parenting.
My personal opinion is, breast feed the infant if you can, for as long as you can and as frequently as you can, as a birth mother might. If you cannot, for any number of reasons, then feel confident that you can still be a mother to a child, love them and nurture them. That is more essential than breastfeeding.
Our daughter is a vibrant and rather brilliant child, happy and most of all contented. If anything she has only been nourished by this experience, literally and metaphorically!